Mind Tricks to Improve Your Health

We’ve all probably had to struggle through a workout or play mind games to get to the finish line of a challenging physical event or race. Recent research indicates that the more we distract ourselves during our workouts, our perceived effort goes down and performance goes up. 

Here’s some mind tricks that you can use whenever you are struggling to keep going:


Watching your favorite TV show, a movie or educational Ted-talk, can take your mind off your indoor workouts. Many people report they do a higher volume of activity when they are distracted by something they are enjoying watching. 


It is true that music motivates so create your high-energy playlist that gets you performing at a high level and takes your mind off the effort. 


Grab a friend and gab your way through your workouts. The time can pass so much more quickly. 

Solve World Problems

Try thinking about an issue you’re trying to solve and then allow your mind to wander as you brainstorm various solutions. Sometimes your best, most creative ideas can surface during a workout.

Enjoy the Scenery

Focus on the scenery all around. Take notice of the colors and sounds. Explore the beauty and you’ll find you’re less distracted by the challenging efforts. 

Mental Bribery

Sometimes making a deal with yourself can really help. For example, you could negotiate “Run to the next water station, then I can walk for 2 minutes” or “Make it through the first loop, then I’ll take a short break” or “Complete 5 workouts this week and then get 2 rest days” or “Push hard for 30 seconds, then go easy for 5 minutes” or “Just go for 10 minutes and then decide if you want to continue or not.”


Pick an inspiring phrase that you repeat to put you in a trance-type state that assures you to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Something like “I can do this”, “I’m stronger than I think I am”, “Keep going”, “Never quit” or “I’ve got this” might do the trick for you.

Mental Games

Literally play games to take your mind off the effort. For example, you could go through the alphabet thinking of an inspirational word for each letter. You could consider the months in a year and think of someone you love who celebrates a birthday in each month. You could count to 500 and then reverse counting backwards from 500. You could count as high as you can in a second language. You could create or add to your bucket list in your head.

Baby Steps

If you are faced with a challenge that seems impossible and overwhelming, break it into smaller, easier-to-accomplish chunks. For example, if you are trying to run a 10K, break it into two 5Ks. If you are competing a triathlon, focus on the swim first, then the bike, then the run. If you are trying to get through a one hour workout, break it into four 15 minute segments. Whatever it is you are tackling, break it down into smaller steps.

What’s your WHY

When you are struggling to finish, take the time to reflect on why you started. What is your reason? Ask yourself what did you hope to accomplish? Make a list of your goals. When you have a compelling reason it’s easier to keep going.

Gain Perspective

I’ve participated in races where I had to force myself to remember the struggles that others were experiencing. So if I was climbing a tough hill, I would consider that this was nothing compared to what my girlfriend who was undergoing chemo was going through. Or if I felt like quitting during a workout, I would think of a friend who had great struggles and wasn’t making any excuses. It’s easy to find someone who is older, less fit, dealing with health issues or physical disabilities, busier, and/or with less resources that is still figuring it out. Sometimes putting things in perspective makes it harder to make excuses and easier to continue.

Pat on the Back

Feeling good about how much you have accomplished can often give you a boost of energy and confidence to keep going. For example, when you are struggling to get to the finish line of a Half Marathon, remember back to when you couldn’t even run a block. Or when you’re struggling to complete a set of chin-ups, remember when you couldn’t even do one. 

Extrinsic Rewards

Having a carrot to incentivize you to keep going can be very helpful for many. For example, if I finish this tough race, we are going on a weekend get-away. If I complete 3 cardio and 2 muscle conditioning workouts this week, I will book a massage. If I get through this challenging trail run, we’ll go to our favorite coffee shop and enjoy each other’s’ company. If I reach XYZ goal, I will treat myself to a shopping trip or buy something I’ve always wanted. Sometimes, if you can’t find the internal motivation, external motivation can work wonders to get you through a big goal!

Yours in health & fitness,
Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at nwpersonaltraining.com.

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