It’s quite paradoxical to think that complying with a physical regimen is a mental endeavor. Allow me to bring a few of these common problems to your attention. These are mental blocks that I’ve come to realize dissuade most fitness enthusiasts from sticking to a routine.
Any form of physical training is every bit as mental as it is physical. The body won’t go where the mind doesn’t want to. As a matter of fact, I would submit to you that it is indeed much more mental when you consider the fact that most people rationalize skipping workouts for a myriad of reasons that their minds come up with in an attempt to circumvent a temporary discomfort, such as working out.
1. Instant Gratification
Realize that consistent, efficient and intelligent smart work is the difference between those who frequent the gym but make little to no progress to show for their efforts and those who morph into a more energetic, functional and overall optimized being in a reasonable time frame.
In this social media age, people want results and they want them now! For example, the city I currently live in (Dalian, China) affords me the luxury of having food, beverages, groceries, snacks, entertainment, and water delivered to my doorstep within minutes of using an app. I could decide not to leave my apartment for a month and I would be just fine.
We can take photos, share them with the world, and receive feedback almost instantaneously. Services are built around catering to customers in the least amount of time practicable. Hell, you’d even find fitness ads promising incredulous results in 30 days.
But I digress: I say all this to help you grasp that it will take consistent (days, weeks, several months to years’) work to notice a remarkable difference, which in and of itself builds discipline and character. In other words, gratification will be delayed. Labor consistently and relish in continuous developmental progress several weeks later.
2. Analysis Paralysis
Many people think that when faced with a situation threatening to their lives, the natural reaction is either a “fight or flight” response. I disagree. It’s been my observation that imminent threat is actually succeeded by paralysis. In extreme situations, most people just freeze up and do nothing instead of taking action (fight/flight). Kind of like a “deer in a headlight” situation.
There are many approaches to fitness irrespective of your goals and this can be overwhelming to the novice. It is quite a daunting task to walk into the gym clueless about what to do or where to start. I experienced this firsthand. I’d start off with a workout program and find myself reading about a different approach that I would contemporaneously start implementing as I ditched my previous program.
All programs work! But for how long? For the un-adapted novice, a poorly designed program will still evoke substantial results. It is therefore of utmost importance that you see a program (hopefully a well-designed one) through to the end while making adjustments along the way to better suit your goals. A clear plan made in advance is the easiest way to remove barriers to focusing. Trust the process. Don’t allow inertia to kick in. You must stay fluid and persistent.
3. Learning Curve
A pragmatic view of life would reveal that not all things are created equal. Some people are simply more athletic, better looking, intelligent, faster, stronger, cunning, logical, rational, and tougher than others. Genetics do play a major role to this effect. However, there is a great equalizer: practice. “Talent” is what people use to describe someone who has had more hours of practice than the average person by design or circumstance.
A popular example I refer to is Mozart. Incomparable in his own right as a classical music composer, Mozart began playing the piano as young as age five, and let’s not forget that his dad was also a renowned classical music artist himself. These environmental circumstances exponentially propelled who we later came to know as a musical genius.
It would be disingenuous on our part not to allude to the fact that there was perhaps a more musically intelligent child out there in the hinterlands who could outperform him but didn’t have the same situations Mozart did.
The whole nature vs. nurture debate has been done into the ground, so I’m not even going to get into that. While genetic predispositions may give person A a slight advantage over person B, person B can achieve a similar level of competence by simply putting in more judicious hours of practice. It is what it is, not what it could be. Life isn’t fair, but it sure is balanced.
Work on your weakness and optimize your strengths. You can achieve 80 percent competency in any given activity within a year’s time. That’s what I believe. That being said, realize that it will be challenging sometimes and plateaus are almost inevitable, but that shouldn’t be the reason you give up. Understand that you may not exactly know what you’re doing as you’re doing it, but that is part of the learning process.
I have been lifting for quite some time now, but it wasn’t until recently that I determined the most efficient way to squat leveraging my anthropometry. One size does not fit all, especially in this regard. I learned by simply doing and adjusting: practice! A famous bodybuilder, Jay Cutler, once said “it takes up to a thousand reps to efficiently know how to correctly perform a given exercise.”
I saw the wisdom in that statement when I trained the squat with a friend of mine. Initially being able to only squat 135 pounds for five reps, he was eventually able to squat 225 pounds in less than 4 weeks. Not because he got stronger—even though he did indeed get stronger—but I had an epiphany that most of that progress was due to the fact that he had become more efficient in the way he squatted.
His form improved drastically and most of that increased strength was just because he was being more efficient and became adept at executing the movement. The videos I took of him squatting for the first time—and later at week four—corroborate my hypothesis and the validity of Jay Cutler’s quote.
Your mind is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it wants to serve you for the greater good. On the other hand, it could be the root of your crippling fear, anxiety, action, or lack thereof. But luckily for us humans, we possess the consciousness to recognize the latter and resultant disparities.