Three Systems for Overcoming the Mental Challenges of Being Physically Active

By Melissa Lobo,
updated on May 18, 2018

Three Systems for Overcoming the Mental Challenges of Being Physically Active

According to the World Health Organization, one in four adults in the world is not sufficiently physically active. Additionally, around 80% of our global adolescent population is not active for the recommended amount of time

The good news is WHO member states have vowed to help address these statistics by decreasing the lack of physical activity by as much as 10% by 2025. So, where do we start? By understanding why we find it hard to be physically active and fixing the problem.

One of the largest hurdles we have to overcome when it comes to proactively living a healthy lifestyle involves what goes on inside our heads. It stands to reason then, that if you are adamant about making changes to the way you approach your personal health, you have to guarantee that you are fueled by the right emotions.

woman running

Ready to make a change that you can thank yourself for later? Consider the following.

Expending Mental Energy Wisely

When it’s time to renew that gym membership, go for a run, or do a few laps in a swimming pool, the first thing we need to do is align our mental energies accordingly. All too often, we get so caught up in worrying over the little things, that we end up missing out on what we should be focusing on.

For instance, instead of getting a move on, we may opt to sit on the couch and wonder if the weather is going to change for the worse. Instead of having started what we said we would do a couple of hours ago, we dupe ourselves into getting stuck where we should not be.

It is natural to worry, and it is not automatically unwise to think about things that we would like to control but cannot. However, we need to learn better control mechanisms when it comes to directing where our thoughts go. Mental energy is a powerful propeller, and if it is running on the right things, it can take us places.

The next time you get distracted from what you hope to do, with what you fear will go wrong, focus on why doing what you know is right will be worth it anyway. And keep moving. When we learn to map out better courses for ourselves, we’ll be well on our way.

Reconfiguring Negative Thinking Patterns

Another familiar rut we often fall into when it comes to investing time and effort into staying fit is being held back by negative thoughts. Will you ever be able to fit back into your jeans? What is the guarantee that you will shed off those stubborn pounds, when you feel like you have been doing this for a while and you have not seen any changes? Is there even any point to any of it at all?


If you are used to thinking about things in a certain way, this creates a pattern that ultimately influences your behavior. Changing this pattern does not happen overnight, but it does happen over time. If you find yourself a victim of your own thoughts, remember these tips:

  • Recognize your negative thinking patterns. The first step to re-configuring negative thinking patterns is knowing that you have patterns of thoughts that are harmful to you. Recognize them in order to know when you are needlessly beating yourself up and impeding your own progress.

  • Separate yourself from bad thoughts. If you start thinking negatively, learn to distance yourself from the pull of those thoughts. For example, instead of thinking, “I will never be able to achieve anything,” change it to: “I’m thinking that I may never be able to achieve anything, but that is a reaction that I have given in to for most of my life. Today, I am recognizing that it does not have to be that way.”

  • Be mindful. Finally, watch your thoughts. It’s normal to worry, but don’t overindulge. Practice control over the scope of things that make sense to worry about. Don’t get carried away by things that are not even happening yet or are out of your control.

Developing Good Habits

Lastly, train yourself to develop good habits. Every good system uses iterations, and succeeding at living a physically active lifestyle is no exception.

woman running up stairs

If you are used to waking up in the morning and slumping against the kitchen counter to check for updates from your social media networks, for example, use the time instead to do a few stretches. It may not seem like a lot, but modifying what we have programmed our bodies to do affects the way we do things later on. In addition, it saves you from repeating behavior that may lead to more problems, such as the reported correlation between the incessant use of mobile phones and bad posture.

Keep working at doing away with habits that are unproductive and changing them out with others that help you feel fulfilled and accomplished. And don’t stop. Consistency is the foundation upon which our routines are built; the more good routines we have, the more prepared we are mentally to never slack off.

Melissa is the Associate Content Director for Project Female. Before, she was a journalist specializing in topics related to women in politics and policy affecting women.

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