Despite the considerably physical nature of most health and fitness goals, often the key to bringing them to fruition is maintaining the proper mindset. Yes, friends—it’s a mental game. As a fitness and nutrition coach, I frequently come into contact with women who are ready to achieve their goals by any means necessary, but are up against thought patterns and narratives of self-belief that are significantly lacking.
Through discussion, we uncover root issues and explore the emotional layers that may be impeding consistent progress. Oftentimes, it comes down to honest reflection on this simple question: How are you speaking to yourself?
Here are four answers—and the unhealthy patterns that stem from them—that might be sabotaging your fitness goals.
1. You’re looking in the mirror with a limiting lens.
Which of these statements helps you express your everyday thought processes?
Do the more positive and integrated statements reflect your natural state on the whole? If yes, wonderful! You’re flowing through abundance and your fitness goals are sure to follow. However, if statements of lack and frustration better capture your worldview and sense of self, it’s likely that fear has taken over and led you to self-limiting beliefs.
These thought patterns and accompanying emotions are among the first topics I address with clients. Individuals may feel their goals are too far out of reach, or they may feel they aren’t deserving of even their own unwavering confidence. In either situation, they are blocking themselves from receiving and creating.
If you think you can’t do something, you may never allow yourself to give it your all. Statements that begin with “I can’t” often give way to individuals believing their abilities are pre-determined and fixed. On the contrary! We are constantly evolving, and fitness evolutions are equally malleable. The first step in accomplishing anything is believing you will. It’s even better if that belief is one of unwavering certainty.
Stepping into this mindset requires a comprehensive shift in how one views the world and their unique place in it. An abundance mentality doesn’t manifest overnight, so be patient with yourself as you begin to modify your internal dialogue. When you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or irritated, take a few minutes to stop what you’re doing and assess the situation. These emotions and many of those accompanying them are fear based. Check in with yourself to determine whether there’s an underlying feeling of “not enough-ness.” Are self-limiting beliefs present? If yes, notice where you’re currently feeling sensitive and pour self-compassion into those areas. Make it point to recite daily affirmations. The list of positive and integrated statements you read above is a great place to start!
2. You’re comparing yourself to others.
You’ve heard it countless times: Comparison is the thief of joy. When you’re comparing yourself to others, you’re actively boxing yourself into what’s referred to as a lack mentality and subsequently setting yourself up for those aforementioned limiting beliefs. When living in this state of mind, it typically holds true that you’re placing yourself in a “less than” or “deficient” category as opposed to appreciating your individuality and unique life processes. Comparing often involves looking to others for examples of what you need to fix within yourself to be “enough.”
Another experience of comparison involves observing others through a more judgmental lens. This is common when individuals are hyper-focused on achieving a set of goals. When investing substantial time and energy into an endeavor, your sensitivity to potential barriers can increase. When comparing yourself to those around you, you may begin to feel you are in competition.
In either case, you’re approaching the situation with defensive posturing and thought patterns that are once again fear based. Without conscious awareness, you believe that there isn’t enough success to go around for everyone. In terms of fitness, success may mean a toned body, the weight you can lift, the types of exercise you perform, the speed with which you can complete a cardio goal, or even loving the way you look in cute workout attire. Of course, someone else’s experience of these things doesn’t eclipse your ability to revel in them, too.
If you’re falling into the comparison trap, try to interrupt the judgments with love. Keep in mind that this applies to yourself and others. Feeling excited, supported, or inspired by another woman won’t damper your achievements. It’s important to create a type of mentality where everyone can enjoy the fruits of their labors. Instead of thinking, “Wow, look at how fast her mile time is. She’s perfect. How could I ever be good enough?” shift to, “Wow, look at how fast her mile time is. I’m so impressed! Good for her. I can’t believe how far I’ve come with my own endurance. I can’t wait to one day run my own blazing PRs.”
With this thinking, you’re acknowledging another individual’s success while also appreciating how inspiring your own journey is!
3. You’re focusing on short-term success instead of long-term sustainability
It’s common for individuals to dive into a self-improvement project when short-term goals and quickly approaching deadlines are on the horizon. When working from such a place, we often adopt all-or-nothing mindsets. The trouble with this is that fitness is not linear. The truth is, there will be forward and backward movements in any journey. It’s inevitable.
When this is overlooked, you may notice yourself cycling between extremes. If you aren’t “completely on” with your fitness regimen, then you’re “completely off.” In other words, if there’s a blip in your program’s perfection or your consistent progression toward the goal you’ve visualized, you may find yourself pulling out of the race altogether.
Let’s consider a weight loss journey. You may have a goal of losing ten pounds by an upcoming wedding, which is roughly six months away. While this is realistic, measurable, and time-bound, I would still urge you to consider it one small step in the bigger picture of improving your health and wellness. Why does this help? Well, you’re more likely to stick to the goal when you acknowledge that the benefits will serve you for years to come. Embracing a healthy lifestyle will augment your metabolic, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal well-being, while also helping you fit into that gorgeous gown.
During the six months leading up to the special day, odds are you’ll have a meal or night out that you know is a bit too indulgent for your weight loss goal. Focusing only on short-term advances might allow this meal to trigger a self-defeating thought spiral. Instead of resuming standard exercise and diet protocol after indulging, you might throw in the towel, believing your day is already ruined. One meal turns into one day, one week, or even one month. If you guilt yourself for being unable to give it your “all” in the moment, you may retreat to giving nothing.
If you’re in tune with long-term benefits, though, you’ll be more apt to recognize that one indulgence will not throw you off track. You’ll release any anxiety that may follow the slip-up and trust that your weight loss and greater wellness goals will still be realized. One meal is just…one meal. You’ll appreciate the short break in routine then return to the plan. It’s no longer about going to extreme measures to achieve a goal as quickly as possible, but rather creating sustainable changes that will contribute to improved quality of life—which certainly does not include doggedly chasing perfection.
This slight alteration in thought processes contributes to flexibility and balance.
4. You’re thinking of exercise as a chore.
It’s true, training regimens can be taxing. Day in and day out, you’re putting yourself through demanding workouts. Quickly ask yourself, “What’s my immediate reaction when I think about exercise?” If you equate working out with an imposition, this may very well be the final block hampering your forward momentum. All too often, we hear individuals complain about “having” to make it into the gym on a particular day. This mentality instantly decreases your physical reserves. No matter what the task at hand may be, energy fades when we feel we’re being forced to do something we deem burdensome. As a result, workouts wind up lacking intensity and efficacy.
The first step in shifting this mentality involves embracing an overarching sense of gratitude. Rather than thinking of your training as something you “have to do,” try on the more positive idea that it’s something you “get to do.” With an able body and kickass persistence, you have the opportunity to exercise according to your plan—whether that’s daily or a couple of times a week—at the gym, in a studio, or pounding the pavement.
The second step involves making your training fun. Yes, we said fun! Exercise can be entirely pleasurable, so spend time playing around with various modes of exercise until you find the right fit. If you have stringent fitness goals, consider substituting a few changes in your (potentially) monotonous routine to spice things up.
For example, few individuals are fond of climbing the StairMaster for 45 minutes. Instead, opt for a 20-minute warm-up with incline walking, then jump into a HIIT circuit. Incorporate sleds, medicine balls, battle ropes, kettlebells, and even row machines for a more proactive take on cardio. Or ditch land altogether and hop into the pool for a killer, lung-busting workout. Through it all, just think about how many amazing activities your body is enabling you to do. Pretty great, isn’t it?