Anytime I meet someone who breezes through life with a fully optimized, color-coded Google calendar, I turn green with envy. Of the Big Five personality traits (a quick-and-dirty psychological framework that helps you determine who you are), conscientiousness is the one I lack. My disorganization and taste for rule-breaking has made it difficult to make many habits sticks—especially when it comes to workout motivation.
A new study published by the Psychological Science points a finger at why those lacking in the hard-to-spell “c” word may find it harder to convince themselves to make it to their sweat sesh. Over a 20-week period, researchers tracked the workout plans of 282 participants (who were mostly students). They found that those who ranked themselves highly on planfulness items such as “developing a clear plan when I have a goal is important to me,” ended up following through on their exercises more frequently than those who didn’t. Planfulness happens to be a key part of conscientiousness, according to Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Even if you’re not born with it, you can still learn to fake workout motivation. No lie.
“The best way to understand personality characteristics is to think about them as the default way, or the factory settings on your motivational systems,” explains Dr. Markman. “The idea is that most of us are motivated by different things and there’s a range of variations that’s normal for people. Those differences are the things that we ultimately call personality differences, and the biggest of those differences is what we call the Big Five.” A quick refresher: the Big Five personality traits are agreeableness, openness to experience, extraversion, neuroticism, and, of course, conscientiousness. Just like you can learn to slip into the shoes of extrovert during a networking event, the personality expert says that your conscientiousness flame can be stoked with the right strategies.
According to Dr. Markman, conscientiousness is motivated by the desire to complete a task and/or the desire to follow the rules. So to hack your own “factory setting” personality traits and get yourself to yoga, you’ll need to set traps for yourself. “Situations exert a lot of control over your behavior. If you find that naturally you’re not necessarily motivated to complete things, or not necessarily motivated to follow the rules, then one of the things you’re going to want to do is to create situations and structures in your life that push you in the direction of doing more of that,” recommends Dr. Markman. To help you do that…
Workout motivation that’s basically tricking yourself into going to the gym
1. Keep your calendar on you 24/7
That way, your itinerary is basically poking you all day long with big pink letters that remind you to do something good for your body. “Keep your calendar out in your environment so you are consistently reminded to put things on it and keep up with your to-do lists, and also to check them off and not miss key things. Engage with other people to nag you,” recommends the expert.
2. Invite your friends to pester you
“Engage with other people who nag you,” suggest Dr. Markman. “Give colleagues or friends permission to remind you about things you might forget.” When you arrive at work, tell your desk neighbor that you’re hitting a spin class at 6:30 p.m. so that she can poke and prod you out the door.
3. Schedule workouts that are too convenient to miss
We’ve all been guilty of booking that shiny-new reformer-slash-underwater-aerobics class that’s all the way across town. But let’s cut the BS, things that are out of your way just aren’t going to happen. It’s the hard truth. “If you’re lower in conscientiousness, then go to the gym that’s as close as possible to either your home or your office. Don’t rely on being able to leave work early enough to get to the gym and don’t rely on going right when your alarm goes off first thing in the morning,” says Dr. Markman.
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