Tracey Brown, 24, has tried a lot of different ways to get fit but until recently she couldn’t stick with her program. “I wasn’t a huge diet person but I was really an exercise person. It was always ‘I want to be a runner’, ‘I want to be fit’, and it seemed like every single way and every single angle I started at it would end. It would never continue.”
It wasn’t lack of time, or lack of desire, that stopped her, it was a problem of how she was thinking about exercise, solely as a means to an end.
“I’d want to be skinny, I’d want to have definition, and of course that takes time. I’d say, ‘This isn’t happening fast enough. Why am I sacrificing my time for this?’”
“The block was that there was always an end to my workouts. I think that’s why I wasn’t successful. I needed to accept that this was going to be something new in my life and it’s not, Once I complete this hour then that’s it.”
Focusing on the end result isn’t the only block that prevents people from sticking with an exercise program.
Pamela Hernandez, American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer, and, the owner of fitness website thrivepersonalfitness.com, sees all sorts of mental blocks to fitness in her clients.
“People come in with a lot of preconceived notions about exercise and what they can or can’t do. They have a negative association with exercise and feel that they are somehow weak or incapable of a good workout without pain. Or they say they can’t do certain exercise, like lunges, based on a past experience or just a belief that they are too old or their bodies aren’t capable of certain movements anymore.”
The key is to find ways past the beliefs that limit fitness, or to accept that those beliefs just come when you are trying something new or challenging.
For Sherri O’Halloran, 32, who, in just the past few years, has gone from being a non-exerciser to running marathons (her latest was Oct. 16 in Toronto), the belief that she is not fit enough or that she won’t be able to finish, has stuck with her, but she knows it is part of her fitness process.
“I was doing the marathon, and when you’re running in these things you always have mental blocks that you’re going to have to get through to keep going. I was thinking ‘I’m not in enough shape to be doing this!’ I felt like throwing in the towel, and then I crossed the finish line and was like ‘OK ladies, when are we signing up for the next one?’ Just because I do it all the time doesn’t mean that I don’t wake up every morning and think ‘You’re not good enough for it.’”
Brown decided to go against conventional wisdom to break her block, she decided against a fitness goal.
“My goal was to have no goal. It wasn’t something specific; it was to incorporate fitness into my life. Sort of like, you have to brush your teeth. In the end, you have great teeth, but you’ve still got to brush them.”
Hernandez deals with the issue by finding ways to ease her clients past their blocks.
“You have to meet people where they are and help them achieve small victories to build confidence. If someone believes that they can’t so a lunge I start by showing them the right way to do it and what the common mistakes are that tend to cause pain. Then we attempt a few to see how they feel, no weights just their own body. My most successful strategy is making the client feel successful by showing them what they can do and making exercise enjoyable.”
O’Halloran keeps going by reminding herself of how good she’ll feel for having done her workout. When that doesn’t inspire her, she uses external motivation to get past her resistance, thinking of the example she’s setting for her four sons.
“When I’m on the treadmill and having a horrible run, I tell myself You’re doing this. I picture myself running across the finish line somewhere where everyone’s cheering for me and the boys are waiting to see how I did.”
“I want to try and set the example for them that it doesn’t matter how big you are or how fast or how slow you are, or how good you are at it, you can still do it. When I got off the plane the other day (after the marathon), the boys couldn’t wait to see my medal. I’m their superhero.”
Fitness is not just about making time to exercise; it’s also about overcoming the mental resistance to your self-perception and to changing your lifestyle. Learning to accept those mental blocks and challenging yourself to overcome them will make the difference and help you stick to your program.