My physical fitness was a strength of mine throughout my life, but my mental fitness was a glaring weakness.
I would appear strong on the outside, but inside I would crumble at the slightest sight of adversity. I had a million dollar body but a $2 dollar mindset.
When it comes to achieving our fitness goals, it’s never really just the training and nutritional program that’s holding us back.
It’s oftentimes the other intangibles of life that are holding us back from our desired fitness goals. One of those big ones is our mental fitness. The sets of squats and deadlifts aren’t the toughest challenges to staying healthy, it’s the random (and sometimes cruel) things of life that can cripple us.
One of my favorite books over the last year was '13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success' by psychotherapist Amy Morin.
As someone who’s not ashamed to admit to being in therapy for six months, our mental strength is pivotal to our overall well-being. We don’t blink an eye to hiring a coach when it comes to improving our physical fitness and appearance (go here if interested in that). We should treat our mental fitness the same.
If you aren’t mindful of your thoughts, then irrational thoughts and beliefs can run rampant. If behaviors aren’t in check, you run the risk of causing damage and making bad decisions with your health and well-being. And with our emotions, if we don’t reel them in, then the inverse will happen and they’ll reel us in.
With that said, our mental fitness starts with us replacing and challenging our irrational thoughts with more realistic thoughts. Behaving and acting out of logic despite how dire or tough the situations may be. And finally, being in charge of our emotions so they don’t control us.
As Dr. Morin states in the book, “we make our best decisions in life when we balance our emotions with rational thinking.”
Here are some of the bigger points I got from the book that you can apply to become mentally tougher in fitness and life.
1. Don’t waste time with self-pity parties
If there was going to be a picture of self-pity in the dictionary, it would have my headshot there with a crown. No matter the situation in life, I had a Captain America shield that deflected blame to everyone but me.
Ran out of money, not my fault, it’s the bank's fault. My girlfriend breaks up with me, not my fault for ignoring her and not treating her as she should—it’s still her fault.
Tore my pec minor in college trying to show off, not my fault—it’s the gym and benches fault for throwing me off angle. Writing gets rejected, not my fault—it’s the website and editors fault.
Unfortunately, this pops up in fitness a lot of times, it’s easier to find some external excuse in the world to blame for our shortfalls with fitness than to acknowledge and admit to ourselves that we’re the problem.
Here’s the big problem with feeling sorry for yourself?
Feeling sorry for yourself leads you to procrastinate with taking responsibility for the situation. Most importantly, this is stopping you from growing as an individual and learning from your mistakes.
Feeling sorry for yourself and having a self-pity party is self-destructive. This only leads to more problems down the road and more consequences. When you don’t take responsibility for your weight loss shortcomings, you’re neglecting the core reasons that stopped you the last time while you’re health is still getting worse since you didn’t succeed.
Next time you catch yourself falling into a self-pity party, try these things:
- Switch out your self-pity for gratitude —I failed on my last diet. Instead, I’m grateful for attempting to improve my health and though I didn’t reach my desired goal, I’m grateful for the lesson I learned and now I can apply it to my next attempt at improving my health.
- Choose to actively problem solve your situation — You’re not losing weight. What are you going to do about it? One small action is all that’s needed to get started again. Don’t just remain passive about the situation, fortune favors those who take action.
- Replace your negative thought with a shot of reality—Is your situation really this bad? Probably not. Many others have been in our situations—we’re not special snowflakes with unique problems. Don’t allow yourself to believe that your life and situation is worse than most peoples.
- Try the 5-second rule by Mel Robbins—Bad thoughts keep coming. Stop and count, 5…4…3…2…1 and then do something or act differently to change your current state.
- Don’t forget the good— Think of all the good things you have and have done compared to the one thing that you’re struggling with.
2. Don’t freely give away your power like it’s a Netflix rental
Far too often, we let other people steal our joy and zap our self-worth away. Maybe it’s a bad relationship or a manipulative figure in your life who knows just the right thing to create a mind-fuck within you.
