Setting the scene for fitness success|Panera Bread Co. does it & so can you

Posted on March 21, 2010


We all want to feel good. Which may be why so many fall off the exercise-for-life wagon when they realize that workouts are supposed to be hard. When we are challenged to be uncomfortable, our “but I want to feel good!” part of our brain kicks in & may send us to a safer, more fun haven – like the couch. (Which is not actually more fun, you couch-lovers just don’t know that yet).

If you have any intention of making exercise & good nutrition a part of your life, you’re going to need to set the mood for your mind. Because as much as your analytical brain wants to workout & eat broccoli (yum!), your emotional brain wants to be comfortable & feel good. But if you can create a mood that makes you feel good about working out & eating right, you have unlocked the Master Door & are going to be able to step through to a life of happiness WITH fitness!

Marketers are doing this every day, most of the time without you even realizing it. Take Panera Bread Co. For those of you who don’t have these restaurants by you, it’s a cafe-style eatery that does quick food (not “fast” but not “sit-down-restaurant” either). You can sit & eat or languish over coffee & sticky rolls with friends, but many people love Panera because you can take food to go that is fresh & reasonably healthy.

I walked into Panera this morning & was smacked in the face by how good this company is at setting the scene for people to ‘just feel good’ there & thus, return there often. Couples popping in for bagels & coffee, individuls reading the paper over a breakfast sandwich, huge families sitting together around tables pulled together near the fireplace, the smell of fresh-baked breads & their signature hazelnut coffee, the menu board highlighting the “cool meal idea of the day” that pairs one of their breads or bagels with something else on the menu, & cozy chairs tucked into corners by the window with outlets to plug laptops into….Do you see what I mean?? Just reading that you were probably thinking, “that sounds great!, how soon can we go?”

I can’t even eat half the stuff at Panera (gluten abounds everywhere), and get totally annoyed by how highly caloric the meals are, and the powers that be at Panera Corp HQ that created this scene even had me wanting to hang out for just a little bit rather than grab my coffee & run. And this, my friends, is exactly what you need to do to your life & your mind if you want to find exercise & good nutrition enjoyable.

If you set the scene, especially the parts of exercise that are full of sweat, burning muscles, & uncomfortably pumping heart beats, you’ll find yourself more likely to return to that uncomfortable state often, and in fact, even plan to get there regularly. And if you already have got the scene set for tough workouts, you’re going to need to keep nurturing that scene in order to keep your passion for that level of intensity high. 

Eating in a Panera Bread Co. attaches those “feel good” signals to the simple act of needing to stop & re-fuel, and they’ve got most people loving the notion of paying between $8-11 for a meal- thank you very much. So how do you set the scene?

To set the scene you need to:

  • Build an emotional attachment by keying into your senses -touch -sound -sight -taste -sight
    • If you wear workout clothes that don’t feel comfortable, why would you want to stay in those clothes for 40+ minutes sweating your butt off?
    • Sometimes silence is golden, as in during the workout outside on a quiet spring morning. Sometimes, you need the Black Eyed Peas pounding on your ear drums to keep you emotionally attached to the workout.
    • If you’re like most Americans, you have a severely distorted palate. Set the scene for flavorful healthy eating by picking out simple, fresh recipes that use real ingredients from nature, not things from a a bag or box, then practice them. Often. Get the right tools too – you wouldn’t think Panera was cozy if they only had card tables & fold-out chairs to sit in – the right pans, a good knife, a full spice rack or herb garden make all the difference.
  • Wherever you are, stamp your footprint – this Panera was in a nondescript, tiny parking lot strip mall that looked nothing like how it looked & felt inside the cafe.
    • Whether it’s your living room, the bike path, a giant gym, a small YMCA plant your flag & claim that area as YOUR workout world. Feeling embarrassed to use equipment in a gym you pay a membership to or that others are watching you look like a fool working out outdoors is crazy. That Panera could have lowered itself to its strip mall surroundings but it chose to elevate itself to its’ highest potential. If you “own” your workout wherever it is, you’ll get a much better return on your investment.
  • Make ‘this’ the new norm, ‘this’ being -consistent workouts -regular dinners made at home -the up-at-5-to-get-extra cardio in mentality
    • There was a time when Panera Bread Co. did not exist. Restaurants generally only had fireplaces to cook food in, not to enjoy a flavored coffee next to. They didn’t have chairs you’d find in someone’s home as part of the seating plan. And they didn’t serve $8 salads with special fixings like apple chips on them. But, try to imagine a world without places like Panera or Starbucks – you can’t anymore! It’s a part of our culture. And working out needs to be a part of your culture. Same goes for eating nutritiously. It needs to now be just “what you do.” You will make sacrifices, just like we have for allowing places like Panera & Starbucks in our life (we accept the idea of paying $3-5 to catch up with a friend over coffee where before we would have paid less than $1 at the local diner to do the same thing). You’ll end up going to bed earlier, you’ll stand in the kitchen doing dishes vs. laying on the couch watching TV over your take-out boxes. You’ll spend more money than you may have ever before on good workout shoes & gear. And it will be just “what you do” because this is your ‘new norm.’