Even though there’s tons of research to attest to the fact that physical activity does a body good, the science itself isn’t always enough to convince us to get up and moving. Some common mental blocks include self-doubt, comparison (the thief of joy in exercising), cognitive distortions—like all-or-nothing thinking—that can lead to overwhelm, and only believing you can exercise when you “feel like it.”
Sound familiar? Well, sometimes the best way to get motivated to get moving is by harnessing the power of, well, a little movement.
That’s where Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, a board-certified dance/movement therapist and licensed clinical professional counselor, can help. She recently shared a handful of her go-to movements that help her when she finds herself stuck in a fitness rut on her Instagram account.
“These strategies come in handy when we are emotionally and cognitively feeling stuck, unmotivated, or out of options—also when we are in a state of hypo- or hyper-arousal and out of our ‘window of tolerance,’” she says. “These interventions work because of the mind-body connection.” Here, she shares how to use movement to get motivated when you want to work out but just aren’t feeling it.
1. Find a rhythm or beat and move to it
Simply swaying to music can potentially increase mindfulness, decrease psychological stress in the body by calming your nervous system, and enhance quality of life, according to a recent meta-analysis of the benefits of dance. So if you’re feeling too overwhelmed to exercise, a dance break may be just what you need.
2. Swing, sway, or rock a part of your body
If you’re in your head and feeling emotionally overwhelmed, this is a good way to drop into your body—by bringing your awareness to your physical form. It could be as small as tapping your toe. “Physical momentum influences cognitive motivation,” Hornthal says. “There is no ‘right’ way to move. It’s all about micro-movements because small movements lead to big changes.”
3. Shift your posture
It’s understandable that you don’t feel ready or inspired to move if you’re rounded, hunched, or otherwise holding your body in a way that makes movement feel inaccessible. But the opposite is equally as true, according to Hornthal. “Movement in the body influences connection and activity in the brain, which can create opportunity for new ideas, new perspective, focus, attention, and thoughts,” she says, so roll those shoulders back, stack your spine, and see if that doesn’t do something to your mood.
4. Pivot or change direction
“How we move influences how we think,” Hornthal says, “so when we are looking to change our thoughts, this is a simple way to create momentum which leads to motivation.” If you’re used to moving in one way all the time, consider trying activities that require you to move in different planes of motion. For instance, rather than always moving forwards, like when you’re walking, try an activity like tennis that forces you to lunge to the side. Not only can that change your perspective, but it can also help you avoid injuries and boost longevity.
5. Bring attention to your breath
“Allow it to guide your next move,” Hornthal says of your breath. This is one of the simplest forms of meditation. Just drawing your awareness to your inhalations and exhalations can silence whatever thoughts may be stifling your motivation, while at the same time calming your nervous system so you can bypass whatever motivational roadblocks get in your way.
“Bodies at rest stay at rest,” Hornthal says. “So the goal is to create momentum, which physiologically and psychologically leads to motivation. Movement in simple, small ways is the easiest way to create momentum.” Remember that next time you need a little extra oomph, and want to use movement to get motivated.