Exercise Tips: Win the Mental Battle, Change Your Body

You’ve been exercising for weeks, maybe even months. You’ve avoided the “bad” foods. You’ve tried, and yet when you look in the mirror you don’t see any progress. You’re frustrated and, frankly, you’re starting to think your body will never change.

It’s easy to blame your body. Your body isn’t the problem though. The problem is your mindset. Exercise is a physical activity, but it’s a mental battle more than anything. It’s your mind that freaks out when your muscles start to burn. It’s your mind that doesn’t realize all that your body is capable of.

I used to blame my body for my lack of physical progress, too. I gave up at the first sign of burning muscles, the minute my throat stung from running, and the moment something became “too hard.” Mentally, I was psyched out even though physically I was fine. I’ve come to realize this is something most of us do because those things make us uncomfortable, and the uncomfortable is scary. But the uncomfortable things are what make us better. If we don’t overcome that voice inside of our heads saying we can’t do it, then we will never see any results.

Here’s the thing. When you surrender to that frightened, restrictive voice inside your head, you never push your body to do more. If your body isn’t pushed to do more, then there can’t be any physical change. Your quads can’t grow if you don’t work them past the boundaries of the comfortable and familiar. By doing the exact same thing, in the exact same manner, you prevent your body from improving.

It is possible to beat back that voice so you can run further, lift heavier, jump higher, swim faster, and stretch deeper. You have to make a daily, conscious effort to retrain your thinking, but it can be done. The next time you’re on the verge of giving up because “that’s good enough,” do this.

  1. Tell yourself you can.
    When you start to feel like your muscles simply can’t continue on for another rep, tell yourself that they can. Yes, your muscles are burning and quivering, but they will only give up if your mind gives up. Chant “I can do it” over and over again if you need to. The more you tell yourself you can do something, the more confident you will feel about it. Believing in your abilities will push you through.

  2. Tell yourself you love the burn.
    This is a lesson I learned from my niece when she was 7. Her gymnastics coach told the class to say they loved the burning in their muscles so they wouldn’t give up. Hearing a young child tell me to think of the negative in a positive way was life altering. Instead of fighting the burn and hating every second of it, embrace it. Appreciate what the burn means for your body and your health. Every ounce of burn symbolizes your growth in physical and mental strength.

  3. Prove yourself wrong.
    When someone else says that you can’t do something, you likely become angry and have an intense desire to prove them wrong. For some reason, when that inner voices says you can’t do something, you accept it as fact. Treat that inner voice’s doubt the same way you would an actual person. Prove it wrong. Prove yourself wrong. If you think you can’t run a mile, go out and do it. When you’ve proved that you can, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.

  4. Learn to appreciate failure.
    You’re not going to succeed at each feat. You might head out to run that mile and end a little short. The last thing you need to do is give up again, though. When you learn to see the good in failing (there’s a lesson in everything) and find the mental strength to say you’ll try again tomorrow, you’ll be able to take control of your health and crush through those boundaries later. Think about what the real issue was when you failed. Did you have to stop running before a mile because your hamstring cramped? Pinpoint what happened so you can correct it the next time. That’s how you overcome failure and self-doubt.