In an attempt to get fit, we tend to focus on the physical.
Exercise is good, so more is better. Right? Stick to a routine and you’ll have a six-pack in no time. How hard can it be? Well, it must be harder than it seems. Otherwise, we’d all be walking around looking like we were chiseled from marble. Since we don’t all look like Greek Gods or Goddesses, it’s safe to say that getting in shape can be a bit of a struggle. What’s getting in your way?
Often, the biggest obstacle standing between you and your fitness goals is your mindset. But your mind can also be dialed in to help you reach optimal performance. Train your brain to think yourself fit with these simple tips.
Seeing really is believing. Take a page out of a pro athlete’s playbook by picturing the outcome you hope to achieve. It doesn’t matter if you’re training to run a 5K or trying to lose a few pounds, painting a mental picture of your success will help carry you to the finish line.
The brain loves a good dress rehearsal. The more you rehearse, or practice, a move in your mind the easier it becomes in reality. Try to make your thoughts as vivid as possible. Imagine every step, and every breath, from start to finish. Doing so is a surefire way to prep for the pressure that comes with taking on a new challenge.
Go Big, Think Small
There’s nothing wrong with setting a lofty goal. For instance, take running a marathon. It’s a massive undertaking. One that might be overwhelming if you think about all 26.2 miles. But, if you break it down mile-by-mile it becomes more manageable. That’s how ultra-runner Hal Koerner, two-time winner of the Western States 100 manages to make it through races much further than your average marathon. Koerner suggests running to a specific landmark in the distance. Then, after reaching it, set your sights on a new challenge. Instead of focusing on the finish line, focus on making the next water station.
Like a marathon, overhauling what you eat might seem impossible. Dining out makes dieting especially difficult and even when you eat at home you may have to learn how to cook new meals, change your grocery shopping habits, and generally find a way to totally overhaul the way you eat. But, little changes can make a difference too.
For instance, opting for an apple at lunch each day, instead of a bag of chips is far more manageable than swapping out everything you eat all at once. Similarly, replacing a starchy carbohydrate like bread with a fresh vegetable like kale makes your dinner that much healthier.
In time, these small changes will come to represent substantial progress on your quest to eat healthier. According to a study conducted at Northwestern University, these types of small changes can result in a domino effect on other health-related habits. Researchers set out to alter four unhealthy behaviors: eating too much saturated fat, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, spending too much time being sedentary, and not getting adequate exercise. But, instead of trying to tackle four problems at once, researchers found that a small reduction in TV time, along with eating more fruits and vegetables lead to a healthier lifestyle overall. In all, small changes have a ripple effect that extends into other aspects of your life.
Master Your Mind
Meditation has long been a mainstay in many Eastern religions. Nowadays, scientists are studying the implications of mindfulness on our fast-paced lives. From exercise and emotions, to stress and self-esteem, meditation is proving to be a game changer for achieving our goals.
With respect to fitness and athletics, meditation helps prepare the mind and body to deal with unexpected stress. An intense training session in the gym could cause us to quit. Or at the very least leave us questioning why we’re subjecting ourselves to such taxing workouts. But, if you were to take up meditation, you might be less likely to second-guess yourself. At least that’s what a study of meditating Marines concluded. Evidence suggests that the meditating helps the brain react to high-stress situations and recover more quickly from those episodes. That’s because meditation is like biceps curls for your brain. Your mind will become better at anticipating stress, without overreacting to it. In this way, you’ll be able to push through the pain to finish a workout or make a split second decision on the playing field.
Take the first step towards mindfulness by sitting by yourself. Find a quiet room. Remove all of the potential distractions (yes, this includes your phone) and try to clear your mind by focusing on your natural breathing pattern. Repeat this practice for at least 5 minutes a few days each week. Over time, try to up the amount of time you meditate as well as the frequency of your practice. Along with the other brain-training techniques, meditation will help you master your mind to help break down the barriers between you and your goals.