Learn to Love Any Exercise — In an Hour

Korin Miller
·Writer

She hated running, but after learning a few mind tricks, within an hour Lena Dunham “had a different relationship to this formerly torturous activity. I felt strong, swift, and proud.” What’s the secret? (Photo: Instagram/lenadunham)

Eating broccoli, doing planks, cutting back on soda…we all have things we hate to do, even though we know they’re good for us.

Apparently for Lena Dunham, it’s running — but she says she managed to completely alter the way she thinks about the sport. The Girls creator recently posted a paparazzi photo on Instagram of herself running, noting that this particular photo “fills me with pride.”

“Basically my whole life I have hated running and run like a wounded baby Pterodactyl,” she said in the caption. “It was embarrassing and honestly I did not trust myself to escape a burning building or even move briskly towards a buffet.”

But on the urging of a new Girls director, Dunham took a training session with Matt Wilpers, a running instructor at New York’s Mile High Run Club. The session was for her role on the show, but Dunham says it made a profound impact on her.

Within an hour, she says, “I had a different relationship to this formerly torturous activity. I felt strong, swift, and proud.”

But…how is that possible?

It’s all about changing a person’s perspective, Wilpers, a certified running coach, tells Yahoo Health. “You have to understand how they see things,” he says. “You have to do it one layer at a time, understanding what’s their background, what’s their previous history like, why are they scared to run, and why do they not like running.”

Related: How to Find a Sport That You Love

Wilpers says he also often shares with clients why he loves running and why he does it — and that seemed to resonate with Dunham. “For her, it was how to think about running,” he says. “It was like one moment that we fixed it. The biomechanics and everything clicked.”

Sports psychologist Jarrod Spencer, PsyD, president of sports psychology company Mind of the Athlete, isn’t surprised that Dunham was able to make the leap. “With the right help, it’s very possible to end up liking a physical activity that you previously hated,” he tells Yahoo Health.

Spencer says that mental change can take a lot of time and work, or as little as an hour.

He explains why: When we “hate” something, it’s because we felt threatened by it — physically, socially, or emotionally — and there is likely some trauma tied to it.

There are varying degrees of trauma, but our hatred of certain forms of exercise could simply be because we tried it once or twice and it was hard. Your brain’s amygdala, which plays a key role in processing emotions, remembers those uncomfortable experiences and, when you think of doing that activity again, your brain essentially warns you about your negative history with that activity.

The work, then, is to try to override the previous negative associations you’ve formed in your mind.

It’s actually not as hard as you’d think. One trick, Spencer says, is to talk or think about the sport that you hate in a past tense, such as “I used to hate cycling, but now I enjoy it.”

Talking about hating a sport in the past tense and then thinking about it in a positive way mentally creates space between the old issue and your new feelings towards it, he explains.

Related: How Long Does It Actually Take to Get Out of Shape?

Another trick is to visualize yourself doing that activity in a positive way. “It literally replaces those negative images and experiences in your amygdala, creating new, positive ones,” Spencer says, adding that the brain can’t really tell the difference between what’s imagined and what is real.

And, of course, doing an activity more helps as well.

But sports psychologist Jack Lesyk, PhD, director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology, tells Yahoo Health that it’s also important to ease into it since starting any new physical activity is going to be uncomfortable at first — especially if you dive right in. Doing too much, too soon could torpedo your efforts to learn to love a sport, he says.

He recommends starting slow, understanding that it might be a little uncomfortable at first, and setting small goals for yourself.

While Dunham said in her Instagram post that she has no plans to become a triathlete, she says she now finds running to be a “true joy.”

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