What If I Don’t Want to Exercise? Then Do This

There are things that we all must do to take care of ourselves, but it’s not necessarily fun. It’s often like work, and occasionally it’s hard work.

My inner child, not in the mood to exercise.

Parents always try to trick their kids into doing things by telling them it's fun. "This is how we pick up dog poop in the back yard. Isn't that fun?" It's almost never fun, even when it's not picking up dog poop, and the kids see right through it. They don't want to do it if it isn't fun. 

This was my mother's technique. She would try to convince me to do everything because it was fun. I honestly think she wanted me to have fun, and she recognized that there is stuff you just have to do to keep the house running properly. But trying to trick us into doing it led to suspicion and, eventually, it was ineffective. We just wouldn't do it.

Some parents take a dictatorial stance and demand that kids do things just because the parents told them to. This may work for a little while, but their hearts aren't in it. Whatever they do, it's not done well, or with enthusiasm. They aren't giving 110% to that job, whatever it is, no matter how much the parents tell them they're doing it wrong.

This was my father's approach. At some point, he planted plum and apple trees in the back yard. As summer wore on, fruit would drop from the trees and rot on the ground. He'd tell me and my brothers to go pick it up, and pick up the sticks from the maple tree while we're out there, and then mow the lawn. He'd insist we do it just because he told us to do it. But we never picked up everything. We went through the motions, and hoped he would get distracted so we could quit and go play.

A few parents resort to various forms of punishment. That works worse than anything, and creates resentment or even hatred. Even if the chore is done, there will be a backlash at some point. Threats and punishment are never worth it.

But there are certain things that have to get done to run a household. You have to do the dishes. You have to wash and fold the laundry. You have to pick up the dog poop in the back yard. You have to mow the lawn.

I do stuff like this all the time.

You have to manage your body just like a family has to manage their household

There are things that we all must do to take care of ourselves, but it's not necessarily fun. It's often like work, and occasionally it's hard work. Finding healthy and suitable food to eat for yourself can be work. Exercising can be hard work.

So how do you get yourself to do the hard work of caring for yourself when it's not fun?

Find a fun activity that gets you the exercise you need

If you're enjoying yourself, you won't notice that it's hard work. For me it's biking. I can leave from home on the bike and return 20 or 30 minutes later with my workout complete. But I'm smiling.

I know some people that climb rocks (a.k.a. "rock climbing") and some people that use a stand-up paddle-board ('sup?!). Others join teams to play volleyball, soccer, or hockey.

But even if you find such activities, there's a strong possibility that you can't do it every day forever. Hockey is expensive and ice is cheapest at weird hours. Rock climbing and stand-up paddle-board requires good weather. If you rely on those for your every day activity, you may find yourself doing nothing more often than you are getting fit.

Pretty awesome but not gonna happen in Michigan.

Gamify the exercise

"Gamify" refers to turning the activity into a game with points, competition, and rewards. One website in particular, NerdFitness.com, has a huge following. Users can set their own rules and point systems to keep up their motivation. The feedback loop it creates can be a strong motivator.

To make it work, however, you have to have a variety of exercises — either going to a gym or a calisthenics routine — that you can call upon when needed.

Find an accountability partner

Shame is a strong motivator. I dislike using punishment as motivation (like with my father's dictatorial style) but if you set the right tone with an accountability partner it can be a positive experience. Look for someone with a positive attitude to work with you.

The basic technique is to agree to a schedule of either communicating to each other about your fitness activities, or exercising together. On a weekly basis, you tell each other your goals and plans. You may check in during the week on progress. Then you compare notes to see how it went.

Rinse and repeat.

This is not a good technique for me, but my friend used it to get into body-builder type of shape, working with a like-minded partner who met him daily at 5 a.m. at a gym as they helped each other train, eat well, rest and recover.

They're smiling too much for early morning workouts.

If you can't make it fun, keep it interesting

The technique that works for me is switching activities every four to eight weeks. I find myself switching — even without consciously planning it — every six weeks as new ideas present or old ones are recalled, or as the seasons change. I bike in the spring and summer, as the days grow longer here in Michigan. I do my best to make swimming a regular thing in the late, hot days of summer. I try different strength training routines as well, switching between calisthenics, high intensity interval training, and circuit training.

This fall, I'm pretty sure my wife is going to insist we take dance lessons. It's not an intense exercise, but it's an activity that goes on for an hour at a time. I'm interested in supplementing that with tap dance lessons, which will be more of a workout — also fun.

Do something with built-in variety

For the past four years, I've practiced yoga twice a week. My yogi leads the practice, and it's interesting because we never do the same routine twice. The same poses show up, but she offers variations to further challenge ourselves. That challenge keeps it interesting.

Studying martial arts would also offer a built-in variety as you progress in you abilities, spar with different partners, and branch out into different areas.

I think they're water bending, like Avatar.

What did we learn?

Let's review these thoughts so you don't have to do it yourself. First of all, we talked about the various ways our parents try to get us to do things as kids to help take care of the house. Taking care of our health with exercise can be like that, and we may need to find ways to motivate ourselves when we don't really feel motivated.

The best thing is to find a fun activity you love to do and that keeps you active. But that's not always going to be possible, and even a really fun activity gets boring if you over do it.

You may find an accountability partner to keep you working on your daily fitness habit. If they are like-minded and have a positive attitude, it can be a great way to stay active.

Keep it interesting by switching up activities and exercises. You can do this with the phases of the seasons, or just every few weeks look for something new to challenge yourself. Or find an activity such as yoga or a martial art that is interesting by design.

Finally, the ultimate secret to exercising when you don't feel like it

The real secret is to combine one or more of the above techniques to keep yourself active without resorting to threats or punishment. Remind yourself that your health is worth it, and that it doesn't have to be a bad thing. With the right combination of support and activities, you can grow as a person even as you improve your health.