Combat Within Your Own Mind

If you stare at the picture above, you will see it moving despite the fact you know that movement would be impossible. It is an optical illusion, or a trick of your mind which is the basis of this article, your mind playing games and if, or how, you might beat it. The muse for this piece first began where I was going to address one subject, but as I was running on the treadmill today, completeing High Intensity Interval Training, I thought of other areas where our minds jack with our reality and decided to expand the topic.

I read different weight loss, health and fitness forums in order to try to stay abreast of what methods people use in order to try to meet their physical objectives. The most common tool used is the bathroom scale, which is a smart one to utilize, but only if you are going about it intelligently. The scale should only be used consistently on one chosen day and time of the week, and then put away until the next week. For an even better gauge of progress, you really should only drag it out once per month. However, there are many out there who keep it out and weigh themselves not only daily, but multiple times in a single day, and every day. If you do this, your mind is playing an evil game with you, that really stands a better chance of causing your efforts to lose weight to be a lost cause over being a winning strategy.

The reason weighing yourself multiple times per day is folly is that the human body’s weight is going to flucuate by up to nine pounds in any given day based solely on water retention and not fat. If you weigh 150 pounds in the morning, then 154 pounds in the evening and maybe 152 pounds the next morning, your body is simply retaining and excreting water at different rates during this period. You are not gaining 4 pounds of fat in a day, and you are not losing 2 pounds of fat over night. Remember that it takes 3500 excess calories, or 500 extra calories in a day for 7 days to gain one pound of fat and conversely it takes those same numbers as a deficit in order to lose one pound of fat in a week. This is a truth for everyone. Unless you are a heart patient or have anther medical condition where excess water is a health issue, then obsessing over a few pounds of water weight every day is foolish. I’m not trying to hurt any feelings by stating this simple truth, but there are some people who need to read this as the daily obsession with the scale is a mind game in which you will be defeated most of the time. It is almost akin to watching a clock. Depending on what you are doing, time can seem to drag on and on, while if you are doing something fun or productive, time flyes by. If you have a problem with obesity, you did not get that way over night, and it is not going to be shed from your body over night either. Learn to relax your mind and just concentrate on living healthy every day instead. If you weigh yourself everyday, or multiple times per day, you are basically watching the clock. Learn to quit watching the clock.

Whether it is running on a treadmill indoors or during an outdoor run on a track, our minds can play games with us by making time go by extremely slow. If you are watching the time, or not allowing your mind to drift elsewhere besides how much more you have to do, then the task gets quite a bit more difficult. It is when we look at a timer and see that we still have several more minutes to go that it becomes easy to begin thinking about just throwing in the towel and quitting. You might think your run is becoming more difficult simply because your mind is telling you so. But here is the deal, as long as your legs are physically capable of moving your body, and your breathing allows you to maintain a labored conversation, then there is no good reason for you to stop moving. Your mind will convince you that you have had more than enough physical exertion long before your body will. The reality with running is you want your heart rate elevated enough to cause you to breath harder than at rest. The more you put thoughts of quitting aside, the easier it will be to carry on when the going gets tough. Your mind will defeat your own body, if first you allow it to do so.

For those of us who are really serious about weight training, we will have good and bad days. Weight training done right is damn hard and tears your body down to where it is an absolute necessity to rest and eat proper in order for your body to rebuild itself. Because of this, it is easy for our minds to tell us that we do not feel like hitting the weights today, that we do not feel up to par and our session is going to suck. Our minds can defeat us before ever setting foot in the weight room by getting us to take a day off because we just are not “feeling it”. Over the years in which I have been lifitng, I have learned that how I feel is not relevant in any way to how my session is going to go, as long as I put my self defeating thoughts aside long enough to get through my warm up sets.

Sometimes, I can get under the barbell for squats or bench press. Or maybe I am grasping it for a deadlift. The weight feels crushing or as if it is glued to the floor. Mean Ol’ Mister Gravity is going to kick my ass. My mind tells me so. It is times such as this where it becomes mind over matter. No matter how crushing that barbell feels on my back for a squat, if I squat down and then stand back up for a full range of motion repetition with good bar speed, my body is communicating to me that I can carry on with another rep despite my mind telling me the weight is too heavy. If I grasp that bar and get it off the floor for a dead lift, again, no matter how much my mind is telling me no, as long as the bar travels up my body in a straight line and I can set it back down, I am going for another rep. How my mind tells me it feels is irrelevant to the situation. I will always feel better physically and mentally for doing so.

Perceived hunger is another place where our minds really screw us over. If you consume enough calories in a day of wholesome foods to meet your basal metabolic requirements, then you should never be truly hungry throughout the day. The key is that you are eating wholesome and nutritious foods and not filling up on sugar laden garbage like cakes and cookies.

Hunger is the place where our minds really does a lot of damage to our well being. Many people confuse thirst with hunger and will eat when they should be getting a drink.

How often do we eat, not because we are hungry, but solely because our minds are telling us something would rally taste good, right now?

How often do we eat because our mind tells us it will ease our stress? Does it ever really work out in the end?

Do you ever eat just because it is time to, and not because you are hungry?

For you, is eating an easy way out in the cure for boredom?

How often do we just throw caution to the wind and just eat as much of any given food, even when having the knowledge that what we are doing is going to destroy our health? Why in the world will our minds allow us to justify doing so when we might avoid any other habit that is bad for us? Good lord, being a glutton is as bad for your health and wellness as being a smoker. If you are the type who will stop at a fast food joint on the way home from work and order a value meal to hold you over until you fix dinner when you get there, is it too difficult to stop thinking of food for a little bit longer? Do you really physically need that meal as much as your mind is telling you?

In each of the above scenarios, your mind can defeat you before you ever begin your journey. If you want to live a strong and healthy fit life, you have to develope a strategy to defeat negative and self defeating thoughts. You have to learn to quit obsessing over not getting instant results, and quit “Watching the clock”. As folks are taught in Alcoholics Anonymous, you take life a day at a time, and if that is too much, you take it a moment at a time. When you are overwhelmed, only think about getting through the immediate moment. Then you can concentrate on the next moment, and the next instead of concentrating on the end point. If you can breath and move, you can get a little further in your run. If your bar speed is good, you can get another rep in the weight room. If you learn to discipline yourself to live in the moment when times are hard, you can learn to not raid the refrigerator multiple times in a day. Self discipline will allow you to forego a meal as a snack before dinner in the next hour after you get home

When it comes to becoming fit and at a healthy body fat percentage, you have to learn to develop intelligent strategies in order to get you through the moment. You have to learn to set many short term goals in order to achieve a long term goal. Odds are you did not get out of shape over night, therefore you can not reasonably believe you can change course over night. Stop watching the clock, and if you can learn to defeat your own thought processes, there is nothing you can not accomplish in life.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Brenda Sue says:

    David, this is so important. There are very few days that I “feel like” working the program. I just do it. If I listened to the negative self talk that will proliferate if encouraged, I wouldn’t be where I am in my training. I always know that “I can.” , it is a non-negotiable. Failure and lethargy are not options. I kill them off up front and then just do what I know will give me the results I want. It is necessary to win this war in the mind or we will never win anything else…good word!

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