A popular saying in the world of sport and fitness is that your mind will give up long before your body does.
There are many barriers that prevent a person from taking up a healthy lifestyle (good nutrition and exercise). Some of these reasons are legitimate, such as injury or illness (like an eating disorder), but others are caused by the power the mind has in playing tricks on us and preventing us from achieving our goals, gaining courage, and using determination. The mind can be a stubborn old thing and it takes a lot for your body to push past what your mind tells you it can’t.
Sport psychologists often note the close link between mental strength, motivation, and fitness.
There are so many diet and fitness programmes in our commercial society that are extreme and promote an ‘all or nothing’ attitude. The diet may reduce calories dramatically or cut out a food group, such as carbohydrates, or a fitness programme might mean high intensity training or lengthy, energetic routines for a certain amount of days (like a bootcamp). The determination needed to carry these out properly and see the promised results is intense. They are often quick-fix or short-term programmes that are not sustainable as long-term, lifestyle changes. Often, people fail. Cutting out all your favourite things, like chocolate, all at once can make your mind crave them even more. This will make you much more likely to quit and feel dejected before you even see any real results. The promises of having visible abs and dropping pounds in just a few weeks takes huge determination and willpower, and is often only enough to get your looking great for a short amount of time. The feeling of failing actually causes people to fall back further than the point they started at, with comfort eating or refusing to set foot in a gym again.
Although willpower and commitment are necessary when starting out on a new health plan, small and manageable steps are the best way to help your mind and your body in the long-run. Pat yourself on the back when you complete a good 30 minutes in the gym. Everyone is different and you will know when you have exceeded your personal fitness goals.
Did you know that health, and being healthy, is more than just the physical side? It is great to have a tiny waist or visible muscles, but promoting good mental health and wellbeing is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle. This includes thinking positively, exercising to elevate your mood, eating healthy food and resting properly.
A healthy lifestyle can become as much of a habit as eating sugars and saturated fats once was. Your body will soon stop craving unhealthy foods and crave exercise instead. The strongest element in any habit is the mind, rather than the body.
Here are some of the everyday barriers we face when wanting to get fit:
• Time. Many people are juggling families and careers. Exercising or preparing a healthy meal often takes a backseat for a break in front of the TV or a quick-fix meal. But by making simple changes, such as introducing more fruit and vegetables into your diet or scheduling just 20 minutes of activity a day, you can see big changes. When you begin to see these changes, you’ll become even more encouraged to stick at it and understand how realistic they are. As the weight drops off, muscles become more defined, skin gets clearer, energy levels increase and mood improves; and with all those, the resolve to keep it up gets stronger.
• Confidence. A number of people lack self-esteem and when you feel unhappy with your body shape, it can be intimidating to take the first step into the gym or fitness class, which is out of your usual comfort zone. Again, the mind can be very strong at determining your moods and emotions, but once you slip into your tracksuit and trainers and make that first step (perhaps with a friend for moral support), and you leave feeling good (if not a little tired and sweaty), you’ll start feeling changes, get some compliments, and your confidence will be boosted.
• One way does not fit all. Different techniques work for different people, as we all have varying personalities, emotions, likes, and dislikes. Whereas some people prefer a strict regimen or a fixed workout time each morning, others prefer a gentler approach and less rigid workout times to fit around their hectic days. Don’t assume that one workout is great for everyone. The solution is to follow what is right for you. If you push your mind to change too drastically, it won’t work with you and is more likely to quit in protest, leaving you feeling deflated.
• Unrealistic goals. Many people who are new to exercise set themselves up to fail with unachievable targets. Failing is very negative for your mind and stunts motivation. Quick-fix solutions rarely work and perfection will never happen overnight, contrary to what a number of programmes have you believe! The ideal solution is to take things slow if you are a beginner and keep a diary of your training, food habits, and any improvements or issues you stumble across upon your journey. This will help you reflect on what you have achieved and flag up any problem areas. Set achievable goals and markers to tick off along the way – whether this is an increased completion time of a run or using a stronger weight, it all adds up and helps build motivation and mental wellbeing. Pacing yourself and rewarding yourself for achieving realistic goals will help your body and mind work together in harmony.
Those embarking on fitness programmes often slip-up, but if this happens, the key is not to punish yourself. Guess what? We are all humans and make mistakes! Feeling guilty for failing, will decrease your mood and knock your confidence. Allowing yourself a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine is fine, as long as these things are consumed in moderation. Some days, you’ve had a hard day at work and simply don’t feel like or can’t make the gym class, and that’s OK too. It is fine to press pause for a day, as long as you are still focussed on achieving those lifestyle changes in the long-run.
The way that you think (your mindset) can be changed by simply telling yourself that you can do something. Relating back to the first line of this article – your mind gives up long before your body. The first step to becoming healthier is to want to change, and the second is to convince your mind that you can. You want to aim to be better than the person you were yesterday.
TOP TIP: If you want to get fit and healthy, tell your nearest and dearest about it. Share your plans with friends and family, or even in online forums geared to help encourage one another achieve their goals. These people will help keep you motivated and on track. Don’t work in isolation.