Building Up Fitness: It’s Mostly Mental

Mar 20, 2017
Tagged with: Building Up Fitness: It's Mostly Mental


Have you ever wondered how top athletes do it? How they manage to just keep going, running that last mile, pushing past the person ahead of them to take the lead? While it’s true they’ve spent years toning their bodies to be the best they can be, that’s not the only thing that sets them apart and allows them to perform amazing feats of athleticism. The mental component of exercise is an enormous challenge for many people, whether they’re just starting to get fit or pushing themselves to the next level of competition. The greatest athletes have been shown to have exceptionally high levels of mental toughness to help them push beyond their rivals and win the competition. They train both their minds and their bodies in order to succeed. For the rest of us, developing more mental toughness could be the key to building up and maintaining fitness. But why?

Resisting Change with Self-Sabotage

We are creatures of habit. Starting any new behavior is difficult for us, because we favor the habits we already have. Do you spend most of your time sitting on the couch? Then getting up and going for a run is going to be difficult. We self-sabotage with our internal dialogue, telling ourselves that we can’t run for 5 more minutes, or skipping one workout won’t make much difference. Then, we get frustrated because we’re not pushing ourselves, and we’re not seeing results. When we change our internal dialogue to be tougher and more optimistic, however, it’s surprising just how much our bodies are capable of—but getting to that point takes time and consistency.

An Exercise in Consistency

You may have heard that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. That’s a number that’s been tossed around for years, but the problems is that it’s been widely misrepresented. The man who first researched how long it takes to form a habit, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, originally discovered that 21 days was actually the minimum number of days needed to form a habit. Most people actually needed an average of 66 days before a habit became automatic—and some need as many as 254 days!

With these observations, it’s clear that one of the biggest problems people face when beginning a new fitness program is giving up too early. After a few weeks of forcing themselves to go to the gym, and maybe not seeing many positive changes, the majority of people will revert to their old habits—and abandon the new ones they were just starting to make. That’s why it takes more consistent, deliberate action to get to the gym in the beginning—it takes time to form new habits.

Changing Patterns & Developing Mental Toughness

To get past these mental blocks and limitations we put up for ourselves, we have to start small, and we have to stop worrying about how well we’re doing in the moment, and how far we have to go.

In fitness, there’s a fine line between taking on too much and starting out too small. Falling on either side of this line can either burn you out or never yield any progress. It’s important to set goals and start at a level that makes sense for your current level of fitness—but it’s equally important to pay attention to your mental dialogue as you work out. When things start getting tough, remind yourself: my body can do this. As long as you’re not in real pain or causing yourself injury, there’s no reason you can’t push yourself to be more than you ever thought possible.

Author: Sarah Daren

  • bobl07

    One aspect of training that helped me to improve mental toughness was to meet with a sports psychologist who taught me mental imagery.

  • aicranemalacate

    In fitness, there’s a fine line between taking on too much and starting out too small.