We tend to focus mostly on the physical aspects of fitness training, the mechanics of the exercises we do and on using proper form. No doubt, this is an important aspect of training. Yet, we don’t always focus enough on another aspect of the fitness training equation – what’s going on in our heads. What’s happening upstairs in the brain’s gray matter influences everything you do when you train. That’s why the most successful athletes have a tough mental frame of mind and a “can do” attitude and never let mental blocks distract them from training.
In reality, what you accomplish in almost every area of your life is 90% mental. You must have the right mindset going into a workout and be able to use that positive frame of mind to stay motivated. Otherwise, it’s hard to keep lacing up those exercise shoes each day! We all have times when we don’t feel like working out. You might drive home from work and drag yourself out of the car and into the house. Once there, you have a long list of other things you have to do. Without the right mindset, your workout can easily get swept under the carpet.
Of course, one day won’t make or break you. But, what if one day of skipping a workout session turns into two and then into a week? You’ve broken the momentum and it’s hard to get back into the swing of things. Inertia is the enemy when it comes to staying in shape. So, what can you do from a mental standpoint to keep the momentum going? Here are four guidelines for keeping the exercise habit consistent.
Visualize and Overcome Mental Blocks
The mind is a powerful thing. Everything we do is first manifest in your mind though – so why not harness the power of visualization more? When you wake up in the morning, spend a few minutes imagining your upcoming workout. See yourself tackling your workout with energy, focus, and intention. Envision yourself doing the moves with good form and feel the smooth steel of the weights you’re lifting. The more senses you can incorporate into your visualization, the more effective the practice will be.
Visualization may even improve your strength gains. A study carried out by the Cleveland Clinic found you can boost strength by up to 13% by simply envisioning lifting against resistance without physically touching a weight. In the study, participants who physically trained upgraded their strength by 30% while those who weight trained mentally increased their baseline strength by 13.5%. This shows you how powerful your mind can be! Harness that power with positive visualization, so you can remove those negative mental blocks that keep you from performing your best.
Find Your Best Workout Time
We’re all a little different. A morning workout might be ideal for some but painful and inconvenient for another. What’s best for you? Experiment with different workout times and find what suits your personality and schedule. If you’re a morning person and love waking up at the crack of dawn, a morning workout might come naturally to you, but if you’re a night owl, morning workouts can set up a mental block that keeps you from getting into top shape.
Keep in mind, morning workouts have extra perks. One study found that exercising first thing in the morning, followed by a healthy breakfast, boosts cognition and mood. Plus, research shows that morning exercise is an energy booster and can give you the extra push you need to power through your busy day. So, give working out in the morning a try, but if it doesn’t feel natural to you, choose another time. The key is to find what works for you.
Drop the All-or-Nothing Mindset
Too many people have an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to training. They have a pre-determined idea of how long a workout must be. It must be intense, you have to do it a certain amount of time, and, if strength training, you have to lift heavy all the time. Adopting such a mindset is one of the fastest ways to burn out. When you don’t feel like giving it 100%, be willing to alter your exercise routine a bit. Skip the high-intensity routine and do a light, circuit workout instead. Lighten the weights that you lift and do a higher volume or skip the weights entirely and do a power yoga routine. If you’re mentally not into it, skip cardio entirely and take an outdoor hike. Realize you’re in this for the long term and need to adapt to how you feel and your schedule. Even a short workout isn’t wasted time and you’ll enjoy the satisfaction of doing something.
Know Why You’re Training
You’re more likely to stick with exercise and not set up mental blocks if you have a compelling reason to do so. Why are you trying to get into better shape? Are you doing it because it gives you the stamina to do other things you enjoy? Is it because you want to have a long lifespan, but more importantly, a long health span? Remind yourself of those reasons and be as specific as possible. Painting a clear picture of why you want to be in tip-top shape helps remove the mental blocks that get in your way. Also, keep this in mind. Studies show that people who work out solely to lose weight or change how their body looks are less likely to stick with it relative to those who do it because they enjoy exercise and it makes them feel good.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let mental blocks keep you from achieving a healthier physique! Use these tips to stay motivated and remain on track.
Mental Wellness Today. “Struggling to stick with exercise? A change in mindset might be needed”
Science Daily. “Regular Exercise Plays A Consistent And Significant Role In Reducing Fatigue”
European Food Information Council. “Beneficial effects of exercise after morning breakfast on our mental performance and mood”
Psychology Today. “Seeing is Believing: The Power of Visualization”
Neuropsychologia 42 (2004) 944–956.