No matter what your fitness goal is, your training mindset is critically important. This is true if you plan to compete at an elite level 10 years down the line, just as it is if you want to drop 10lb for your wedding photos. Sure, there are those who simply exercise for fun and that's it. That's their goal. For anyone with more substantial goals, these are my tips to achieving them.
Setting Fitness Goals
Your goal, your why behind the training, is what you'll lean on when you don't feel like doing what you know you should be doing. It's what you need to train your mind to go to when laziness and indifference threaten to take hold. For example, instead of haphazardly going to the gym because it's the popular thing to do, establish a personal reason for going. As mentioned above, this could be to lose weight, gain muscle, get faster, or something else. In essence, it's tough to be disciplined without a purpose, and your goal will serve as this purpose.
I, like many other people, had a generic goal of getting bigger and stronger over time. While this might not jive with mainstream goal-setting techniques, I understood that this meant making fitness a long-term lifestyle. Even if your goal is rough or crude to begin with, taking that first step is often the most difficult. It can be scary and uncomfortable, but setting a goal of any kind will make it easier. From here, you can always add to your goal, better define it, create various stretch goals to pursue, etc.
Have a Vision
Once your goal is set, you'll need to develop a roadmap to achieving that goal. Do you have an end result in mind? If you want to lose 10lb in 3 months, you can set pretty specific weight loss targets along your journey. If you had a goal like mine, to stay strong and healthy in the long-run, then there will naturally be more grey area.
To achieve my goal, I needed to learn about training and nutrition. During the initial stages of my journey, developing a consistent workout plan was a good place to start. As I progressed, I refined my knowledge and practices to better my results over time.
Don't Overthink It
In the case of our weight loss goal, it can be easy to become discouraged by nonlinear progress. You know you need to lose an average of about 0.8 pounds per week, but let's say you GAINED a pound during one of the weeks. Faced with this situation, many people will make an overcorrection that derails their progress. Instead of making major adjustments to catch up, make a minor change and see how your body reacts over the next few days.
In the case of lifting, many of us who want to get stronger naively expect to continually go up in weight. For me, I'd squat 475lb one week and feel compelled to do it again the next week. I wanted to push my body to the extreme in order to only go up and never regress. This was a terrible mindset. Instead, I should have taken a step back, realized that my goal was long-term growth, and stuck to a program that didn't involve maxing out virtually every single day. Sure, doing this was fun, but I likely would have made better progress by focusing on volume and giving my body time to recover.
The previous point being covered, it's important not to be too lenient or passive. If you don't make enough of a change during your weight loss journey, you'll be forced to take extreme measures down the line to achieve your desired result, or you'll miss it altogether. When it comes to training, sometimes you should throw your workout program aside and see what you can do. If I'm feeling absolutely great on a scheduled light day, I'll go heavy. Making too minor or too small of adjustments can be just as detrimental as making too large of adjustments. It's not always easy, but it's beneficial to find the flexibility within your ultimate vision to make meaningful changes. This requires being honest with yourself and where you're at.
Strategically Play Mental Games
Something that's helped me in all aspects of life is challenging myself to control my mindset. One of my favorite techniques is to play mind games with myself. I'm a competitive person and will make up a competition in my head against a random person at the gym to get myself going. Say they're deadlifting 315lb, well now I'm going to bench press that. That'll show you, random guy who has nothing to do with me!
While that example is meant to be a little funny, going to battle within your mind is a truly powerful tool. When studying for exams, I would challenge myself to remember material after reading it for the first time. This required me to focus that much more, which resulted in a new skill (i.e., increased focus for longer periods of time). If I want to hit 8 reps at a weight that I'm not sure I can hit 8 reps at, I'll aim for 12 in my head so that reaching 8 feels that much easier. You'll hit 7 and think, "Oh, I'm already there." If I think about stopping a run early, I'll force myself to either go faster or run for a longer-than-planned distance or time. The more you practice this kind of mental awareness, the better at it you'll become.
Conversely, allowing yourself to slack off will only snowball and hurt you. If you take the easy road once, you're increasingly likely to do it again, and again, and again. If you find yourself falling into this pattern, make a point to stop it. Holding yourself accountable is a difficult skill to master, but perhaps the most valuable.
Recovering from Injury
While not completely related to the topic at hand, this is another area where employing our mindset tips will help. Recovering from a muscle strain, herniated disc, torn ACL, or other injury is far more than a physical test. There are numerous examples of athletes who are physically cleared to play, but can't seem to get over that final mental hurdle. Even throughout the recovery process, it can be difficult to stay positive and see the light at the end of the tunnel. With this in mind, let's look back at our steps.
What's your goal? Obviously, to recover, but how do you define recovery? Perhaps you're an athlete and want to get back on the field. Maybe you're a powerlifter and want to hit a new deadlift max (a goal I had after experiencing bulging discs in my back). What's your vision to get there? Does it require surgery, physical therapy, daily mobility training, or checking your ego and starting from ground zero? As you progress, you know you're likely to hit roadblocks. As you meet them, remember not to overthink every little detail. Find the balance that's most optimal to achieving your long-term goal while taking advantage of opportunities you find along the way. Lastly, use this experience to grow mentally. It's the easiest thing in the world to play victim in this type of situation. Callous your mind, remain focused, and see your goal through.
What Did I Miss?
We all approach goal setting differently, but much of it usually boils down to the same principles. The bottom line is that your mentality, regardless of the topic, is crucial. I've found this to be particularly true when it comes to physical training. Let me know your thoughts on this article, and if you've used similar techniques to grow in your pursuits.