The Body Achieves What The Mind Believes
When you are contemplating making lifestyle changes to support your health and fitness goals it is really important to work on your mindset, because your mindset is a key driver of your behaviours, and it is your behaviours that will determine if you succeed or fail. Having the right attitude towards your exercise and nutrition programme will massively help you to stay focussed, to persevere when the going gets tough, and to achieve your desired results. These are some simple techniques that have proven helpful to people seeking to overhaul their behaviours.
Firstly write down your motivation to lose weight/get fit. Keep asking yourself “why?” – why do I want to lose weight? Why do I want to get fit? Why do I want to get strong? It may be that your doctor has given you a warning about your health, it may be that you have a special occasion coming up that you want to look good for, it may be that you want to have the ability to run around and play with your kids without keeling over, it may be that you want to fit back into all your favourite clothes that are no longer fitting you, etc… There can be so many different reasons, but taking the time to really understand your “why” will hugely help you to stay more motivated, more focussed, and more inclined to make and maintain the required changes.
Understand that changing behaviours is not easy, and that the habits we have developed over a lifetime are difficult to ‘break’ or ‘let go’. Habits are meant to be difficult to change – they are formed out of repetitive actions or behaviours that eventually slip into your daily routines without any thought. If you’ve been trying to beat an old habit and haven’t been successful, you may be wondering how long it should really take to kick it for good. A study of 96 people published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took on average 66 days to form a habit, such as eating fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes a day. There are many ways to break a habit but one of the easiest is to replace it with more positive one. For example, if you’re trying to stop sweet cravings after dinner, try drinking a large glass of water and eating a piece of fruit before allowing yourself to give in. You may find that your cravings subside and you didn’t really need that chocolate anyway. Breaking bad habits/developing good habits requires mental strength, so understanding that any new exercise and nutrition programme is going to challenge you mentally as much as physically will ensure you keep a focus on your mind as well as on your body. Forewarned is forearmed…..
Make a list of all the benefits you will experience as you lose weight/get fitter, and keep reminding yourself of those benefits. Stick the list in a visible place, maybe on the fridge door and show it to your family and friends, as they can be a great source of support. This will help you stay positive when things get tough, and will serve as a regular reminder of why you are on the journey you are on.
Think about the changes you want to make and start setting yourself very specific goals. For example ‘I will eat breakfast every morning and bring a healthy packed lunch to work every day’, ‘I will go to the gym after work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays’. Detail how you will achieve each goal and what pre-planning will be needed (go to supermarket to buy ingredients for breakfast and packed lunches, bring your gym gear to work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). If you simply have “I want to lose weight and get fit” as your only goal it will seem intangible, overwhelming and perhaps unattainable. If, however, you take the time to break down that overall goal into smaller, specific, more manageable goals, things won’t seem so impossible and you will become more focussed and optimistic about your likelihood of success – i.e. your mindset will be more positive.
Self-monitoring is essential to the success of behavioural change. Having identified all the specific changes you want to make, keep a record of them. In terms of exercise and nutrition changes, keeping a food and activity diary is a good way to monitor how you are getting on. The simple fact of having to write down what you are doing/not doing will make you more clearly aware of how you are doing, and knowledge is power. Once you know what is/is not working it becomes easier to make changes. The research shows that we are more successful at changing behaviour if we self-monitor.
Understand that relapses are a normal part of change – no matter how hard you try, you won’t be perfect all the time. So rather than feeling that you have failed and give up, look at what you can learn from a ‘bad day’ or ‘bad week’. Be kind to yourself, reflect on what you have already achieved and get back on track.
Believe in yourself every day and stay focussed on your goals. A positive mindset can make all the difference – if your head is in the right place it will be easier for you to get your body to the right place because the body does what the mind tells it. I will leave you with a quote from George S. Patton Jr. (a US Army General during World War II), as I think he perfectly articulates the core message of this article:
“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired… You’ve always got to make the mind take over and keep going.”
― George S. Patton Jr.
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