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The Outside In Approach to Improving Your Fitness Regimen

Updated: Aug 8, 2023


Many people struggle to maintain a consistent fitness routine and reach their health goals. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is an evidence-based approach that can help by targeting unhealthy thought patterns that undermine motivation and action. Within CBT, the "outside in" approach focuses on changing behaviors first to ultimately shift thought patterns over time.


When it comes to fitness, the outside in approach suggests taking action before your motivation feels completely aligned. Start by committing to small, manageable behaviors like going to the gym three times per week or walking for 15 minutes daily. Consistently doing these actions will start to rewire your thoughts and feelings about exercise.


For example, suppose you want to lose weight but you struggle with self-doubt and feelings of being overwhelmed. Instead of waiting until you feel motivated, commit to walking on the treadmill three times this week. By actually showing up and doing the action, you'll start to think to yourself:"I'm someone who walks on the treadmill regularly." Over time, this new identity as an "exerciser" can grow and boost your motivation.





The key actions of the outside in approach are:

1. Commit to small, specific behaviors you know you can accomplish on a schedule. Start by focusing solely on the actions, not feelings.

2. Follow through consistently for at least 2-3 weeks. Changes in thoughts and motivation take time.

3. Monitor your thinking during and after the actions. Notice any changes in self-talk and perceptions.

4. Gradually increase or modify your behaviors as they become automatic and your motivation improves.

5. Reward yourself for keeping commitments and making progress.


With patience and consistency, an outside in approach can help change unhealthy thought patterns that were holding you back. Simply by regularly showing up and taking action, you train your mind to think of yourself as someone who exercises and manages their health.

Over time, feelings of motivation, confidence and enjoyment can grow from this foundation. So don't wait until you feel ready - take the first helpful step today towards a fitter, healthier you.

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