Bloomsday on the brain? Use these three science-based steps to overcome your fitness procrastination and you will find yourself in the ranks of Bloomsday finishers before you know it.


By: Richard Young, PhD Candidate, Nutrition Exercise Physiology
Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Washington State University

1.  Visualize you way to success

Top athletes do it, so why not you? Visualization is one of the primary technologies used in sports psychology and has been studied since 1916 (Washburn, M.F.). What happens in your real world is a result of what happens in your inner world. This is because thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to actions, and actions lead to results.

Pro tip: Picturing in your mind what you want. Don’t worry if your mind wanders because it intrinsically will! Simply guide your thoughts back to your goal. Practice the same time each day and work up to 10 minutes per session increasing a few minutes each time you practice. As with anything, you will become better the more you practice. Use this great article in Sports Psychology Today to get you started.

2.  Let’s talk about habits

The reward/pleasure centers of your brain can be used to drive your goals and make new habits. Extrinsic rewards (i.e. athleticism, money, fame, etc.) are conditional that earn their power from associations we have learned. Since we make decisions based on what we think is worthwhile or valuable, make exercise a priority and reinforce this new value with a reward. Rewarding bolsters the connection your brain makes with an activity and the feeling of pleasure, so discovered by Ivan Pavlov (1902) and his famous conditioning experiment.

Pro tip: Make small weekly obtainable goals and indulge yourself in a non-sabotaging guilty pleasure when you have accomplished it. Create an encouraging environment, like setting your running shoes and gym clothes out so they are conveniently looking at you. Remember, there is always resistance against change, so allow failure and embrace it as an opportunity to reevaluate and readjust.

3.  Adopt the power of Accountability

We can promise ourselves the moon, but research shows that when we are contractually obliged to take action, compliance increases greatly. In fact, according to a recent Yale study by Giné et al., (2010), when the threat of loss is introduced, accountability increases by a factor of three.

Pro tip: Put some skin in on the game and make a friendly bet with a friend or family member. Have fun with it and make it as strict or lenient as you wish, but remember, the higher the risk for you, the better the outcome for you as well. Pick a person who will not let you “off the hook.” If you are feeling daring, check out the app Pact. This app has a community of fellow users who pay you to stick to your schedule. However, if you miss your session, you authorize the app to charge your credit card

or PayPal account. When you reach your goal, you get paid out of a common pool funded by yourself and other pact-breakers.

If you are still struggling, ask yourself this question, “If not now, then when?”

Motivational Speaker and best-selling author Tony Robbins perhaps said it best when he said, “The road to someday leads to the town of nowhere.”  I don’t believe that that’s a place you really want to visit.

The difficulty often lies in making the decision to change. The latin root of “decide” means “literally, to cut off.” Take action today to “cut off” the options and excuses that act as the barriers to your goals, and in short order, these new actions will become a new healthy habit. In doing so, you will condition your brain to associate your new habit with pleasure, and thus exercise will become it’s own reward.

1. Washburn, W.F. 1916. Movement and mental imagery.  Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA.

2. Pavlov, I. P. (1928). Lectures on conditioned reflexes. (Translated by W.H. Gantt) London: Allen and Unwin. 3. Gine X, D Karlan, J Zinman (2010), “Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is: A Commitment Contract for Smoking Cessation”, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2(4):213-235.