Sweat running down your face…Your abs are burning…You feel a strong urge to stop, but you know you have to keep going to get an efficient workout… Although it’s tough, you can use some science-based tricks to help boost your motivation in such situations. And one of those motivational hacks is self-distancing.
What does self-distancing mean?
Self-distancing is a psychological concept developed by researchers Ethan Kross and Ozlem Ayduk, which refers to moving away from an egocentric view of self. If you think of selves that are different from your current self, you can take a step back from the situation. This is a really useful technique for challenging events, relationships or decisions. And of course you can use it when you need workout motivation. There are three types of self-distancing you could try:
- Visual Self-Distancing: This involves taking an observer’s perspective toward your present self. For example, if you’re going through a distressing period, you visualize yourself as a friend, and give yourself advice from that friend’s perspective.
- Temporal Self-Distancing: This is related to imagining your future self. For instance, you can endure the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by picturing the image of your future self when the pandemic ends.
- Distanced Self-Talk: This involves using second or third person pronouns during self-talk. Instead of “I can do it”, using “You can do it”, or “Jamie, you can do it” creates emotional distance.
Benefits of self-distancing
Taking a step makes it easier to regulate your emotions. One research study showed that people who used self-distancing techniques experienced less stress when asked to speak in public speech than those who didn’t.
Self-distancing also improves self-control. An experiment was carried out with children in which researchers put a marshmallow in front of the child, telling them that if they waited for a few minutes without eating it, they could eat two marshmallows later. Surprisingly, children talking to themselves in the third person waited longer.
This is because the human mind perceives difficult situations as threats and starts the fight-or-flight response, which causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol and leads to emotions such as sadness or fear. However, creating distance from the situation transforms the threat mindset into the challenge mindset, allowing the person to see those situations as opportunities for development.
How self-distancing can help you maintain workout motivation
Self-distancing can be a useful tool when you feel unmotivated before or during workout. Looking at yourself through another’s eyes can give you a healthy push by cultivating the idea that exercising is a challenge instead of being a source of threat. Detachment from an egocentric self-view also helps you avoid adopting a critical attitude to motivating yourself. When you’re lost in strong emotions, you may tend to use phrases like “I can’t do this move, I’m a loser”. But putting a distance between yourself and the situation leads to kinder wording such as “This is a hard one but I can try my best”.
Be your own fitness trainer!
To practice self-distancing, you can talk to yourself using second or third person pronouns like the voice of a personal trainer coach: “You have to keep going!” You can also imagine your powerful, glowing image after the workout to find motivation for working hard.
Next time you feel unmotivated to work out, try to create a mental distance from yourself. Either talk to yourself in the third person, aloud (if you don’t care what other people think) or internally, or visualize a picture of the future, stronger, fitter you.