Is your Mental Fitness ready for Physical Fitness? A key question everyone must ask themselves. Unfortunately, too many times the right intentions are present however the right mindset is not. Whether you're a gym-rat or prefer to exercise at home, it's not the physical challenge that's presents the biggest obstacle, it's getting the mindset in shape to meet your goals. Whether the goal is to lose weight, lose inches off their waist, tone their bodies or all the above. It warms my heart to see people eager to get in shape. But if you do not get your mindset in shape, the physical fitness results will be slight at best. According to ZenPlanner, the number one reason for gym membership cancellation is that the members do not feel like they are making progress ("5 Reasons Why Members Leave a Gym", 2020). Results drive motivation and motivation drives results. So how do you get your mindset in order to realize the physical results you want to achieve? Let us find out.
There are 6 steps to develop and get your mindset ready for a positive physical fitness experience. Once you begin to incorporate these steps, you will be amazed at how quickly you will see your vision and goals come to life. Moreover, you can and should use this approach in everything you do, professionally and personally. It will become an automatic and habitual path to achieving your goals.
Before we dive into the 6 steps to mindset fitness, let me share with you a personal story in which I successfully applied my 6 steps toward achieving one of my goals.
In 1981, I participated in a bodybuilding competition which I clearly knew I was not ready for. It started out as a dare. I had a natural athletic build due to lifting weights while training for baseball but was by no means a bodybuilder. The competition was only 6 weeks away and I knew preparation would not be an easy task; it would not only take a toll on me physically, but mentally. You might be wondering, what the heck was he thinking? Well the operative word there was thinking, which I was not. But if you really knew me you would know that when you challenge me or tell me I can't do something, I will. Not only will I do it, I will do it better than anyone else. I quickly put a plan together, started dieting and weight training and remained steadfast for the next 6 weeks. The competition day quickly came. I participated. I lost. Not only did I lose, I finished dead last! I decided to the watch the evening competition and experience what I was told would be an incredibly exciting time for anyone serious about the sport. It did not take long to realize I would not be disappointed. The excitement resonating from the crowd was amazing. It got me charged up and tremendously inspired. I was so engaged with watching the competitors that when they announced the overall champion, I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to be the winner, on stage in front of an audience of thousands of screaming fans. As I continued to be mesmerized by it, my vision became stronger and pictured myself standing on that stage, looking out to the crowd with the huge trophy held over my head. By this time, I just did not visualize it, I felt it, I could smell it, I could hear the crowd—every sense was firing all at once. It was the vision I carried with me every day for the entire year. I was going to win this competition next year. And guess what? I did! I was crowned the Collegiate South Florida Champion almost a year later to the day. It was a 12-month journey utilizing the 6 steps that I'm going to share with you. It got me prepared mentally first which made it easier to seamlessly transition into the grueling physical training. It was the difference between winning and losing, but more importantly, achieving the goal I set out to do.
Let's get into the 6 steps which are:
Forget "Why I Can't"
Envision What You Want
Have a Plan
Rest and Re-calibrate
1) Forget "Why I Can't"
Do any of these sound familiar?
"I can't because I have too many other things to do"
"I can't because I am too old"
"I can't because I don't know what I'm doing"
"I can't because no one will help me"
"I can't because I can't afford to join a gym"
"I can't, I can't, I can't...."
Amazing how we can think of 1,000 reasons why we can't. Why is that? First, it's effortless. It takes little to no energy at all to think of a reason why we can't do something. Second, we become complacent—settling for just being OK—but are we OK? It's an internal struggle we all have. We want to be a better version of ourselves, we just cannot get going the drive or initiative to make it happen. If you do not bring out the best in you, who will? Let us start by forgetting all the reasons why you can't and start to think of all the reasons why you can. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and instead of dividing into two columns, we're only going to use one column. List all the reasons "Why I Can".
2) Envision What You Want. Everything starts with a vision. Vision is defined as a picture or idea you have in your mind of yourself that helps you pursue a dream and achieve a goal. You have to visualize it in order to make it come to life. Whatever it is you want to do—personally or professionally—you must paint a picture in your mind and lock it in. Always carry that picture with you until your dream becomes a reality, no matter how big that dream is. Olympian and Judo gold-medalist Kayla Harrison said in an interview with The Washington Post, “Every night I visualize myself winning the Olympics”. And it’s not just in your mind. In a study conducted by exercise physiologist Guang Yue, volunteers were asked to imagine themselves flexing their biceps as hard as possible; after a few weeks of visualizing their training, those individuals showed a 13.5% increase in strength (Maese, 2016). Once you practice visualizing yourself achieving your goals, you will be amazed how vivid that picture becomes, and how invigorating it is in fueling your fire.
