Presented By
Molly Cranna for TIME
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Workout motivation. You don’t have any. You know exercise is good… and you still don’t do it. You’re not alone.

We all want a magic pill that makes us smarter, happier, and better looking. Good news is the magic pill is here. Bad news is it’s exercise.

Time to dump a bucket of solve on this problem and make you awesome. And we’ll do it by listening to your favorite music, hanging out with friends and taking lessons from Seinfeld. Sound good? Cool.

Let’s get to it…

The Magic Pill Is A Treadmill

Some will say they play Sudoku or brain-training games and that keeps their mind as quick and powerful as a jungle cat. Or they meditate. Or they take gobs of magic supplements. How do those fare in an IQ deathmatch against exercise?

Exercise wins by knockout in the first round:

When you exercise it boosts BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which helps you learn faster. How much faster? As much as 20%.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

Want to be happy? Exercise is as effective in treating depression as antidepressants. And if that ain’t enough, people who exercised had a lower relapse rate than those taking meds.

Via The Happiness Advantage:

But it doesn’t stop there. Exercise makes you less likely to get sick. It makes you more creative. Getting to the gym boosts confidence and helps you sleep better at night. Like money? Exercising is connected to a 5-10% salary increase.

How does exercise have such incredible powers over such a wide domain?

Because exercise changes how you see yourself. It ain’t all about biology and calories. It’s about identity.

When I spoke to Charles Duhigg, bestselling author of The Power of Habit, he said the identity effects of regular exercise have been shown to set off a cascade of positive behavior that can change your life:

(To learn how to get in great shape using only psychology, click here.)

Okay, you know the benefits. But how do you get the motivation to follow through? First, let’s kill that awful dread you feel whenever you think about having to go to the gym…

Read more: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

1) How To Kill The Dread

Anticipating a visit to the gym can feel like anticipating a root canal. “I’m gonna feel awful. My heart will be pounding out of my chest, my lungs will be a lake of fire and the pain will be worse than a Pauly Shore double feature.”

Fear not. There’s a very simple solution to this, proven by science:

Stop thinking about the beginning.

Getting started is unpleasant and research shows when you think about exercise you give that too much emphasis:

It’s the same problem you face with any kind of procrastination. You think about how uncomfortable it is to get started… and so you don’t. Which is why a great solution to putting things off is a “dash.”

You make yourself work on whatever you’re dreading for 10 minutes… and often you realize once you get started that it ain’t so bad.

Don’t just think about the painful beginning. That’s not fair. Think about how good you feel when you’re making progress toward your goals.

(To learn the secrets to beating chronic procrastination, click here.)

Alright, you’ve killed dread by thinking about more than the crummy start. That’s not too hard. You’ve done it before. But how do you get consistent about exercising regularly?

2) Make A Plan. (No, A Real Plan.)

Writing down a specific plan (that includes where, when, and how) makes a huge difference in whether you will build good habits.

When researchers just made people think about how much they planned to exercise, time at the gym increased 138%:

I know what some people are thinking: Yeah, Eric, I’ve made exercise plans before and they didn’t work.

That’s because you didn’t think about obstacles. As the old saying goes, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Problem here is the enemy is you. Luckily, you’ve faced this enemy on a daily basis.

Unleash your inner cynic for a second and ask yourself, “What is going to stop me from getting to the gym?” You probably know the answer. Now make sure your plan addresses that.

The study of “implementation intentions” shows you should create little “If-Then” responses to known stumbling blocks. For instance:

Can something this simple really make a difference? Oh yeah. “If-Then” plans boosted exercise compliance from 39% to 91%.

From Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

(To learn how to build good habits, click here.)

So you’ve overcome dread and you’ve made a plan that would make Patton proud. But how do you make yourself want to exercise like those disgustingly-exercise-addicted folks who seem so happy all the time? There’s a trick…

Read more: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

3) Make It A Game

When I hear something over and over from very different sources, I take notice. And “make it a game” is one of those things:

And making it a game is how Jerry Seinfeld got so funny.

Brad Isaac asked the comedian how he developed the discipline to write every day. Seinfeld made it a game.

From Lifehacker:

A simple calendar and a red magic marker can make all the difference when it comes to being funny — or getting in shape.

(To learn what Harvard research says will make you happier and more successful, click here.)

Okay, but what if you’re at the gym and you do feel sweaty and uncomfortable and awful? And nothing sciencey or all-smarty-pants that I write is gonna change that feeling. No problem. We have another arrow in our quiver. An emotional one…

4) Fight Feelings With Feelings

Specifically, we need to fight bad feelings with good feelings.

So listen to your favorite music. Sound silly? Wrong. Research shows it improves exercise performance andreduces your perception of discomfort:

In fact, playing music from the happiest time in your life makes you happier anywhere. When I spoke to neuroscientist Alex Korb he said:

Grit and willpower are great but what you need right now is a solid Spotify playlist.

(To learn what the music you love says about you — and how it can improve your life, click here.)

Alright, future gym-rat, we covered a lot. Now is the time when we round it all up — and learn the final super-tip that can make this all much easier and more fun…

Read more: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Sum Up

Here’s how to develop workout motivation:

  • Stop Focusing On The Beginning: Yeah, starting the workout sucks. But the other parts can be great.
  • Make A Plan: Make it specific. Write it down. And use “If-Then” to address obstacles before they happen.
  • Make It A Game: If a calendar and a magic marker can create a show like Seinfeld, it can get you to the gym.
  • Play The Music You Love: It’s not just nice, it makes your workout better and has pain-go-bye-bye power.

Want to take all this to the next level? It’s easy:

Plan a walk with a friend who likes to exercise.

Anticipating time with a friend kills the dread. Plus, you made a plan. And you added some good ol’ peer pressure to the mix. Triple threat.

And your friends influence you. Spending time with people who don’t exercise makes you more likely to be acouch potato:

Just doing this is enough to make you much happier. When Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard studied 5000 people around the world ages 18-80 they found people were happiest during three activities:

Socializing, exercise and sexy-time.

You’ve now set a time to do two of the three. (The third is, well, a different type of exercise.)

What are you waiting for? I’ve rambled enough and you’ve read enough. Email this post to a friend and plan a time to go for a walk. Yes, right now.

The easy prescription for a better life? Put one foot in front of the other. With friends.

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This article originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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