Maybe it’s your immediate circle of people who aren’t supporting you with your fitness goals. Instead, they tell you a million reasons as to why you can’t do something instead of the very reason why you can do something.
At times, my family and even some of my friends unintentionally zapped my self-worth away. But in actuality, the only time we can give our worth away is when we allow it to happen. Our self-worth card isn’t a Netflix rental that needs to be freely available to everyone in the world.
3. Don’t be afraid to change and reinvent yourself
Change is uncomfortable and scary—no other way around this. Putting myself out there with writing and now speaking creates massive butterflies of nerves in my stomach.
But without changing, we can’t arrive at the future that we desire for. It may be hard giving up some of those comfort foods, tv binges, familiar social circles who aren’t good for you, or social events, but think about your outcome.
Is the perceived goal really important to you or are those events of short-lived fun more important to you?
Your resolutions don’t break because you’re not capable enough, smart enough, good enough, or any other type of enough—they break because you weren’t mentally ready to change yet.
Grab a sheet of paper and write down the pros and cons each on a sheet of paper. If the pros mean more to you, then that's part of your motivation and reminders as to why you want to change.
4. Focus only on the controllables
This type of mindset is detrimental to your success in fitness because you can’t control most of the events that pan out. If you want to lose 20lbs, that’s great, but you have no control over when those 20lbs will be gone.
All you can control is the process and the present moment which encompasses doing the daily actions that will give you the chance to lose those 20lbs.
When you waste energy on things you can’t control, your happiness decreases, stress levels go up, and there is a higher likelihood that you’ll give up on your fitness goals because of the unreasonable expectations you placed on yourself.
Often times, this obsessive control problem is mainly operating out of fear that we’re trying to mask.
Ask yourself, “what am I so afraid of?”. For many of us and myself included, it was fear of failure and the fear of putting in the effort and not getting the desired results.
The first step to gaining control of this issue is to start examining your beliefs about what you can truly control and what you can’t.
When those 20lbs come off—out of your control.
Eating healthy and exercising consistently each day—fully in your control.
Practice accepting things as they are. By surrendering to not trying to control everything, you:
- Become stronger
- Become happier
- Become better at your relationships
- Become less stressed out
- Become better in your professional life
5. Don’t fear taking intelligent risks
Taking risks is something that’s unavoidable in life, especially when attempting to attain a new goal or changing the narrative to your life. Whether it’s the pursuit of a new relationship, new business, travel the world, or a fitness goal—all of these come with a degree of uncertainty which in turn means there is some risk involved.
And that’s ok. Taking risks is necessary.
The biggest reason that we avoid taking risks and going outside our comfort zone is our emotions and inner critic drowns our belief in the situation.
6. Keep the past in the past
The present moment can’t be executed to it’s best capabilities when you’re stuck in the past. The future can’t be molded to your liking when you’re too busy regretting and obsessing over the past.
Constantly replaying a bad breakup, a past shortcoming with weight loss, a loss of confidence with women, and a past business failure all present the same problem of keeping you stuck in the past. This happens because the fear of moving forward seems too painful and it seems easier and more comfortable to stay stuck in the past.
It’s tempting to romanticize the past as a method to escape the present and your responsibility. It’s easier to imagine that life would’ve been much better had we changed “such & such” event in the past.
Don’t let the past hold you back from what you can become. Getting out of this rut starts with shifting your thinking. Our memories aren’t as accurate as we think they are when it comes to recalling these past events—there tends to be a lot of exaggeration.
Accept your past choices, actions, and decisions for what they are and move on. There’s a lesson in the past that you can use for your future endeavors.
Maybe you lost weight and then gained it all back. Accept that and then look for the lesson that you can take with you this time around so it doesn't happen again. The business failed, accept it and think about what you can do differently this time around.
7. Don’t give up after a setback
It’s tempting to give up after a setback or two.
“It’s just not for you.” I hear this many times when it comes to people’s health and fitness. It’s genetics, their body type, their job, and another laundry list of excuses that I didn’t feel like writing out.
