The Surprising Power of Simply Showing Up for a Workout

A new movement journey starts with celebrating one little victory at a time.

nd3000 / Shutterstock
nd3000 / Shutterstock

Embarking on a new movement journey can be a daunting experience. It’s easy for excuses and self-criticism to take hold and dampen your motivation. And sometimes just fighting the inertia of your couch and getting out the door can feel like a workout in itself.

The good news is that the hardest part of exercising has nothing to do with how much you’re exerting yourself — experts say it’s simply getting moving in the first place. “Just showing up is more than half the battle,” Kellen Scantlebury, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Fit Club N.Y., says. “Once you are there, you will feel so much better just in the fact that you made the effort to get there.” 

While just showing up for yourself at the gym or making it onto the running path may not sound so noteworthy, it’s exactly the kind of “tiny victory” that B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., behavioral psychologist and founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, says can build up to a bigger, more sustainable habit in the long run. All it takes is a little mindfulness to reframe your efforts from this motivating perspective.

A growing body of research reveals that incorporating mindfulness into our movement routines can benefit our well-being and performance, especially for new practitioners. A 2017 University of Pennsylvania study identified mindfulness as a powerful driver of the motivation to get moving. By some indications, mindfulness may boost your mood even after just one sweat session.

A mindful moment during your workout could mean catching your breath between sets and observing any self-judgment that may be racing through your mind, or pausing to cheer yourself on once you’ve made it through through the door of your workout destination. And don’t underestimate the power of the Microstep of acknowledging your efforts with a smile at the end of a workout. A 2018 study from Swansea University in Wales and Ulster University in Northern Ireland found that smiling can make a positive difference on one’s mindset perseverance through a workout and satisfaction in a job well done.

The next time you exercise, go ahead and give yourself a smile for prioritizing your well-being, and acknowledging that you showed up for yourself. 

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