Many fitness and nutrition programs are full of specific instructions on which exercises to perform and what to eat, but skim over (or completely omit) perhaps the most crucial element in improving fitness: mindset. While the right mindset promotes a healthy lifestyle, lasting change, and improvement, the wrong mindset sets you up for failure before you ever even set foot in a gym. If you have previously failed to make meaningful changes in your life, chances are your mental approach had something to do with it. If you really want to be successful in improving your fitness, you should put as much effort into your mindset training as you do your physical training.
Here are some mental approaches which help set you up for success in your fitness journey.
Understand that Effective Training is About Consistency, Long-Term Commitment, and Skill Development
No matter what you want to get out of training, the way to reach your goals is to become a regular, consistent, and skilled exerciser. This is more important than the actual exercises you perform, the program you follow, your set and rep ranges, everything. You could have the most perfect, personalized, goal-specific training program in the world, but if you don’t follow it consistently and effectively for at least several months, you’re not going to get the results you want. With this in mind, if you want to be successful you need to find ways to make exercise a habit, create lasting motivation, develop resiliency, and build the mental and physical skills needed to get the most out of your training.
This isn’t an easy task, but there are many strategies you can use to become a consistent and skillful exerciser. They include developing plans to overcome barriers to exercise, focusing on incorporating one small, meaningful change (running once per week, drinking more water, etc.) into your lifestyle at a time until it becomes automatic, mastering the basic exercises to build a foundation of fitness which you can expand on, and stacking up small wins to provide motivation.
Check Your Expectations
If you go into an exercise program expecting sudden and drastic results, you will be disappointed. There are plenty of people peddling programs, diets, and supplements that promise quick and easy results. Of course, many of these quick-fix solutions are popular, because who doesn’t want to look and feel better in just a few short weeks with little or no effort? Unfortunately, quick-fixes don’t work. If they did, everyone would be fit and healthy. The truth is that becoming active and improving your fitness is a long-term process, and the meaningful improvements that come from that process happen through week after week, month after month, of consistent effort and small, sustainable changes.
To be successful, you have to accept that results take time, and that the slow and steady approach is the only one that will allow you to achieve and maintain your results. This will allow you to appreciate changes as they come. You will know that even though you might not have lost all the weight or achieved all the strength you want yet, you will get there. It will be ok that the weight hasn’t come off in three weeks, because you will be exercising and eating a healthy diet a year from now, and by then you will be fitter and healthier than you are now. And a year after that, you will be even fitter and healthier, and so on. Take it slow, be patient and persistent, and your hard work will pay off, permanently.
Forget the “All or Nothing” Approach
Here’s a common pattern for many people: they decide to get in shape by adopting a fad diet or exercise plan, the kind which says that you should never eat certain foods and you must do this exercise, this many times per week. They try to overhaul their diet, completely eliminate certain foods or food groups or go from not exercising at all to intense workouts several times per week. These types of large and sudden changes are simply not sustainable and, inevitably, they have a “moment of weakness” and eat some of that forbidden food or miss a workout or two. Frustrated and disappointed, they give up altogether and find themselves back at square one. They are actually worse off now than when they started because they have formed a negative association with “fitness programs” and are less likely to try again. The main problem is that these programs are wrong about what being fit and healthy really means from the beginning. Fitness is not about restriction, deprivation, exercising yourself into the ground. It’s about forming sustainable, healthy habits which enhance your life. Health and fitness isn’t a 3-day fast or a 2 week cleanse, it’s a way of life.
Fitness is not an all or nothing pursuit. You don’t have to be perfect at it, you don’t need to always do this and never eat that. You just need to start somewhere and try to improve a little bit at a time. If you have a “bad eating day” or a day in which you can’t muster the will to complete your workout, forgive yourself and move on. Start trying again the next day. Eventually, the habits will stick.
Master The Basics
Many people believe that improving fitness, healthy eating, and weight loss is complicated, and that to do it successfully there must be some tricks. They dismiss the basics as too simple and search for secret techniques and convoluted rules. For example, here’s a direct quote from an article I found recently on a popular fitness site: “You’re sick of hearing that eating smaller portions and exercising are the key to weight loss. Find out what else works — these may sound weird, but give them a try!”. One of the “tips” in this article: eat your food off blue plates, because blue is not an appetizing color. Let’s be realistic here: If you are eating unhealthy food and not being physically active, changing the color of your plates is not going to help you lose weight. At least part of the quote is accurate; eating smaller portions and exercising are keys to weight loss. So are drinking more water and less sugary drinks and eating whole, unprocessed foods including vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. There is a similar mindset about exercise. Many people think they need complex techniques to improve their fitness and jump into complicated programs before learning the basics. They don’t first create strategies which will help them be consistent exercisers or take the time to learn how to perform a proper push up, but instead start tabata training from day one.
The issue is often that people haven’t really worked on the basics for long enough to see their benefits. Unless you have slowly and deliberately incorporated basic healthy habits and simple exercises into your daily life for at least several continuous months, you haven’t really given them a chance to work for you. Unless you have committed to learning the basics and practiced them, week after week, until you have mastered them, you don’t need any “advanced” techniques. If you want to be an effective exerciser and a healthy eater, you need to start with the basics. You need to walk before you can run.
Fitness is mental as much as it is physical. Work on cultivating a good mindset, and you will be well on your way to success!