5 Mental Cues to Bulletproof Your Brain for Training

How you mentally handle hardship when it arises can make or break your ability to stay on a fitness regimen. Consider the following five tips for when life is trying to get you down.

Exercise programming is simple. It really is. If you diligently spent a few days a week, week after week, month after month, year after year, working on improving your strength through quality movement, by training your body as a whole unit – balancing presses with pulls, squats with hinges, mixing in some multi-directional work, and by leaving a bit in the tank for another day – your progress would improve steadily for a long time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Sometimes, though, life gets in the way. It tries its best to pull you into the deep end of the pool when you may not be ready (or even know how) to swim. It’s happened to everyone on occasion. A family emergency comes up, an old friend comes for a visit and you get off your routine, sickness hits, your boyfriend or girlfriend dumps you, you’re just too tired and stressed out – the list of scenarios goes on. No matter how simple it is to make quality programs and set aside time to exercise, it can actually be mentally difficult to find the motivation to get the work done.

How you mentally handle hardship when it arises can ultimately make or break your ability to stay on a fitness regimen. Consider the following five mental cues as ways to bulletproof your brain for when life is trying its hardest to get you down. This way instead of losing everything you’ve worked for, you can at the very least maintain your fitness levels until the hardship is dealt with.

1. Check Your Ego at the Door

Mentally picture yourself doing this. I hang my ego on the coat rack every day when I come to work. I take it home with me when I leave – hopefully lighter than when I left it. Some egos are bigger than others, so it may be hard for you. Do it anyways. Just because you are awesome at life doesn’t mean you can deadlift 400lbs safely on your first try. Ask yourself, “It’s not that I couldn’t, but should I?” A few injuries later and your answer will start changing. Train within your own level, know your body, and see the results come fast, furiously, and consistently.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who suffer from beating themselves up when times get tough. Don’t take out your problems on your own body, because in the end, you’ll only have a second problem in the form of a fresh injury. Just because your ego took a beating at work doesn’t mean you need to tear your body a new one in the gym, too.

2. Put Your Troubles in the Box

After you’ve hung your ego up, take off your troubles and put them away. Mentally open up a box and stuff them in. The more visual you are about this the better. Stress weighs on you. The more you let it get to you, the more it will negatively affect your performance. By learning to compartmentalize your stressors and utilize them in a positive way, you will be more apt to continue progressing forward, instead of letting the weight of the world sap your strength.

3. Flip the Switch

As soon as you’ve stuffed your problems away, picture yourself flipping a switch from work mode to “play.” Dr. Stuart Brown, in his book Play, states that play is voluntary, is pleasurable or fun, and creates a diminished sense of time and self-consciousness. By setting the mind to play mode, your central nervous system will approach training more readily, and your performance will increase because of it. Not only that, but the amount of stress or anxiety you associate with exercise will substantially lessen over time. It may seem unlikely now, but you may begin to look forward to your next workout! It’s scary stuff. The more you approach training as something you “have to get done,” the less likely you are to continue doing it, so don’t forget to flip that switch.

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4. If You Lift It, Log It

Buy yourself a composition notebook. Name it. Treat it like it’s your own child. Write down every exercise, every set, every weight, every rest period. If you lift it, you log it. You will begin to take ownership of your training if you do this simple step. As a result, you will never take a step backwards. And the best part? You can use the training log as a way to see what worked well and what didn’t, thus keeping you safer and stronger for longer. If you can successfully flip the switch and log your training, your likelihood of plateaus due to life will be substantially lessened.

5. Punch the Clock

Every person has “those days.” You don’t feel up to snuff because you stayed up too late watching the latest episode of Glee on Hulu. In your sleep-drunken stupor you forget your lunch at home so you have to grab a McRib instead. When you get home, you realize the dog pooped on the carpet. While you are scrubbing, you get a text from your boyfriend or girlfriend saying, “Sorry, we have to break up.” You know, those days. Everybody has them.

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When you have one of those days, just remember to “punch the clock” and get it over with. This is your last line of defense in bulletproofing your brain, but arguably the most important. Credit Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline for this one. In their book Easy Strength, the pair repeatedly mentions the idea of punching the clock, which essentially means to “get ‘er done.” So, refer to tip number two (put your problems in the box), and get ‘er done. If you can get yourself to train through days like these, there is literally nothing that can stand in the way of you reaching your goals of becoming more buff and studly.

Dan John once said, “If it’s important, do it every day.” If your fitness is important to you – and if you are reading this I would assume it is – then take the above five cues to heart. Rehearse them in your head every day until you have them memorized. Visualize yourself doing each of them. Ultimately, the more ironclad your mind becomes the less likely you are of becoming derailed when life tries to get in the way.

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