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Being Active, It’s All in the Mind

How many times have you heard sports commentators talk about an athlete’s mental focus or confidence? Or lack of it? While athletes need to be physically prepared, being mentally prepared is just as, if not more, important. The same goes for you and your physical activity program. You need to be mentally prepared.

Mohammed Ali captured it well when he said “…[you] have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

What he was getting at are the mental barriers we put in front of ourselves when trying to accomplish things. When it comes to being active and getting regular exercise, only a quarter to a third of people meet the current guidelines. This isn’t because the other two-thirds are physically incapable of exercise. No. For most people it’s due to mental barriers.

We talk ourselves out of being active all the time. Whether it’s starting an exercise program or avoiding today’s workout, we tell ourselves: I don’t have time to do it, I don’t know how to, I don’t have the right equipment, I’ll start tomorrow, I’m not good at it, etc.

We’ve all been there and used one or more reasons as to why not to exercise. Even the most committed person. While all of these reasons may sound reasonable, they’re likely not the real reason why we’re not doing it.

A lot of times it’s a lack of confidence or a fear of failure. Sure, we don’t say that ourselves, but that’s what it really boils down to. I’ve been there plenty of times. I want to do something new but hesitate in trying. I tell myself I don’t have the time, or it’s too inconvenient. When instead I’m really thinking; if I don’t try I won’t fail.

But we can train our mind to build confidence so being active is easy to do. Here are three simple ways to do that:

visualize about your exercise

I think therefore I am

If you want to do something, picture yourself doing it. I’m sure all of us have done this on many occasions. When going for a job interview, you might picture yourself entering the room and greeting the interviewer. Or if you have to speak in public, you may go check out the room first. You picture yourself standing in front of the audience and think about how you might feel.

Projecting into the future how we might act in a given situation helps our chances of success. You see yourself having that job, doing that presentation, going out for that walk, or maybe doing your run faster. Conversely, if you don’t see yourself in those situations, it’s unlikely you’ll do well when the opportunity arises.

Picturing yourself exercising helps to build your exercise identity. Identifying as an exerciser means it’s part of who you are. You’ve built exercise into your life. And people who identify with exercise and physical activity are more likely to be active.

Talk the talk before you walk the walk

You’re watching an athlete before a competition. Or even someone preparing for a presentation. Their lips are moving, like their mumbling to themselves. Or perhaps their stone-faced, as if their soul has been beamed out of their body, not reacting to anything. What’s going through their mind?

Most likely these people are pumping themselves up. Getting themselves prepared for their performance. Telling themselves they can do it.

It’s more than just small-talk to calm down jitters. If you can talk yourself out of something, why can’t you talk yourself into something? You can. And it actually helps with performance. People who gave themselves a pep talk before a presentation were viewed more positively.

In some cases it can actually trick your body into doing something you may think isn’t possible. For example, cyclists trained in motivational self-talk where able to exercise for longer. The best type of self-talk appears to be using second person pronouns. So instead of saying “I can do this”, say “You can do this”. This seems to distance yourself from the experience and can result in better exercise performance.

going from failure to success

Killing that fear of failure

A fear of failure is a common thing many of us feel when trying something new or making a change. You want to be perfect right from the start. You don’t want to look, or feel, bad if you don’t do it right. We can learn a lot from failure, but of course, you don’t want to plan to fail. Before you can even get to the doing part, you need to overcome that fear. It doesn’t mean you won’t fail, but it does me you’ll have the confidence to try, and failure won’t be something to fear.

You can gain confidence from your previous successes. And it can be from anything. If you have successes from previous exercise programs, great. If not, you can draw strength from success at anything else. Remembering those successes can make you realize you can succeed. You can also learn from the experience. How did it feel when you succeeded? What did you do to ensure success?

In addition, surround yourself with people who are exercising at the level you want to be. We tend to be similar to the people we hang out with. People trying to quit smoking find it easier to quit when around non-smokers. Similarly being around active people tells you it’s possible giving you confidence. You can also learn from their experiences, what works and what doesn’t, to help with your effort.

So start picturing yourself exercising, give yourself that pep talk and embrace your previous successes. Doing so will give you the will to exercise, and with that, you’re more than halfway there.

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