Unraveling those excuses, it’s just their mentality—the setbacks and struggles have gotten to them psychologically.
Setbacks and failures are a natural part of life. If you aren’t experiencing setbacks and failures on a recurring basis, you aren’t pushing yourself enough outside of your comfort zone.
I’ve been rejected by many publications. I’ve been denied by companies I reached out to for speaking. I’ve been rejected by women—this one kinda stings a little:)
In all instances, those situations only made me a better person. More importantly, pursuing those things I wanted, prevented me from having the regret of not doing anything about my desire.
Dr. Seuss was rejected by 20 publishers and he ultimately ended up with 46 books. When you give up too easily, it becomes a recurring self-fulfilling prophecy.
Each time you quit on something, you’re reinforcing the idea that failure and setbacks are bad and you’re not good nor worthy enough to keep pursuing your dreams.
Think about some beliefs you have around failure that stop you from trying again. Is it the perception of what you see and think of yourself when you fail that hurts? Is it peers, family, significant others, or social media?
Find the root of why the failures and setbacks hurt so much and potentially stop you from trying again.
Reframe the way you see failure and setbacks. Instead of thinking of failure as meaning you’re less than or not capable enough, see it as an experimentation where you’re continually gathering data and ideas to implement into a better version the next time around.
The biggest way to get over this is focusing all your efforts on the process instead of your outcomes.
8. Don’t fear being alone
Being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.
Loneliness (one of the biggest health crisis) is a perception and feeling that no one is there for you. While being alone and in occasional solitude is about making a choice to be alone with your thoughts.
Many (myself included) at one point was afraid to be alone due to the potential discomforting thoughts that could arise.
Alone time is good because you get to connect with your thoughts and feelings while removing the excess chatter in the world. Having alone time allows you to reflect upon your goals, set goals for the future, and decide what it is you truly want.
Alone time allows you to build up your mindfulness more. One way to do this is through meditation. This helps you accept your thoughts as just thoughts, not necessary serve as your truth and let them determine who you are as a person.
9. Let go of feeling entitled and like the world owes you something
No matter how crappy life has been, how smart you are, how pretty you are, or anything else—you don’t deserve good fortune more than the next person beside you.
Sounds harsh, but this humility and self-awareness that none of us are special snowflakes make us realize that our issues aren’t unique and therefore are solvable.
If many others have had our problems and perservered, then why can't we? I see this as the ultimate motivation as to why it's never good to give up.
Life isn’t meant to be fair. Our problems aren’t unique. Many people have fallen short with their fitness. Many have lost weight only to see it come back in full force (often with extra weight). Many have been rejected by publishers and event planners (talking to myself here).
Many have been rejected by our crushes (talking to myself again). Many have had bad relationships (unfortunately). Many have had low funds in the bank and felt the darkest night of the soul night wondering how to get out of this (talking to myself for the third time).
These situations are tough, there’s no denying that, but they aren’t unique.
What’s unique and left open to the possibilities is how you respond to those disappointments and setbacks. That’s where the mental fitness comes into play. None of us are more deserving than the next person.
10. Let go of needing immediate results
Living in today's microwave generation is dangerous to our egos and psyche. Patience is a past time. We overestimate our abilities. We underestimate how long transformations and change takes. This combination leads to prematurely quitting and giving up because we can’t wait—not that we’re not capable.
When you have expectations for immediate results and want everything yesterday, when you don’t get those results, you’re tempted to take shortcuts and cheat your future (hello fad diets and other short-term fitness tactics).
Skewed and unrealistic expectations potentially lead you to deduce the wrong conclusions, negative emotions, low self-worth, and behaviors that set you back even further.
Let go of the need for immediacy.
Commit to the long haul. If it’s worthwhile, then isn’t it going to be worth it down the line (I tell myself this every day)?
Don’t underestimate just how damn difficult it is to change. Be mindful that progress isn’t always easily apparent and linear. Often times, progress shows up in small ways and through the intangibles.
Keep your eye on the prize. Celebrate milestones along your journey (no matter how small they seem—momentum is your best friend).