Self-seduction or how to run when you don’t feel like it.

FACTCHECK INTERMEZZO – Thanks to the attentive Mister K. Nelissen 🙂 

“The willpower muscle and ego depletion theory were recently debunked!” – SOURCE

I have edited the original post in red accordingly.

As such, the new title for this post will be

Willpower Self-seduction or how to run when you don’t feel like it.”

Imagine the following setting:

  • It is Tuesday evening and you just arrived home from the work commute.
  • The weekend’s sleep deprivation has not entirely left your system.
  • Marathon sniffles have replaced breathing with loud snorting.
  • A quick temperature check confirms dark sub-zero weather outside.

A simple question dawns:

“Should I go for that 14 km run or stay inside tonight?”

A solid 90% of the time, my instinctive response would be to stay inside.

Do I want to go running in the dark?


Will I eventually lace up my shoes and go out?


A meme questioning the mental state of outdoor runners

The goal of this blog post is to share some personal strategies to turn a reasonable no into a resolute YES.

With a little background on self-seduction, dear reader, you too can overcome those inner doubts and/or justified laziness.

The Power of Will

You might have already heard about the debunked theory of willpower depletion. The body of research that cascaded out of Roy F. Baumeister’s 1998 cookie-vs-radishes experiment, showed us that our willpower can be seen as a limited resource.

Every time we are faced with decisions, creative planning, diaper changing or tasks that challenge our self-control, we supposedly use up some of our willpower reserves.

On the flipside, this would also imply that self-seduction can be trained like a muscle. For marathoners testing their self-control capacity, this is quite relevant.

Self-control is defined by Mark Muraven as:

“The process that enables organisms to override, inhibit or stop urges, emotions and moods, thoughts or behaviors in order to reach a long-term goal.”

Seeing as most marathon training programs will require at least 12 weeks of rigorous training, having adequate self-control can make the difference between merely attempting a long run and achieving a great finish.

In what follows, I propose three tactics to get your self-controlling muscle working sweet talk yourself into a running motion.

First tactic: Get Motivated

Some researchers found that believing in the concept of limited willpower in itself is a surefire way to suffer from willpower depletion. (Suggestibility is a weapon folks :l)

A meme of an iron, i.e. Ironic

In case you have already fallen victim to the idea (sorry), not to worry! (Again, it was debunked in 2016.)

By far the best way to ignore that comfortable sofa and fridge combo is to keep your intrinsic motivation on point.

Intrinsic as in something you find important for yourself. If running a marathon is your goal, please make sure you are not solely doing it to impress someone else!

There is always time to impress others when you can no longer walk unsupported after that sweet marathon finish 🙂

Back to running

The easiest way to feed your running passion is to keep a goal race in mind. Depending on your current level, that could be anything between a local 5K up to a crazy desert ultra-marathon in China.

To me, having a paper version of my next goal race training plan is a permanent reminder of what I am aiming for.

A picture of a handwritten schedule based on Pfitzinger's Marathon book
Handwritten schedules based on Pfitz’s Bible

When things get tough, a simple look at this paper can usually get me my mojo back. Sadly, this first line of defence does not always cut it. On to tactic numero duo!

Second tactic: The Carrot minus the Stick

Another strain of research showed a link between willpower and your glucose levels. In order to stay on track, simply have a glucose-rich snack some carbs.

Back to running

While grabbing some toast with jam might not actually be a great way to stock up some willpower fuel, it still remains a great antidote against the cold!

You can revert this tactic to use it as your post-run reward. I personally like to keep a hot shower (and in extreme cases a full option cheese pizza) in mind to push through that stone-cold downpour on the homestretch.


If this still is not enough to get you into running clothes, I have one more tactic left.

Third tactic: Laugh it up

A final subset of the self-seduction literature focuses on the link between a positive mood and your capacity for self-control.

Subjects who watched a comedy video in a willpower-depleted state, performed subsequent self-regulating tasks as good as their non-depleted peers.

To be blunt, I currently have no some empirical evidence that watching all those comedy videos actually helped my athletic development!

A laughing meme to stress the irony
Oh the irony

However, there is still a silver lining.


As you’re restocking your glucose carb supply, try to take a 10 min peek at some comedy before you leave the house.

Elevating your mood is still a good way to naturally improve your running form as your incessant smiling relaxes your upper body.


The key takeaway here is:

“The science says that a lack of willpower is (really) not keeping you from that next run.”

I hope the three tactics help you reach your running goals sooner. Until then, remember that a runner’s high is your body’s way to say it loves the exercise.

Run well,


P.S.: After first reading about willpower as a muscle, I stopped jaywalking altogether. Nothing screams self-control like waiting for a red light on a deserted street. It’s legal fun for the whole family!

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