3) Mind-Body Connection. The mind-body connection is an incredibly strong one. The manipulation the mind has on your body is not done by words, rather by your thoughts and feelings that influence you physically. Think about what happens to you when you hear your favorite song. How does your mood and behavior change? Do you get a sudden burst of energy that instantaneously transforms you into a professional dancer or singer? How about what you feel when you put on your favorite outfit. No doubt you are looking good, feeling good and ready to take on the world. Is it because your confidence level is at an all-time high? Absolutely! These are two of the best examples of how the mind-body connection works. Having a positive mind-body connection is hugely important. Conversely, a negative mind-body connection can be disruptive to your emotional health and impact your goals. The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as “how the brain and body respond to any demand” (“5 Things You Should Know About Stress”). Not all stress is bad. It is simply a response and it takes form in a variety of ways. It can be the result of money problems, a demanding job, divorce, or death of a loved one. When recurring conditions cause stress that is both intense and sustained over a long period of time, it can be referred to as "chronic" or "toxic" stress. Chronic stress is specifically problematic due to the significant harm it can do to the body and brain such as the development of heart conditions, high blood pressure, weakened immune system and insomnia. Understanding ways of coping with stress can lead to better health. Seek out ways in which you can learn to control your mind and body such as exercising, meditation, yoga or listening to music. Putting some physical stress on your body through exercising can actually relieve mental stress. This is due to three reasons: exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones such as cortisol, it improves sleep quality, and lastly it increases confidence which promotes positive wellbeing. Find what it is that gives you that energy, that confidence, that drive—use it to fuel your mind and body.
4) Have a Plan. Plans are the blueprints for your journey. They help set your priorities, put you in control, makes you efficient, gives you a timeline, builds confidence and helps you foresee any challenges and uncertainty. When putting your plan together follow these rules:
Make your goals realistic. Use the SMART-rule: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Start small. Make your starting point where you are currently, not where you ultimately want to be. Starting too fast or too big will only cause you more frustration.
Set a timeline with tasks and mini-goals. Write it down. This will keep you motivated, inspired and let you know if you are on track. Plus it breaks your timeline into more manageable sections.
Consider additional resources. Who and what else will you need to support you during your journey? This could be a coach, friend, co-worker or family member.
Identify obstacles that may get in the way. Each one presents a different challenge. Examples may be work related or family commitments. Your exercise and diet may not always be perfect. Ask yourself how do these obstacles prevent you from reaching your goals? When you learn to navigate through them, you'll get ahead of any potential stress or frustration.
Monitor progress and revise your plan when needed. Things can change along your journey and so should your plan. This is when monitoring becomes critical. Record your results. Stay close to the things not working as you would the things that are working. If you are planning effectively, you will need to make adjustments.
5) Discipline. This is where the rubber meets the road. It is the single most important attribute to reaching your goals. There is nothing easy about this step of your journey. It is a significant paradigm shift in your mindset and lifestyle. There are rules to follow, albeit set by you. It means putting yourself and your goals first—following the rules you’ve set for yourself and being accountable when you don’t. While learning to self-discipline can be daunting, nothing is insurmountable once you put your mind to it. It does not mean you have to eliminate the fun from your life. You can plan fun rewards for every mini goal you hit, which will help keep your timeline exciting and aid you in reaching your long-term goals. Rewarding yourself for accomplishment is a great motivational tool. Discipline teaches you the value of hard work, that there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going. It motivates and inspires you to do your best which yields successful results in all aspects of your life. Discipline is habit-forming, no different than having that much-needed cup of coffee or tea to get you going every morning. It becomes part of your lifestyle. You will eat healthier, exercise regularly and your commitment will speak for itself. As your discipline strengthens, you will soon be guiding and mentoring others to do the same thing.
6) Rest and Recovery. There are many changes you experience along this journey. There are stress points, frustration, fatigue, uncertainty, doubt, aches, pains, etc., and nothing gets you back on track better then rest. The mind and body can sometimes take only so much, and it is critical you stay ahead of it. Three types of rest are most critical. 1) Rest periods between exercises. Resting between sets of exercise gives your body time to recover and repair itself. If not, you will over-train the muscle causing it to fatigue. Exercising faster does not mean faster results. Quite the opposite. 2) Rest days. Whether you are building your muscles for mass or toning your body, muscles can be easily damaged with the stress put on them with exercise. Taking a day off to rest will do as much good as exercising itself. 3) Sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average 7-8 hours of sleep for adults over the age of 64 and 7-9 hours for ages 18-64. Try your best to adhere as closely to these recommendations as possible. Lack of sleep causes us to be sluggish, fatigued, irritable, impatient, lacking focus and alertness. Without the proper amount of sleep, the goal you are trying to accomplish will not only be more difficult and prolonged, you might make changes to your plan unnecessarily. Be at your best and get the rest you need. Re-calibration is necessary as it measures where you are in your journey. Take the time to do a self-audit. Ask yourself, where do I need to speed up or slow down? Ask any of your resources you have brought along with you how you are doing? Surround yourself with people who will be open and honest with feedback that builds you up for success. Keep track of your journey through intermittent re-calibration. You will realize your vision sooner.
I shared earlier that I sat in the audience to watch the evening competition. What I didn't mention was where I sat, which was on the aisle in the fifth row just left of the stage. Sitting next to me on the right was my college roommate and his girlfriend. From this seat, I pictured myself standing on that stage, looking out to the crowd with the huge trophy held over my head. Less than a week after winning the same competition a year later, the above picture was sent to me anonymously. This picture was taken directly behind the very row and seat I was in one year earlier. In it, the seat in front of the photographer was empty and the people to the right with their hands up in celebration were my roommate and his girlfriend in their same seats as last year. The empty seat was the angle I had when I envisioned being the winner. In 1981 said I can and in 1982 I did. My vision became a reality. So could yours. Start your plan and make it happen!
Maese, Rick. “For Olympians, Seeing (in Their Minds) Is Believing (It Can Happen).” The Washington Post,
“5 Reasons Why Members Leave a Gym.” Zen Planner, 17 Mar. 2020, zenplanner.com/5-reasons-why-members-leave-a-gym/.
“5 Things You Should Know About Stress.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml.