The Weekly Journal | Health
By Yenia Hernandez Fonseca - April 1, 2022
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
We all have those days when we dread waking up at the ring of our morning alarm. You’ve probably been working overtime for weeks now to the point of exhaustion. You find it more difficult to concentrate. You’re moody, tired and mostly out of it. All of a sudden things that were once enjoyable are not so fun anymore.
Fatigue leaves your brain exhausted and your body weak, so hitting the gym is the last thing on your mind. On days like these, motivation isn’t easy to come by, but dressing the part provides a sensory feedback that can shift our thoughts and behavior.
A 2012 study by two Northwestern University researchers, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, proved that clothing has not only the power to influence how others see us, but also how we perceive ourselves. Adam and Galinzky coined the term enclothed cognition to describe the mental changes we undergo when we wear certain clothes based on the symbolic meaning we associate with each particular item. “We think not just with our brains but with our bodies,” said Galinzky to The New York Times.
So, how much does dressing up in activewear change the way we think about exercising, especially in those days when we feel like doing absolutely nothing?
The power of clothing
Wearing yoga pants on the sidewalk, to school, or to the grocery store, used to be an object of mockery. But now, wearing compressive, skin-tight leggings from the gym to the shops, is commonplace.
If you see someone dressed up in a bright hoodie, abstract printed leggings, and neon-trimmed running shoes at Daily Press, you immediately think: “They’re so healthy and active, they must have their life together.” If you see someone in soft, neutral-toned athletic wear – grey, sand, beige, blush – you’ll probably think they do something more laid back and mindful, like yoga perhaps.
Enclothed cognition is real: our clothes alter how we approach and interact with the world. To combat the fatigue and exhaustion you’ve been dragging with you for months, revisit your wardrobe. Find your favorite gym outfit, that cute tie dye hoodie, or those sick Air Jordans you got last Christmas to set the tone for the next 40 to 60 minutes. Remember that physical activity is crucial to have stronger bones, muscles and joints, reduce feelings of anxiety or stress, and improve your memory and brain function.
And yet, clothing isn’t everything
Part of Adam and Galinsky’s study, focused on a group of 74 students randomly assigned to wear either a doctor’s coat or a painter’s coat. Despite wearing identical white lab coats, each group showed different results in their attention tests.
So, while the desire to look good at the gym is nothing new – look back at your mom’s Jane Fonda's Workout VHS from 1982 – just because you’ve stocked up on beautiful athleisure doesn’t mean you’ll become a gym rat. Enclothed cognition isn't a substitute for intrinsic motivation. We know fashion can be a little fickle, but if you’re buying more into achieving a certain look than on yourself, you might be trying to fit in, not getting healthy.
Take a short walk around the park, lift some light weights, or do some gentle yoga stretches in your living room. There are plenty of YouTube videos of free, low intensity workouts you can do. Whatever you end up choosing, do something – anything – to improve your mood and overall health. Remember that you’re doing this for yourself so take the time to be one with your body and mind. Schedule workouts and give them the same commitment as if it were a work meeting.
Regular physical activity boosts your self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy – it might be that hair of the dog you need to reset and restart your body. Consider joining a class! The idea of hanging out with friends, and even strangers, while you work out is enough motivation to keep us going. Set goals, come up with a killer playlist, and reward yourself every now and then. Here's a killer playlist to try.
When all things fail, rest
Let’s face it. Oftentimes a cool crop top and a pair of matching leggings aren’t enough to get us through a hundred sun salutations. At times, even enclothed cognition fails. After all, human behavior is nothing but inconsistent and quite unpredictable.
Our culture tends to reward work-driven, on-the-go individuals and reprimand those who appear like not having a single worry. Listening to our bodies and skipping on a workout is the best idea. Working out without proper recovery can lead to elevated levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – in the bloodstream. Sometimes, all we need to boost our mood is a bottle of cabernet, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and a chick flick when we’re tired AF.