By Tia Norris, November 2020 Issue.
It’s no secret that the most successful athletes in the world have not only their physical game on lock, but also their mental game as well. Fitness is so much more than muscles, in fact, experienced coaches will say that most of fitness is actually in the athlete’s mind. And when I say “athlete,” I’m taking about you, too! From the weekend warriors and casual gym goers all the way to the professionals, the psychological muscle is the one that must be flexed most often for the best, most sustainable, results.
While we could discuss sports psychology for over a hundred articles, let’s cover today some of the biggest mental hurdles that I help my clients to clear in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.
Perfectionism is not cool
“Perfectionism” is usually seen as a positive trait among high-performing individuals; but it actually is rooted in deep fear, insecurity, and anxiety. What’s worse, because it appears productive on the outside, many perfectionists fear they will be unsuccessful without such a powerful drive toward the details. Ask any perfectionist how they feel, deep down, about this character trait and they will admit how ensnaring the endless cycle can be.
I see perfectionism every single day as a trainer — it shows up as over-thinking technique to the point of not hitting your potential on the exercise; agonizing over food logging and wasting time worrying about every single calorie; or even worse, dark feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing, or even self-sabotage when there is perception of missing even the tiniest detail, workout, or task. Know that there is an unmistakable difference between striving for excellence and striving for impossible standards.
Of course, I am not a licensed therapist and for deeply rooted patterns around perfectionism, I recommend seeking professional help. To start though, begin by recognizing the costs of being overly perfectionistic … recognize the waste of resources, time, energy, emotions, and more, that go into meeting your amorphous arbitrary standards. Recognize that no one does everything perfectly all the time. What would you tell a young child, or someone you really love, when they mess up? Begin to develop your own inner dialogue as if you were talking gently to the most important person in your life … because you are.
Be patient, recognize the diminishing returns of perfectionism, and re-calibrate your standards for yourself to be more graceful, forgiving, but still high-performing.
Dive into the goal setting process a bit further
Similarly, many people begin fitness ventures without having realistic expectations of what to expect, and when, and in what quantity. Yes, we all know about SMART goal setting by now (“specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-sensitive); but let’s take things a bit further. Expanding on black-or-white, all-or-nothing thinking above, goals need to have a bit of fluidity to them alongside all of that specificity.
First, consider your experience with the pursuit in question. For example: a novice at weightlifting would take years to get to a professional bodybuilding level; whereas an amateur who has been doing competitions for years is likely more within striking distance. If you’re new to something, give yourself more of a cushion to make sure goals are reachable. Don’t just charge into battle, guns blazing, with all of that ego.
Second, consider your confidence level and past success with achieving similar goals. For example: if you’ve tried and failed to lose weight several times over the past few years, perhaps look at your goal setting to see if you’ve set the bars impossibly high, or if you’ve bitten off far more than you could chew each time. At this point in my career, I hardly believe in the black-and-white, overnight approach. Momentum is best built slowly, incrementally, over a long period of time, while building confidence little by little along the way.
Be intentional, grateful, and don’t forget how badass you are.
Each workout, you need to set intentions both for the workout itself, and for the long-term training cycle. The most catastrophic mistake people make with workouts is just “phoning them in”, with no mindfulness and no gratitude for how amazing their body is. Take even just two minutes before each workout to be grateful for what you’re doing — remember when you were injured and couldn’t exercise? Or do you have someone in your life who is too injured, too sick, or too busy to exercise like you do? Be grateful for what you can do and watch your workouts and your physical self-transform.
And on another note, I work with plenty of CEO’s, doctors, and other badasses who are excellent at their work but “can’t seem to get it right” with fitness. It’s the same thing! Determination, organization, goal setting, resilience — imagine if you were as successful at fitness as you are with your career, money, or other areas of your life. Harness your strengths and pour them into the physical world.
To get the most out of your physical self, you need to also be connected to your mental and emotional self. A holistic approach is the only sustainable bet. Start with a realistic appraisal of your mental strengths and weaknesses, inject gratitude and sharper goal setting, and start to get your mind to work for you.