It's all in your head

Exercise is mental, not just physical

Despite the fact that exercise has many powerful physical and psychological benefits, approximately 50% of people who begin an exercise program are not exercising within six months. If you have recently begun a new exercise routine or plan to, there are proven ways that you can continue on your way to your fitness goals and avoid contributing to that statistic.

We have a tendency to focus on the short-term instead of the long-term. Why not use that to your advantage? Some short-term benefits of exercise include increased confidence, sexual satisfaction and levels of good neurotransmitters like endorphins as well as decreases in anxiety, muscle tension and depression. Who couldn't benefit from these? They are immediate and increase our well-being. Why not take advantage of them on your way to the long-term benefits like weight control and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease?

Being aware of how you explain your successes and setbacks is extremely important. It's important to own your successes. If you have a particularly good workout or even week of exercise, it's important to see that success as something that is under your control and stable. In other words, perceive it as something that you can continue to do in the future. Alternatively, perhaps you have had a difficult time sticking to your workout routine recently. Chances are the things that contributed to that won't continue; in other words, they're unstable. It's important to remember that. Often when things get rough, it's hard to see how they could be any different.

When you begin any new exercise routine, it's easy to get caught up in comparing your progress with the progress of others. Social comparison can be a losing game, so use competitive goals sparingly. Using your personal growth and improvement as the standard to judge your success is much healthier and will feed your motivation. The only person you are trying to beat is the person you were yesterday.

Setting goals is a great way to focus your attention. Goals increase your persistence and effort in exercise. When setting goals, remember two things. First, you must have a plan. When you have a proven plan that will help you reach your goals and the confidence that you can execute that plan, long-term goals will take care of themselves. In fact, executing your plan is a goal in itself. When you trust your plan, every day that you execute that plan is a win. Second, most of your goals should tell you what to do, not what to avoid. Consider replacing avoidance goals such as "Don't hit snooze," with approach goals, "Get up when my alarm goes off." Approach goals help you focus on the pride of success. Avoidance goals emphasize the shame of failure. Who wants that?

Fostering your own sense of competence that you can reach your fitness goals is a critical factor in success. How can you do this? First, call to mind past successes you've had reaching a goal that was important to you. Second, use encouraging self-talk and surround yourself with those who will encourage you. Third, visualize yourself achieving your goals. This can be as simple as visualizing yourself walking into the gym for the first time. Fourth, become aware of the thoughts and feelings that undermine your confidence and redirect your attention to productive actions and thinking.

If you are looking for someone to help you or your team with the mental side of your performance, whether that is exercise, sport, music, dance or acting, you can find a qualified professional through the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP):

Marcel Yoder, Ph.D., is an AASP-administered certified mental performance consultant who practices at Pure Synergy. He has worked with weekend warriors as well as competitive athletes from many local high schools and University of Illinois Springfield, where he is an associate professor.Contact Marcel through his website,

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