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Anything new can be challenging. Sticking with it after you realize it’s not as easy as you anticipated is even tougher. That goes double when it comes to training and nutrition. Hundreds of thousands of individuals embark on fitness programs every year, but many drop out within six weeks. Half will quit within six months, and less than one third of those who begin a regimen will still be exercising by the end of the first year. Those statistics, however, don’t indicate the number of people who can’t tolerate physical discomfort. The main reason for the high dropout rate is a mental inability to stick with the program. If you’re ready to go toe to toe with yourself, then the strategies we offer will tame that part of you that resists getting in shape.
Wouldn’t it make sense, before embarking on an unfamiliar path filled with countless obstacles and detours, to first decide where you’re going and what you want to accomplish? Merely saying to yourself, “I want to lose weight, get in shape, and build muscle,” is too broad and ambiguous. What does that mean? Set a specific goal with a time constraint that keeps you focused on achieving it.
It’s easier to create a new, good habit than it is to shed an old, bad one. For example, if you smoke, work on getting to the gym regularly and pushing the pace in your cardio sessions before you attempt the challenge of quitting cigarettes. Eventually, your motivation to keep improving on the positive aspects in your life will help you replace your addictions to the negative, more destructive ones.
Try taking a page from the handbook of top athletes who use imagination to visualize the end result they want to achieve. When LeBron James steps up to take a foul shot, his goal isn’t to get pretty close to the rim. What he sees in his mind is the ball sailing through the net. Get clear in your mind about what your goal looks, feels, and even sounds like. If you want to bench-press 300 pounds, see yourself doing it.
Promise yourself, or demand of yourself, anything that prevents you from quitting. The top reason people throw in the towel on their fitness goals is giving in to self-defeating thoughts like “Life’s too short—I should just enjoy myself.” You need to develop the ability to control impatience and fight through frustrations.
Anticipate that there are going to be obstacles and challenges along the way, and that you might stumble and possibly even fall. But so what! Nothing great has ever been achieved without a few bruised elbows and scraped knees. Train yourself to look at every stumble and every setback as an opportunity to strengthen your resolve, build character, and learn from your mistakes—not as an excuse to turn and walk away.
Take pictures to document your progress, regardless of whether they show dramatic gains. Think you might see your serratus anterior muscle poking through when you raise your arm overhead? Record the moment to provide yourself positive feedback and motivation to keep training hard. Photos will also allow you to look back and have a record of how far you’ve come, which serves as additional motivation as well as validation.
There’s a saying, “If the why is great enough, the how no longer matters.” Getting over, under, around, or through all those obstacles that stand between you and what you want is going to require a sizable chunk of sustainable motivation. If your drive is fueled by weak, superficial purpose, it will fizzle out long before you get to the finish line. This deeper motivation will help you overcome the obstacles.
Cut out the cover model from this issue, place a picture of your face over his, and post it on your fridge. While your physique and genetics are unique, there’s nothing wrong with training to emulate someone else’s if it motivates you. It will help you visualize how you want to change your body and realize what it takes to get there.
There’s evidence suggesting that sharing your goal with others actually reduces your likelihood of achieving it. Telling the world that you’re starting a new exercise program will make you feel good about yourself for the moment but will also short-circuit the desire or need to actually do the work. Other than a trainer, coach, or close friend, few people will hold you accountable.
Even if it’s just a team of one, you need to psych yourself up, especially on days when you’re not entirely motivated. Music can help you do this. Play tunes on your iPod that get you pumped up to train. Studies have shown that music can play a significant role in getting you in the mental zone to work out.
Tom Terwilliger is a former IFBB professional bodybuilder, a motivational speaker, and the author of 7 Rules of Achievement and Why Smart Goals May Be Dumb. tomterwilliger.com
Dr. Belisa Vranich is a clinical and sports psychologist for the Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute. She is the founder of The Breathing Class (thebreathingclass.com) and the author of five books.