American psychologist and author Dr. Carol Dweck, in her seminal book Mindset, states that "...the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life." The power of your belief, your faith, can have transformative powers, enough to change the course of your life!
It is no secret that positive thoughts empower us; negative thoughts drag us down. A positive mental attitude will have a powerful impact on our life, help us make healthier choices and bear positive results.
Fixed mindset and growth mindset
"I am too fat, there's no way I can complete the run!"
"That bell looks too heavy. There's no way I can budge it!"
"I am too short/chubby/thin/weak to do X!"
Have you ever been guilty of thinking so? This is fixed mindset at play. In Dr. Dweck's words, "...the fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over." Not only does this behavior not foster a healthy attitude toward learning and suck all the joy out of new experiences, but it can also actively strike the fear of failure in our minds.
Fixed mindset shows up as avoidance of challenges, inability to deal with setbacks, and negative feedback. Adopting a growth mindset, having the belief that our "basic qualities are things that we can cultivate through our efforts and strategies", is a much more effective strategy, one that will pay dividends in the long run.
Whether it is in our fitness journey or life in general, mindset is a powerful tool. A positive attitude is essential for us to reach our fitness goals. By setting realistic goals and a positive outlook to guide us, many good things will come our way. In fact, those with a growth mindset have a greater chance of achieving their long-term goals than those without.
How to set yourself up for success
I would actually like to amend this to "set achievable goals".
Setting goals is an essential part of setting yourself up for success. What are you training for? Are you randomly bulking up because the person in the station next to you at your gym is on a hypertrophy program or do you have a target in mind? Goal setting helps to clear out randomness and makes sure you are focussed.
What are achievable goals? Achievable goals are realistic in nature - small goals, such as incorporating regular exercise into your everyday life, and spending ten minutes daily to destress and declutter your mind. Extremely short-term weight loss goals, such as dropping X kilos in 30 days, while successful in the short term, are not achievable or realistic as they bring undue stress. Instead, it is better to focus on building characteristics
In fitness parlance, achievable goals are SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Let's see how you can combine these qualities with a winning mindset to ensure you enjoy greater success.
This may come across as New Age-y but the power of gratitude is proven and unparalled. Gratitude actually makes for positive feelings and a happier outlook. How can you apply it to fitness? By expressing gratitude to our bodies, for all the wonderful work they do and accepting the limitations and imperfections.
Recently, I read on Twitter about a person's "chunky thighs" and how they were thankful for them because it helped them play rugby well. Prize-winning power lifter Pooja R Bhatt is a great role models when it comes to body positivity and expressing gratitude. She views her body in terms of superior delts that help with her lifting, her strong thighs that help her achieve PRs in squats and her athletic body that she has honed with hard work and grit.
Spend a few minutes every day, taking a deep breath and saying thanks to our body for what all it achieves, our lot in life that lets us live our best lives and you will most definitely see a positive change in your life!
Celebrate personal growth
Set a new benchmark this quarter? Go, you! Moved up a weight class? WOWZA! Bested your previous running time? What a star!
These are all great achievements and ought to be marked, celebrated.
But added to that, what about your mindset? Do you have an open mind? Are you recognising your own talent and are appreciative of that? Are you learning to embrace your failures? Are you more open to criticism and do not view them as a personal affront? Are you open to learning, to growing, to not knowing everything?
These denote a change in your mindset, a shift from fixed mindset to growth mindset and point towards healthy personal growth. This is priceless and must most definitely be honed, rewarded and cultivated.
Positive self-talk vs negative attitude
Positive thinking plays a massive role in our energy levels, our personal success and our personal development. This is true for life, and for your fitness journey. A few months back, I attended an Original Strength session with Tim Anderson and he asked us to do an interesting exercise. We were told to think of a happy memory and do 5 squats. A while later, we did 5 more squats but with no happy thoughts floating in our mind. And we compared the two.
All of us attendees reported better movement pattern when we focussed on something happy, versus when we didn't. This is the power of positive thinking. How many times have you approached a challenge with a "I can do this" attitude and have that kettelbell fly up? Would it be as easy or even possible with a negative attitude?
"I suck, no way I can do this" will pull you down and your workout routines will suffer as a result. Approach your exercise routine, your fitness journey with positivity and you will rack those PRs like a boss!
The power of positive emotions
A recent study by Paakkanen et al., 2021 describes the power of positive emotions and their effects on our well-being. Positive emotions go beyond the basic feelings of being happy. They actually have lasting power on our life. They help us engage better with our environment, improve our focus and result in a higher degree of satisfaction. Above all, they help counter the effect of negative emotions - failed the PR? No problem, build up strength. come back stronger. Lost a race? Let's try to win the next one.
Positive emotions also help us pay it forward and encourage others to follow and experience the same joy we feel. The genesis of The Quad is an excellent example of this. After experiencing life-changing epiphanies once they embraced fitness, the founders Arvind Ashok and Raj Ganpath felt the need to return to their hometown and see if they can influence others to feel the same.
Failure is an option
Let me explain. While it is great to have ambitious goals to guide our life, there are times when things do not go our way. It isn't possible to hit success 100% of the time. Illness, injury or even stress could play a role in us not firing on all cylinders. In such times, it is easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking. This is where failure could be an option. Because you allow yourself to fail, without falling prey to a negative mindset.
One misstep need not lead to a litany of mistakes. One missed training session is not the start of an apocalypse. One missed goal is not the onset of disaster.
When we allow ourselves the grace to make mistakes, we also give space to learn from them. Instead of taking a bag of potato chips as a cheat meal, falling off the wagon, or failing our diet, we can treat it as it is: a snack!
A healthy lifestyle is a lifelong journey
This is a maxim that is taking me a while to learn. We are in this for life. Not for 30 days, not for 12 weeks, not for 75 days. For life! This is one body, one life and we need to work on it, every day. We may change our exercise program ever so often to keep things interesting, sign up for new fitness classes, move to a different gym or try Zumba.
But what is a standard is that this healthy lifestyle is not a short-term wagon you jump on or fall off of; it is a lifelong journey. You eat to nourish your body, your mind, your life. You add movement to your life so you may life a healthy and active life. You toss in a positive mindset for overall health.
There are no short term goals or short term benefits here. Our ultimate goal is a healthy life.
What is your end goal? Now this is the question. Is it a perfectly perfect path? Or is it a healthy relationship with the most important things in our life, our loved ones, even food? Is it the sense of confidence we get as we work on ourselves daily? Or is it the simple knowledge that the journey is the goal?