The reason we start working out can be as simple as wanting to look better at the beach, improving strength, or to build self-confidence. Part of becoming successful in anything you put your mind to is consistent progression and precise goal setting. Thus, with the right work ethic and consistency, you can reach these goals and continue progressing at a rate you need to in order to achieve your ultimate long terms goals and create the person you want to be.
As we know the road to success can be a long and bumpy one, with many obstacles and challenges you need to overcome in order to reach your goals and dreams. Many people describe the road to success not as a straight line, but more like a roller coaster full of ups, downs and plateaus. It’s how we deal with the downs that can make us or break us.
Luckily for you, I have constructed 5 key principles to help you through these obstacles and keep your mind right, on the path to success in both your fitness journey and general life.
1. Follow a realistic plan customised to your needs
How many times have you seen a crazy juice diet or supplement that guarantees shocking results in a short space of time? This is an overused marketing technique used by many companies to attract customers to buy their products and services. The truth is there is no magic pill that will get you the results you need in a click of a finger, what’s more if it did, you’d lose out on all the intrinsic growth and lessons you learn from pursuing and achieving gruelling goals. The best approach is to set yourself some realistic goals, for example if you were looking to lose weight, aim at losing 1-2lb (around 0.5-1kg) a week. This is not only more sustainable to manage, but healthier for your body than losing a large amount of weight in a short space of time.
2. Have a vision
I strongly believe that having a clear vision of what you want can help you grind and push through the tougher times during your journey to success. It’s easy to complete the day to day tasks that will achieve your goals if you are in a good mood, feeling motivated and in good spirits. But when life throws you those curve balls, those are the most important times to still have your vision in check, and more importantly the reasoning behind your vision. You need to understand the ‘why’ behind your vision and this needs to have a strong enough meaning for you in order to get through those bumps in the road. Many actors who play muscular superheroes are put on customised diet and training plans months before filming for the role. Their vision is not only to look the part, but to feel the part! By transforming the body into that of a superhero, they’re doing whatever it takes to become the character. Once their mind and body become that of the character, they can play the role to the best of their ability. Remember, thoughts become reality!
3. Converting negatives to positives
Converting negative to positives is a lot easier said than done and where many falter. How many times has something negative happened to you at the start of a day and that negative energy seems to follow you around the rest of the day? Or even the rest of the week? This is where it can be easy to continue on this downward spiral and getting out of it can be a challenge. It can certainly affect the physical fitness progress you would like to be making.
The trick is to use the external negativity to fuel your workouts! I remember seeing a great example of this is in an interview I watched with Tom Platz, one of the greatest bodybuilders in the 80s. Tom was known for having the biggest legs of his era. He mentioned that he found out his wife was having an affair with his best friend during his preparation phase for the Mr Olympia competition. Hearing something like that could absolutely destroy any man! But Tom used that pain, anger and heartbreak to fuel his workouts, with many saying that particular year was his best showing at the Mr Olympia!
4. Selective Focus (RAS)
In some ways this goes hand in hand with the previous step. In life we are constantly surrounded by positive and negative stimuli, which is something we cannot control. What we can control though is what we put our focus on. There is an important concept in psychology known as Reticular Activation System (RAS). RAS is your selective focus and is how you create your own reality, through your brain’s perception of external stimuli. In the real world there are thousands of external stimuli all hitting us at the same time, which of these do we acknowledge and take in? Well that is based on our RAS and what we value as important or ‘relevant’ to us.
For example, think about a penalty shootout at the World Cup, in front of thousands of screaming spectators and millions watching at home. The pressure is extremely high as a result of the environment and the occasion. If the player taking the penalty let’s these external factors affect his focus, the player will be less likely to take the type of penalty he desires. Alternatively, those players who have the ability to block the external stimulus and prevent it affecting their internal focus are the ones more likely to take the type of penalty they desire. You can apply the same mentality to working out, or any other activity that requires your full attention. If your mind is elsewhere during your workout, you will not perform at your best, simple as that! One workout with your full focus is worth 10 half assed workouts!
5. Celebrate small victories
In psychological terms, this is known as positive reinforcement. An example of this is when parents is trying to teach their child a desirable behavioural pattern. This could be eating their vegetables, cleaning their room, doing their homework etc. When these behaviours are shown, the parent will reward their child in some way, which encourages the child to repeat that behaviour and eventually make it an automatic behavioural pattern. This could be giving them sweets, extra pocket money, or buying them a new game.
Now I’m not saying to buy yourself some sweets after every workout (as this may be somewhat counterproductive!), but find a way to praise yourself for the effort you put in to pursuing your goals. It’s so easy for us to be too hard on ourselves and put ourselves down if we fall short of our own high expectations. Instead why not make it easy to pick ourselves up! Many personal trainers at the end of their sessions give praise (high 5s all around!) to their clients for working hard, and although it doesn’t seem like much, it gives the clients a great feeling of encouragement and momentum for the next session to crush it! Therefore remember the importance of acknowledging and rewarding your own achievements however small and insignificant they may seem this will only fuel the fire for bigger and better achievements.
No matter how motivated you are and how in check you are with your goals, there will be times where you slip up, fail, or fall short. It may be that you’ve slacked off your diet for a few days, it may be that your strength gains have plateaued. Don’t let this discourage you! Accept what has happened, access what changes you can make, learn from any mistakes you’ve made and move on. Many of the greatest sporting legends have failed many times in their careers. Michael Jordan, considered one of if not the greatest basketball players of all time, missed 26 game winning shots. Jordan did not let these failures shy him away from taking those shots again and again, with his most noteworthy game winning shot coming in game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals and leading him to his 6th NBA title. Failure is part of the journey. Learning and picking yourself up from these failures is what will get you back on the path to success! As a wise man once told me; ‘if you focus on the pain you’ll continue to hurt, if you focus on the lesson you’ll continue to grow.’