'I'm so disappointed, I could have done it, I just didn't...I'd like to say I had no time but that'd be a
New Years fitness resolutions can be haunting, they leave you spilling your pity guts to your closest friends in a random brainstorming attempt to discover 'the secret to success' to fulfilling your goals for the following year. We love our drama filled approach for the holy grail of knowledge so much so that we forget the secret to success lies solely in our head and instead bash ourselves consistently with inadequacy whenever we fall off the bandwagon.
You awake at 5.30am to the obedience of your trusty alarm clock only to discover that the confidence and motivation you oozed last night is gone. Your bed sheets become a cloud of ecstasy teasing you to forget your goal and just do the workout tomorrow. You feel your body heavy, sore and peacefully calm, you decide it's best not to mess with nature, after all you wouldn't feel this way if your body wasn't trying to tell you something.
'Just listen to me' the bed sheets whisper. An hour later, conveniently too late to workout, you sit there feeding your mouth with guilt in every bite. You convince yourself that tomorrow will be different, nothing will break you and you WILL achieve your goal. Wrong.
This psychological mind play occurs to everyone, athletes aren't even exempt, it does and will derail your efforts to success and it is not the only one. Moods, long workdays, colleagues, children or family stressing you out or the classic...your apparent belief that you have no time to exercise, will all attempt to ruin your ability to achieve fitness success. As soon as you fix your headspace (and constantly work on this) you will experience achievement.
Unfortunately everyday individuals aren't told by society the importance of psychology on developing positive, long lasting habits, instead we categorise that to the elite few or find warm, fuzzy and shallow ways to explain to people how to overcome everyday challenges. So I'm giving my tips. Am I a qualified psychologist? No. I have however experienced again and again failures from a weak mindset and success from applying sports psychology strategies not just to my fitness life but every other aspect of my life. For me it has meant hiking for 10hours straight on my own or putting myself through extensive training for Everest has never been out of reach and I'm not a six pack adorning female.
First of all it begins with acknowledging what your weaknesses are. This is the hardest part because many of us don't like to admit our weaknesses but when we know them we can plan things appropriately. For example, most people plan their exercise in the afternoon post work but most people who do this also find it easy to skip out on their exercise due to work related excuses, poor organisation at home or meetings they forgot existed. This is the first step to derailment. Exercise in the morning until you know that 100% of the time you've organised afternoon exercise you will follow through with it. If not get up even for a few minutes in the morning until you get used to it, you'll get endorphins, energy and a free afternoon to yourself! Afternoon exercise does take more motivation and commitment so if your mindset isn't strong, don't go there. Also, tune into your excuses, your current workout mindset. Do you stop at 8 repetitions because you've convinced yourself your incapable of doing more? Most people can complete 3 to 5 repetitions more than what they think. Do you yell, argue or verbally get frustrated with a trainer about how you're feeling? Sorry honey, hate to tell you, this is just another excuse. Fully, committed people who are training to achieve fitness (of any original state of health) do not have the energy to yell, kick scream or get cranky- you've got a lot more in you when you're like this. I've got an injury, I can't possibly go on. Ask yourself this- does this excuse come flying through your head when your working your hardest? Good, it means your workout is effective, don't stop you're not actually injured. Here's another old age excuse- everyone will see me exercise, I can't go to the gym! Let me let you in on a secret from years worth of gyms. Gyms generally contain two groups of people- a group too focused on achieving their personal goals and another too focused on checking out their 'guns' in the mirror. No one is looking at you. You'll be fine. In any case no one derails your success other than you. People might read this and think it's harsh but let's be real, it's your goal, you own it, you can achieve it. Decide if you want to be haunted by your weaknesses, your excuses or be fulfilled by your success, then work on your mind some more.
Enter life hurdle number 1. What happens if I am awake and I suddenly realise I have no socks, bra, shoes are elsewhere or I'm missing my gym card? Surely that means I can skip the workout right? No. The best way to overcome this is with a two pronged approached. Sleep with motivational fitness memes in your room, have one in your car as well make sure it's not warm and fuzzy, make sure it challenges you. Place it right where you will see it. This will encourage you to get out of bed. Then if you happen to forget equipment no matter take a walk, you only require yourself to enjoy this. Drive to a park or beach if you have no shoes enjoy the sensory stimulation from the grass fronds or sand granules on the soles of your feet, take deep breaths and enjoy the fresh air. Either way the idea is that you allow your body to reward yourself with endorphins for your effort. If you don't experience endorphins at first you certainly won't experience guilt.
When you make it to the gym forget the reps and sets. Yes, you heard me right. Most countries are riding a crossfit craze at the moment, while it's not for everyone there is something average joes (until we achieve our awesome success) can take away from these intense workouts. Decide on the machines or weighted exercises (works for cardio as well) you'd like to do and complete an AMRAP workout; do as many repetitions as possible. Record in a book what you were able to achieve and your starting weight. You can do this without a trainer. As you build your fitness levels through regular workouts go back every 10 days and see what gains you have made- use the same weight you started with. Record. Not only should you see an improvement in muscular strength and endurance but you will also initially determine what your capabilities are which is something a cookie cutter approach of 3 sets and 15 repetitions will never give you.
