Mental Fitness

To get in shape don’t start with a gym membership, rather begin by looking at the thought processes that got you unfit to begin with because changing them before you set off will make the physically difficult part seem far easier.

When it comes to health and fitness, people too often fail to fully achieve their goals. They decide to lose weight, go to the gym, get back into a sport they used to love. Then a few months or even weeks down the line it all fizzles out and they end up back where they started. What happens? The mistake people make is to start with the body and not the mind. The success or failure of what we do in life is founded on what we believe. Physical achievements all begin in the mind and those who reach the heights of success work as much on building their mental toughness as any physical skill or strength.

Mental toughness

It’s the resilience and inner strength that keeps us going when faced with challenge, pressure and stress. It’s the psychological ‘edge’ that keeps people hanging in there and it’s easily recognizable in top-class athletes. What people don’t realize is this power is not exclusive or special – it’s within everyone and it can be trained and developed in a similar way to physical strength. I know this because 16 years ago I was lying in hospital with a bacterial infection in my spine being told by doctors I was unlikely to walk again let alone get back in the gym. The moment that was said I felt this great surge of power within me and knew I could defy medical opinion to recover.

I believed I could do it and this was the foundation of the mental strength I built, working out my emotional muscles ready to drive me on through the daily physical challenges I faced. It took me a year, but I never gave up and I not only learnt to walk again but got myself back in the gym. Now, 15 years later I’m enjoying six training sessions each week. That experience showed me the indisputable power of the mind over the body. It also led me to rethink my whole life and change career, studying NLP and coaching and becoming a mental toughness expert.

Training your brain

Mental toughness development will help you lose weight and stay focused on maintaining/improving health and fitness through difficult life challenges such as redundancy and divorce. It’s a two-way street because physical activity is a great stressbuster and plays a vital role in sustaining mental toughness. And mental and physical strength work together to sustain people in high pressure work environments, through disruptive change and in conflict. Developing this is a process based on small consistent actions, building daily habits and sticking to a schedule. When you begin to work on mental toughness first and then begin your new physical fitness programme alongside it, your chances of success are much higher.

Steps to get started

Step 1: Get clear about what you want and why you want it.

If mental toughness is going to help you achieve your health and fitness goals, then the first step is to get clear on what those health and fitness goals are. Statements like ‘I want to lose weight’ or ‘I want to get fit’ are not goals because they are too vague. ‘I want to run my local half marathon on May 17th 2019 in a time of under 2 hours and raise $1000 for my charity” is a strong goal because it combines a specific achievement at a specific time with a ‘Why’; the motivation to smash the goal is greater because it’s focused on raising money for a cause.

Step 2: Understand toughness means achievement

A little investigation will reveal quantities of research and information on the subject, but the most valuable way you can develop your understanding of what mental toughness means in practice is to observe it in others. Who do you know who always seems to bounce back whatever happens to them? Who has achieved goals similar to the ones you have set yourself? Find out how they do it. What mindset do they have? How do they keep themselves on track and deal with challenge?

Step 3: Take stock of yourself

Identify your current levels of mental toughness and relate these specifically to your behavior and attitude to exercise and fitness. Once you have an understanding of what mental toughness is, you can start observing yourself and recognizing your own strengths and the areas where you need to develop.

Step 4: Set a date

Choose one thing to work on and set a clear time-framed goal for improvement in that area. Let’s suppose you have identified commitment as the biggest issue with achieving your health and fitness goals. Focus on the unhelpful things you are doing and the unhelpful thoughts you have that lead to the problems with commitment. Break the big issue down into its component parts and focus on one at a time. What is the first thing you need to do differently if you are going to change the pattern?

Step 5: Get support

Make yourself accountable to someone else who will support you and keep you on track. In the same way having a personal trainer keeps you on track and raises your game in an exercise program, an accountability partner keeps you on track with your mental toughness goals. This is the person you can call on when you have moments of doubt or need a kick start on the next phase of your plan. The stronger and more resilient the mind becomes, the easier it is to believe in yourself, manage your feelings, stay focused and motivated and push yourself beyond boundaries and expectations. Use these steps to make sure your fitness starts, grows and endures from the mind.

EXPERT: Jenni Hallam is a coach, NLP practitioner, trainer and teacher (http:/www.jennihallam.co.uk)

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