Enjoy the ride – exercise is good for you. Physically and mentally. A single training session can change your mood. The more you do it, the more you enjoy it. But do we always enjoy exercise? Before we exercise sometimes we underestimate how much we are likely to enjoy it because we focus too much on the unpleasant beginning, or perhaps some aspect of training we find difficult. Are there strategies to help us enjoy training, even when we’re not in the mood?
Studies suggest that, alongside self-efficacy beliefs (i.e. knowing that we can do something even in the face of obstacles), valuing what we do is important to commitment. There are different reasons for valuing training, some of them much more helpful than others. Doing it because someone else wants us to do it may be helpful occasionally to get us over a hump, but this is an extrinsic motivation – that is, motivation from outside our self. Even if we get a great reward for doing something, it’s not enough for us to enjoy it or even to stay committed.
Training because we know how good we feel afterward, or because it’s good for us, or because it’s part of who we are, is still extrinsic motivation – but the helpful kind. If this is where you are at, it’s a good place to be. Remind yourself of all these things on the days when it’s tough.
The best kind of motivation to train is because you enjoy the training. This is intrinsic motivation and this is where you want to be. Sometimes you may need to remind yourself that you enjoy being on the bike, on the track. Don’t forget about long term goals, but focus on accomplishable “mini-goals” in training, including having fun.
Studies show that you will enjoy a session more if you feel like you have achieved something. Expect to get something out of this training session. If you do, you are more likely to feel like you enjoyed the session.
There are many ways to break down a training session to give you immediate, accomplishable goals. Training is not just practice, it’s learning.
How competent you feel has a very strong influence on whether you enjoy training. If there is something you are struggling with, this is very likely to affect your attitude in a negative way. It is important to make the effort to get competent. Talk to your coach and/or teammates and get the support you need to feel competent. This links back to the self-efficacy mentioned earlier: believing you can overcome obstacles, maybe not immediately, but over time, with support and perseverance.
What we get out of a training session depends on how we feel about it. The short and long-term benefits of enjoying training can directly benefit performance in competition by reducing anxiety and making your brain (the part that processes your emotions – the amygdala) less sensitive to the threat-related stimuli of competition (“threat” in this context means being observed by an audience, potentially being beaten, by the opposition, or worse, yourself).
It works like this: the more you enjoy training, the more you train and the more likely you are to have “high positive affect”: you feel energetic, focused, alert, confident, happy (low positive affect: you feel sad and lethargic).
Enjoying training helps create a high positive affect person. People with generally high positive affect have more positive mood, are more actively engaged in the world and are more likely to approach challenges than avoid them.