5 Ways to Make Your Workout Less Boring–Disassociation

We’re all looking for ways to make a workout go by as quickly as possible. After all, whether you’re just getting started in your day or if you’re trying to drag through one at the end, the goal is usually the same. Get done and get back to what you’re doing.

While there’s not a magic wand to exercise or better health, there may be some mind tricks you can play in order to make your workout seem to go by more quickly. Some individuals that workout actually perform better when they are focusing on form, technique and endurance, a skill called Association. However, others perform better when they are able to let their mind wander, distract from the intensity and discomfort of the workout and ultimately allow for time to pass while their thoughts are occupied by things (Lind, pp. 743-764).

This strategy actually has a name found common in the circles of Sport and Exercise Psychology and is called Disassociation. Disassociation involves when the participant is disassociated, or not focused, on the task at hand. When they are not focused, they actually perform better than if they were to be concentrating on the act of the workout or task at hand. Association, is the opposite strategy, in which an athlete would be honed in on the activity, focusing on breathing, skill and perhaps cadence (Lind, pp. 743-764).

A study from Morgan and Polluck (1977) found that most people who run use a dissociative style, when they may have tried to notice scenery on the course or played out a conversation in their head as a way to distract and pass the time of their run. This technique can by utilized in a variety of ways, but let me tell you about 5 to get you started.

Tired runner

1.  Make Plans. When I run, I think about all kinds of things. But one of the things I find myself thinking about the most is my plans. I make all sorts of plans when I run. I plan out my day, things for work, topics for this blog (where do you think this post idea came from?) and I even plan out my meals. You can plan out everything from what you will do for the rest of the day, to where you will go on vacation. One thing I really like about this strategy, is that not only does it provide distraction from the workout, but it also alleviates stress in your day-to-day life. By planning tasks while you workout, you’re actually taking away a lot of the stress that may have been caused by NOT making these plans. I usually feel so much better after a workout in which I have had a very successful “planning” session and feel more mentally organized for the next few days, weeks or months. Bonus points if you take a mini notepad along to jot down ideas as you go!

2. Music. Music has been proven time and time again to be one of the most valuable resources for keeping people motivated during a workout. Put on a playlist full of upbeat songs, and your workout is sure to fly by in no time. For runners, it is natural to fall into step with the beat of the song, so music actually has the power to keep your pace up and literally put spring in your step. There are a variety of free websites that actually allow you to select the BPM (beats per minute) that you want and then give you a list of songs to fit your selection. Jog.fm.com is a great place to start!

3. Enjoy nature. Take your workout outdoors and enjoy nature. Instead of focusing on the pain or exhaustion of a workout, try turning your attention to your surroundings. Pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells. Is there any wildlife? Focus on the birds you see or any rabbits along the path. Look for interesting flowers, trees or clouds. If available, choose locations near bodies of water, landscape views or mountain terrain in which you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy your surroundings. I have found and noticed everything from owls, rabbits to prehistoric looking bugs that have helped to divert my attention during my runs.

4. Devote a mile. Sometimes during a run, I like to write down a few names of people that I care about or people that are having a tough time for some reason. For each mile I run, I decide that I’m going to dedicate that mile to them. For example, I had a colleague who used to love to run also and we would always talk about running while working together. One day driving home from work, she had a terrible accident and was not able to run anymore due to injury. Often, I find myself devoting miles to her during my run. This also reminds me how lucky and fortunate I am just to be able to get out and move my legs!

5. Play a game. Another great way to dissociate during a workout is to play a mind game with yourself. This could be done a lot of different ways, but one way might be to take notice of what is going on around you. If you’re in the gym during reps on the weight floor, you might challenge yourself to see if you can spot 5 other people wearing green before you finish out your set. If you’re running or out biking, you might challenge yourself to see if you can run past 5 road signs before another car drives by. These games can help take your mind off of the intensity of your workout, while also helping time go by a little quicker.


These are only just a few of the ways in which I have tried to make a workout seem a little less daunting and for time to go by more quickly. What strategies or “mind games” do you have to disassociate during a workout?



Lind, E., Welch, A., & Ekkekakis, P. (2009). Do ‘Mind over Muscle’ Strategies Work? Sports Medicine, 39(9), 743-764.

Morgan, W.P., & Pollock, M.L. (1977). Psychologic characterization of the elite distance runner. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.


Disclaimer: This article also appeared on the blog at maddenwellnessky.com