You’ve been dreading this workout all day, the one that pushes your limits and takes you outside your comfort zone. Your fingers wrap around the bar and you steel yourself for what comes next. It’s going to hurt—pain’s just weakness leaving the body, and all that—but it doesn’t have to suck. There are a few ways you can trick your mind into thinking your fitness regimen isn’t as tough as it feels, which is great news if you were seriously considering hitting the locker room early. Here they are.
Create a sonic experience
Music can push you harder and longer, says a 2007 study by University of Cumbria researchers Elliott, Carr and Savage. Their research found that rousing, motivational tunes can help athletes perform better if they listen to it before a game. Subjects listening to such music during a weightlifting session, on the other hand, were more likely to complete their entire workouts before calling it a day. We’re guessing that’s the reason why so many NBA players use music as part of their pre-game rituals.
Keep the numbers in your favour
Use your fixation on numbers, measurements and milestones as a mental pick-me-up. Nobody enjoys the knowledge that they have 30 more reps to go, so begin every set like a winner and proudly count up the individual victories each pump represents. However, once your muscles are fired up and all you can think about is putting down those weights, “I just did 25 reps” loses its charm. Refocus your attention instead on the prize: the five reps you have left to go. Now that doesn’t sound quite as bad, does it?
Don’t do it alone
Everything from long-distance runs to weight lifting can be made easier with a workout buddy. A good partner will spot you, hold you accountable to your goals and keep you motivated on those dreaded off days. It also helps if you turn your gym visits together into a bit of friendly competition—who doesn’t love winning? If you can’t find a reliable partner, you can still boost your motivation by imagining that the guy on the rowing machine next to you is a bitter rival to beat.
Use your words
A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests that performance and intention increase when an individual talks to himself about a task at hand (which we take to include going to the gym). In the paper, researchers Sanda Dolcos and Dolores Albarracin found that people who used the second person in particular—calling themselves “you” instead of “I”—received the most benefits. If positive self-talk doesn’t cut it, you can always try dropping a few swear words. A 2009 NeuroReport piece by researchers at Keele University claims that using profanities can help us deal with pain longer.
Go ahead and kid yourself
Self-deception has been proven to help push an athlete’s physical limits. In an experiment set up by Northumbria University researcher Kevin Thompson, several cyclists were told to match their maximum effort during a 4,000-metre ride. What they didn’t know, however, was that researchers had given them a target speed that was two per cent faster than they had ever ridden before—something they all felt was impossible. Inexplicably, they all managed to match or beat their goal. You can use this principle to decrease a particularly challenging workout’s perceived difficulty by convincing yourself that you’ve done it a million times before. If you’re not great at lying to yourself, have a buddy you trust load the bar for you—just bear in mind that overloading may result in injury.