How To Overcome All of Those Negative Thoughts While Working Out

thoughts while working out

Thoughts Everyone Has While Working Out


What motivating workout thoughts do you have when you exercise? The famed Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, observed, “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” When you look around the gym, isn’t that what you see many people doing? Wait a minute! What are you doing looking at what other people are doing on a Total Gym? Probably judging!





Here’s an example of workout thoughts you may have a chuckle over. If only it weren’t all that common.


There’s no doubt at all that everything -everything- is, in fact, in our heads. We don’t eat poorly, healthy, do a Total Gym workout, skip it, find success or failure at work and in our relationships, do well or poorly in school and on the sports field – without thinking. Yes, “the link is what you think.”


In “The Brain That Changes Itself”, Norman Doidge, MD, describes how thoughts literally alter brain anatomy can help develop muscle strength. In one study, subjects who imagined doing a strength training exercise, increased their actual muscle strength by 22%, compared to 30% in those who did the exercise. Focusing your mind on a muscle when you work it, has been shown to work that muscle 22% harder. That’s amazing!


So if imagining some action and actually doing it requires the same motor and sensory programs in the brain, and every thought you have changes the structure and functioning of your brain, don’t you think you’d be better off recognizing, rejecting, and replacing some of your negative and distracting thoughts that you carry around during your workouts?


Sure it’s normal to compare how you look to others. But beware. Comparing too often leads to despairing. It’s common to negatively judge and condemn yourself when you see someone, who appears similar to you, lifting more, running faster, sweating more, jumping higher and smiling a whole lot more than you do. People think so much about themselves in relationship to others in the gym that they turn their entire workout into a contest. This compare and despair, self and other-evaluation game leads to sadness, depression and even leaving the gym.


Of course, there are those who think they are proud of themselves in that they look better, work harder, attend more regularly – it’s just a compare game in reverse that’s played until, yep, you guessed it, they turn up on the losing end.


There are those who Demand, Insist and Expect (DIE) a certain level of effort from themselves or think that others “must” notice their level of improvement or six pack or “guns.” They may erroneously think they are “too fat,” “shouldn’t be wearing those leggings,” etc. They are only setting themselves up to feel misery by that kind of “demanding” thinking when other people don’t comply with what they think they should do, or how they think they must look. This type of thinking leads to anger…and even leaving the gym.


Then there are those who fill their minds with doubt and dread thinking about what others may be thinking about them. When people doubt their power, they give power to their doubt. They fill their thoughts worrying about whether they are doing an exercise correctly with “perfect form,” worrying that they missed a rep – these folks create anxiety in themselves…and even leave the gym because of it.


Get it? Think about and be mindfully focused on your actual muscles and your own workout, instead of running other people’s races, doing their workouts in your head, or wondering what they’re thinking. Who cares what they are thinking? It’s really none of your business.


Pre-workout thoughts through the process of mental rehearsal, slowing and focusing your thinking, will help you think in a healthy, positive and productive way during your workout. Before your next workout, close your eyes, take a number of deep breaths, (no robes or incense needed), and simply imagine performing your workout free of outside negative or condemning thoughts, mentally reviewing the type of workout you want, seeing your workout clearly, mentally planning each step and thought you want to have. Focusing your mind this way, ridding yourself of derailing, demotivating and distracting thoughts will lead to a more fulfilling workout experience, improved performance, clearer results…and greater adherence.


Yep, it really is ALL in your head.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

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