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Here's Your Guide to Positive Thinking at the Gym

scissors changing "I can't do it" to "I can do it"
Mental strategies like self-affirmation can help you find your "Zen" during a challenging workout.

by Mary Lambkin

You already know that working out challenges your body — but it also challenges your mind! Finding the mental energy (and strength) to make it to the gym can sometimes be a battle, so simply showing up should be considered an accomplishment. If you've ever braved the gym at sunrise or fought to ignore the temptation of their couch after a long day at the office, you know all too well that sticking to a gym routine takes discipline and commitment. Enter: your guide to positive thinking.

In order to make the most of your workout — and find the motivation you need to keep coming back to the gym again and again — you've got to train your mind as much as you train your body. Use this guide to positive thinking to help you feel inspired and pursue your fitness goals.

First, What Is Positive Thinking?

Positive thinking is simple. Known scientifically as "optimism bias," it means you approach situations with hope and confidence, rather than fear and doubt. Not only can positive thinking help you get the most out of your workout, it can lead to better health, a longer life, and overall greater well-being!

Your Guide to Positive Thinking

By simply shifting your thoughts to focus on the positive rather than the negative, you could overcome challenges at the gym and embrace other life situations with less stress. Here are five techniques that can help you remember to look on the bright side.

3 tips for staying positive at the gym

1. Visualize a Strong End Result

Visualization is a psychological tool that is used by a number of athletes across all sports. Before (or during) a workout, picture a strong end result to help power through each movement. For example, if you're running on the treadmill, imagine hitting the stop button on the machine and wiping your face with a towel after successfully finishing the exercise. This may be just the motivation you need to get started in the first place!

2. Think About How Far You've Come

If you're stuck in a mental plateau or have hit a rut in your running routine, look back at the progress you've made — this can help you find the inspiration you need to keep moving forward. Try looking at old photos from your pre-workout days when you had less energy or reviewing your workout logs from months ago. Once you remind yourself how far you've already come, you'll find encouragement to go further!

3. Adopt a Mantra

Don't underestimate the power of positive words! You can combat negative thoughts by repeating an optimistic mantra over and over during a tough workout. According to the Association for Psychological Science, by repeatedly practicing self-affirmation, you can increase performance and reduce stress.

Try a few different mantras over the course of two weeks to find one that works for you. Some good ones to experiment with are "I can do this," "I am strong," "I'm doing this for me," or even "I can keep going."

4. Immerse Yourself

Find the "Zen" in your workout by freeing your mind of stressful or negative thoughts and immersing yourself in the rhythm of an easy distraction — like your form, the number of reps/sets/seconds in your exercise, your music, a TV show, or the sound of your footsteps or breath. If you can allow your mind to wander somewhere else during a workout, you won't let it get bogged down with negative thoughts.

5. Take It One Step at a Time

Instead of focusing on the number of minutes or exercises left in your workout, re-calibrate your expectations by focusing on a number of small and easily achievable milestones. For example, instead of thinking "I still have a mile left on the treadmill; how will I ever make it?" tell yourself "I'm going to run this mile as well as I can" five times. Take your workout one step at a time — you might just surprise yourself with how far you're able to go by staying positive!

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.