As you workout more and experience more success you will come to learn that you will be challenged more. The 'fitness demons' of derailment will visit more frequently. Yes, the beginning of a fitness program is the easiest. Maintaining focus, motivation and striving for success when success may start to become smaller amounts of fat percentage, weight or slightly longer distances is difficult. This is where you need to learn specific sports psychology techniques. Arousal and concentration, mental rehearsal, mental imagery and centring is important. Let's start with arousal and concentration.
Arousal and concentration is about finding your optimal headspace. It's the point where your excited but not too excited or relaxed for movement and therefore the headspace were the best performance occurs. Different activities will require different levels of arousal. For example, running up several sets of stairs requires me to have a fair level of arousal so that my feet are moving fast, I'm motivated to keep going and I don't stop and get lactic acid building up in my muscles. So when I run the stairs I like to play upbeat music from the HIIT playlist on spotify. When I'm completing several hundred box jumps at table height I need a slightly lower level of arousal because I need to concentrate more on powering up from my legs to make the height, landing evenly with two feet and supporting my back by keeping my abdominals on tight- when I get tired I need to concentrate more for safety. Most people know their mind and what arouses it. The trick is finding ways to also calm us down. For some merely concentrating works, for others it's a lengthy process that is only achieved over time. Achieving improved fitness is entirely personal so this will not be an easy process. You need to think, when you get frustrated with performance or lack of it, how does your behaviour help your end game?
This leads us to mental rehearsal and mental imagery. These are both quite similar. Personally I find mental imagery extremely useful however I have a creative mind and so conjuring images in my mind is simple. So what are these techniques? Mental rehearsal enables you to practice every aspect of your performance, running or squatting, in your mind without moving a muscle. This means you are envisaging the movement of your body at each point in the exercise, how it feels, how freely it moves, your strength. The more you practice the more successful you will feel inside. For example, I used to daydream virtually everyday that my left ankle, once broken in 2 places, would land on the ground, off a stair or a train platform and automatically break leaving me stranded, helpless and devastated. Once I started applying mental rehearsal to this situation I would frequently daydream about successful landings. This took a lot of time and probably about 30 to 40 practices until I actually believed my ankle was stable enough but now (a long time after- 2.5years) I can complete thousands of box jumps, jump squats etc with no pain and no fear of snapping my ankle. Does my mind ever revert to the fear days? Yes. So I rehearse again until confidence is restored. Now when you add mental rehearsal and mental imagery together you have performance made in heaven. Mental imagery is about imagining all the phases of the performance as well as the scenery, the emotions, the noise etc. When I was training for Everest to assist my mind to create images I would use previous hiking videos of the trail so that I could imagine my body in those conditions, experiencing their experiences and feeling how they felt. By the time the mountain was closed for avalanches I had committed to memory, myself on every part of the trail to Everest base camp. This was also one of the reasons that made it so hard to work my day job when I should of been hiking because my mind was so entrenched in the process from long hard effort and constant practice. Now I know without preparing myself to witness a myriad of things my experience in Nepal will be far more challenging. Therefore in my opinion I think especially those who bash themselves with their own self hate, you need these techniques. You need to see yourself where you want to be achieving what you want to achieve so that you are haunted by your motivation. Then I promise you, you won't stop. However if you do stop, I have one more tip for you. Try centring.
Centring is one's ability to shut out all outside noise and focus on your task alone- I guess it's the woosar of all sports psychology techniques. This means children, gym junkies, skimpily clad chicks 'pumping iron', the person with the bad BO, your busy checklist and most of all your defeatist attitude all gone. If you cannot stop and focus on your task and stay bashing yourself with words then you won't change. Pity parties get tiring for even the most kindhearted people; no one wants to hear how much you hate yourself and your body day in and day out. You have a choice, move it or lose it. So spend time thinking of nothing other than the minute steps you need to take to achieve success. If you don't know how ask someone. Achieve one, two, then three of these minute steps and all the while do not let Mr or Ms Negative crawl into your workout, it's me time. Totally relax, appreciate yourself. Love yourself. If you don't, no one will. If you go off track once, use your arousal and concentration techniques to get you refocused and think nothing more of it.
When your workout is done and you have applied these psychology techniques document how you feel. If it wasn't a good session, it doesn't matter tomorrow's a new day and you can always throw your dodgy emotions in the bin anyway. Whatever you do write down how you feel. Choosing not to write down your emotions will lead to stewing over it all day long (or longer than you should) and preventing you from seeing all the effort you have put in to achieve success and all effort is worth noticing.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I know you'll experience some success when you try these techniques. Please share any comments or thoughts below.