Mind over matter: Strong in body, stronger in mind

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Hi guys!

This post is going to be all about the influence that our mindset can have on our performance. Although our mentality does, of course, affect our general performance, here I’m mainly focusing on how it can affect our athletic performance.

I was a naturally skinny kid growing up. That was just my frame; I ate a good, nutritious diet with homecooked meals thanks to my parents and I led a fairly active lifestyle. However I still had my treats, ate a lot of food and although I enjoyed sport, I didn’t really do exercise unless it was compulsory. I’ve always had a fairly high metabolism and I’ve always loved my food (so yes, this combination worked well for me…).

When I started getting into general fitness, I was relatively young (about 13/14 years old) and it was mostly just cardio for all the wrong reasons – I wanted to stay ‘thin’. I didn’t really know much at all about the benefits of weightlifting and, like many, I assumed it would make me really bulky, associating weight training with visions of huge bodybuilders.

A couple of years after discovering the benefits of lifting weights, and now engaged in a regular weight training routine, I started being told that I was ‘too muscly’ or had ‘manly arms’. This made me feel a little insecure about my appearance and I felt unsure of what to do – I loved heavy lifting but started to feel reluctant about doing it for fear of becoming any ‘bulkier’. (Note – I still do get comments like this occasionally, but I’ve learnt not to let them bother me).

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Somewhere along the way, this attitude changed. I became more focused and clearer about what I wanted. I found a passion for training in a way that challenged my body and made me feel strong and empowered. I started focusing less on how I looked and more on what my body was capable of doing. I stopped training to burn calories, to stay lean, or to look a certain way. Now I train to get stronger, better, faster, more powerful. And you know what? I enjoy my training so much more. I love the way I feel when I can pick up a weight that’s heavier than me, or when I achieve something I didn’t think I could do.

When I adopted this approach, I re-gained the love for exercise that I’d lost. I developed a better relationship with my body and my approach to life. I felt and still feel happier and every time I achieve something, whether it’s getting a new deadlift PB or pushing myself to do just 1 more rep when my mind tells me no more, it spurs me on, drives me, motivates me to come back time and time again.

However, my attitude, or my mindset, is something I would still like to work on. I am so aware of the importance of believing in oneself and having a positive mindset, and it’s something I tell my clients. Yet sometimes I struggle with taking my own advice, because I sometimes have a tendency to criticise my own performance, to behave negatively towards myself, or to tell myself that I can’t do something.

A friend recently called me out on this, telling me that I’m stronger than I think I am, and that I underestimate what I’m capable of. I don’t know if I’m afraid of failure, or whether it’s something else, but I’m going to try and embrace the fact that there will be failures. Not every session will be successful and that’s OK, learning to accept this is part of the process. But I can try and face these situations with more courage and I intend to try things that I’d usually avoid because I feel ‘out of my comfort zone’. It’s when we start to test the waters and put ourselves in unfamiliar situations outside of our comfort zones that we start to make progress.

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I caught myself criticising my performance the other day and so I sat myself down and gave myself a talking to. Last summer, before I embarked on my personal training course, I had never squatted more than 40kg. Today, with a bodyweight of approximately 50kg, I can squat 80kg (although that’s probably only for 1 repetition at the moment!) I had also never deadlifted more than 30kg because I just never really did them. Today I can deadlift 85kg – that’s about 160% of my own bodyweight and something that I can say that I feel proud of. The other day, in a training session, I told my friend that I couldn’t do an unassisted pull-up. He told me that I was capable of doing so and made me try, and guess what? I did it. These are just a few examples of how my mindset has been inhibiting me from making progress.

So there you have it – my goal, amongst other strength-based ones, is to change my mindset. To say I can do this, rather than I can’t. To be willing to put myself in a situation outside of my comfort zone where I am fearful of the outcome, to break down barriers and see what my body is capable of doing. I am going to stay focused and aim to be strong not just in my body, but also in my mind.

The other day I put this into practice: I went for my first run in months since a running injury had taken me out, and I was only aiming for 5km. After 4km I was really struggling, and I found myself experiencing internal conflict – one voice was telling me to give up, another was telling me to keep going. In order to prove to myself that my body was capable of going further and to break through those mental barriers, I decided to do 6km (yeah I know, my logic is twisted). Anyway, after pushing on, I ended up getting an unexpected surge in energy and went for 6.5km. In fact I probably would have gone on running in this weird mental space if the blister forming on my foot hadn’t started to make my foot feel like it was being sandpapered and forced me to stop.

Beautiful sunny morning today led me to making the spontaneous decision of heading for a run – the first one since the hip decided to stop cooperating a few months ago. It was realllyyy hard 😷I was aiming for 5km (not far I know, but tough after time off!) but as I was coming up to 4km, my lungs burning & legs slowing, my mind started telling me to give up; that it was too hard, that I should stop. So, in order to push through these mental barriers, I said to myself, "Lauren, you're not going to stop after 4km. In fact, you're not going to stop after 5km. You're going to do 6km & prove to yourself that your body is absolutely capable of it." (I know, my logic is a little odd) 🙃🤷🏼‍♀️ I reminded myself that the mind often gives up long before the body needs to. And so I ended up running 6.5km, surprised by a burst of newfound + very unexpected energy. And I probably would have gone on running as I suddenly had so much more energy left in the tank, except for the fact that the blister forming on the bottom of my foot made me feel like my foot was being sandpapered & making me run all funny. So, there's some Sunday motivation for you. Tell yourself that you are capable, get out & smash those goals 👊🏻💪🏻 (And also take blister plasters) 😩 ~ 📸: Post-run refuel meal: protein zoats 🏃🏼‍♀️😋

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The mind is a complex and endlessly fascinating concept, and the effect that our mindset has on our physical performance should not be underestimated.

“Mindset = a lens or frame of mind which orients an individual to a particular set of associations and expectations.”

– Dr. Alia Crum

I highly recommend that you give the following video a watch. It’s a TED talk, just under 20 minutes long and it explores how changing your mindset can affect the body. Dr. Crum is a professor, psychologist and researcher who draws on her own experience as an athlete (wait till you get about 4.5 minutes into the video) and here she discusses a truly interesting and valuable topic that could help you to push past boundaries and achieve your goals.

Thanks for reading.

Lauren x

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