by Justin Woltering
No matter your current goals, you’re not going to 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.
So, why don’t more people grasp this critical concept? Why do so many trainees – and even accomplished athletes – become stagnant for months or years? I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory: it forces you to acknowledge your shortcomings! It’s easy to blame your gut, your weakness, or your lack of muscle on things outside your control. But if you accept responsibility for your own successes and failures, you’ll realize that your progress – or lack thereof – all starts in your head.
Fortunately, you can also CHOOSE to be better. Even a sub-par plan will work wonders if you follow it aggressively, and most of your results will come down to sheer strength of will. With that in mind, here are 5 more tips for improving your own mental strength.
1. Test yourself.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. It’s true for bodybuilding as well as business; you’re not going to gain mental strength without constantly testing your metal! Your mind is like a muscle, and it WILL “atrophy” if you don’t keep it challenged.
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 that I can’t just repeat day after day. This kind of workout has got to be insane!
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, and it will let you know what you’re made of. You can do variations with other exercises and even with machines, but as always – the squat is king!
I also like cardio-centric mental tests. I know, I know – you’re a bodybuilder, and you don’t need to run! That kind of thinking is exactly why sprints and circuit work can be such great tests of mental strength for lifters. You’re not used to that kind of training, and it adds a whole new challenge to your workouts. Don’t make the excuse that you don’t want to “go catabolic,” either – one run or one circuit workout isn’t going to ruin your gains!
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, and you’ll always get disappointed if you follow someone else’s life or career for long enough. It’ll do you no good to idolize some bodybuilder, lifter, or other successful person, 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 keeps you from going for YOUR goals! Figure out what you want to get out of your body – and your life – and go for it with gusto. Instead of looking to others as role models, seek advice where you can find it. I might ask a powerlifter friend of mine for advice on squatting, for instance, but I’m not going to ask him how to diet – he doesn’t care about getting fitness model-lean! You’ll ultimately 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 really 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 and do what you need to do.
Don’t believe me? Just consider a few examples. 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 require in preparation. 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. Take leg training for example. If you’re like most trainees, you’re not so hot on leg day, especially when heavy squats and high reps are thrown into the mix. If you never even think about leg training until you see the workout on your calendar (or hear about it from your trainer), you might end up skipping it! It’s hard to put such a heavy burden on yourself with such short notice.
On the other hand, you can start thinking about that training session one, two, or even three days beforehand. Instead of focusing on the negatives – the burn, the discomfort, the feeling of heavy weights on your back – think about the positives: how your legs will grow, how your gut will shrink, and how great 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 a kick-ass workout!
4. Hold yourself accountable.
Training partners are all well and good, and you may even want to have an accountability buddy for your diet. Ultimately, though, you’ve got to rely on yourself for motivation. Other people will inevitably falter and flake, and only YOU have your best interests at heart 100 percent of the time. That’s not a knock on your friends and family – it’s just the truth! Ask anyone who’s even been truly successful – in the gym or out – and you’ll probably find that they’re incredibly independent and self-critical.
What does accountability mean when it comes to training and dieting? For starters, you’ve got to quit relying on training partners. More power to you if you can find some good ones, but YOU need to be the one who never skips, is always on time, and always 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.
The same goes for you skinny guys who want to get big. You might not have to worry about overeating and fat gain, but you will be tempted to skip meals and leave food on your plate. Remember, your body doesn’t “want” to pack on slabs of muscle – your mind does! Some discomfort is inevitable when you want to make big changes to your physique, and you need the will to tough it out.
5. Remember your reasons!
When times get tough, remember WHY you’re training so hard, eating so clean, 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 get bigger, visualize that built physique you’re aiming for. Want to get stronger for a sport or a powerlifting meet? Think about how gratifying it will be to make lifts you never thought possible!
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 regimen of heavy lifting, clean eating, 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.