Justin Woltering of Dymatize tells us why a stronger brain leads to a stronger body.
No matter what your current fitness goals are, you can’t improve your body without first strengthening your mind. Your thoughts ultimately control your actions, and it’s a strong mind that pushes us to eat right, train hard and stick to a plan for the long haul. Even the greatest routines for nutrition, training and supplementation will fail if you don’t have the will to carry them out. Why don’t more people grasp this critical concept I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory: it forces you to acknowledge your shortcomings. If you accept responsibility for your own successes and failures, you’ll realize that your progress—or lack thereof— starts in your head.
With that in mind, here are 5 tips for improving your own mental strength:
1. Test yourself.
There are plenty of ways to put your mind to the test, but since our ultimate goal is a great physique, what better place to do it than in the gym? My favorite way to test my own mental strength is to put myself through a grueling workout—the kind I wouldn’t normally do and can’t repeat day after day.
One of the best tests of will is also one of the oldest: the 20-rep breathing squat. Walk out with a weight you can normally get for 10 or 12 reps, and keep breathing heavy and grinding them out until you get to 20. It’s brutal and exhausting, but it will let you know what you’re made of. You can do variations with other exercises and even with machines, but the squat is king!
2. Be your own role model.
Not everyone will agree with me here, but I don’t believe in having role models. Sure, it’s great to look up to people who have already achieved what you want to achieve. But don’t try to model yourself after someone else. For one thing, people are imperfect; you’ll grow increasingly disappointed if you follow someone else’s life or career only to find out that they fall short of your expectations when it comes to morals, motivation or mental endurance.
More importantly, focusing on a role model prevents you from achieving your own goals. Figure out what you want to get out of your bod—and your life—and go for it with gusto. Instead of looking to others as role models, seek advice where you can find it. Ultimately, you’ll be more motivated and more confident in your routine if you carve your own path.
3. Visualize constantly.
All that “visualization” talk you hear from athletes may seem like a bunch of new-age nonsense, but it actually works. While merely thinking about your goals isn’t going to magically make them happen, focused visualization will help you to stick to your plan. Say you’re supposed to eat five specific meals every day. You can go to bed each night thinking about what each meal will look like, taste like and how to prepare it. Or, you can give your meal plan zero thought until it’s time for breakfast. In which case do you think you’re going to be most likely to stick to your plan?
Visualization works just as well for training. Instead of focusing on the negatives like the burn or discomfort of lifting weights, think about the positives: how your legs will look, how your gut will shrink and how you’ll feel when the whole thing is through. If you keep those positive thoughts flowing, you won’t just make it to the gym, you’ll have an amazing workout too.
4. Hold yourself accountable.
Diet and workout buddies are all well and good. Ultimately though, you’ve got to rely on yourself for motivation. Other people will falter and flake. Only you have your best interests at heart. You need to be the one who never skips a workout, is always on time and gives 100 percent effort. At worst, you’ll avoid being dragged down by others’ excuses. At best, you and your buddy will motivate each other to train as hard as possible.
When it comes to your diet, you’ll need to develop the fortitude to avoid temptations. It’s easy enough to fall into a routine of meal prep and eating, but it’s a whole different ballgame when people start offering you goodies. Remember, you’re the one who really cares about your goals; you’ve got to be the one who chooses long-term gains over temporary pleasures.
5. Remember your reasons.
When times get tough, remember why you’re training so hard, eating so well and reorganizing your schedule. If fat loss is your goal, think about how much better you’ll look and feel when you shed that excess weight. If you’re trying to gain muscle mass, visualize that built physique you’re aiming for.
This may sound a little cheesy now, especially if you’re just getting started on your routine. Wait a few weeks, though, and realize how tough it can be to maintain a strict workout regimen, a healthy diet and regular sleep. Sure, it all makes you feel great, but our whims and enjoyments will always wax and wane. Dedication to a clear goal—one that’s always on your mind—is what will keep you on the right path, even when you feel like cheating.
Justin Woltering is a fitness expert, author and Dymatize-sponsored athlete. He has helped thousands of people see results with his exclusive programs, articles, and videos. For more information, visit justinwoltering.com.