Year after year, the majority of Americans commit to the same new year’s resolution: to stay fit and healthy. Gym memberships skyrocket and fitness classes practically burst at the seams—but come February, there’s a significant drop in attendance. Staying motivated is easier said than done, especially when life gets stressful. Who wants to suffer through a painful, sweaty cardio class at the end of a long workday, right?
But, as we all know, regular exercise is an important part of your health and wellbeing. The good news, though? A new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise confirms that it’s pretty much all mind over matter.
In the study, 18 competitive cyclists did an intense exercise routine in the heat. Half of them trained as normal for the next two weeks, while the other group took motivational skills classes consisting of “self-talk” techniques to help turn negative feelings into positive ones. So instead of focusing on the pain in their legs or how uncomfortable they were, these participants learned to say things like “I’m doing well” or “I can handle this.”
After two weeks, all 18 cyclists returned for another intense cardio session. The latter group of participants—the ones who learned motivational “self talk” techniques—were able to pedal 25 percent longer and could power through discomfort for a longer duration than their counterparts. Their body temperature was also elevated, which proves the brain’s role in determining how far the body can be pushed.
“It’s really ultimately the brain that lets you down,” says Stephen Cheung, the author of the study who’s also a professor at Brock University in Ontario. “You can go a lot harder than a lot of times you think you can. Even in the face of strong physiological cues to stop, the brain can still override them.”
Now repeat after us: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.