“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by humanity.” - Rudyard Kipling


For years I had the word confidence taped to my bathroom mirror. The word served as a reminder to believe in myself. One of my first bosses bestowed the word on me at a dinner where every team member was given a particular word by which they excelled.


My boss knew that words can motivate and inspire us. Whether you’re selling something, creating something, or managing people, having the right words behind why you do something will determine how you do anything. In short, words have power.


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Words Can Change Our Lives

When it comes to your life in fitness, words are the fuel behind the countless reps, miles logged, and grueling sweat. Ask any coach, teacher, or trainer and he or she will tell you that when it comes to motivating, words matter. Words can change your life if you’re receptive to the right ones. We’ve all been impacted by the wisdom passed down to us from a coach, teacher, parent, mentor, or role model. The right word has the power to transform.


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Indeed, words matter, but it takes more than a clever sentence to change your life. It takes the right words that matter to you. I worked at a gym that had those cheesy motivational posters up on the wall. You know, the poster that says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” displayed above a picture of a lion.


"Like performing to the beat of uplifting music, successful people have the right words to drive them."

Being a bit of a cynic, I’ve always rolled my eyes at these posters, figuring that motivated people don’t need catch phrases to get them moving. One thing is for certain though - successful people have the right tape playing in their heads. Driven people find a way to remind themselves of the values that matter to them. Like performing to the beat of uplifting music, successful people have the right words to drive them.


Here are the five most important words in fitness with a few of those motivational quotations to go with them:


1. Habit

“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” - Plato


I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when I first got out of college. In his classic business book, author Steven Covey spells out what makes successful people successful. Successful people are “proactive” (instead of reactive) and successful individuals “begin with the end in mind.”


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However you spell it out, whether successful people have two habits or seven, one thing is for certain - habits matter. Ritual, practice, and habit are an essential part of what we do to succeed in sport and fitness. As they say, practice makes perfect. In order to succeed in fitness you must develop habits. Start one today.


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2. Discipline

“Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking nor outright purchase.” - Joseph Pilates


Former NBA star Allen Iverson once famously dissed practice, suggesting the game was all that mattered. But when it comes right down to it, without the habit of practice, there is no game.


"In fitness, discipline is more than sheer willpower, but also the ability to endure trials, accept setbacks, and push through discomfort."

As Joseph Pilates pointed out, for the rest of us, while money, positive attitude, and even talent can gain you a lot of things, fitness isn’t one of them. Fitness requires effort. And effort, more than anything, comes down to discipline.


The root of the word discipline is “disciple,” as in a willing student. Discipline comes from the willingness to learn, grow, and listen. In fitness, discipline is more than sheer willpower, but also the ability to endure trials, accept setbacks, and push through discomfort. If you lack discipline, find the right coach, trainer, or mentor and soak it up.


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3. Respect

“I cannot conceive of a greater loss than the loss of one's self-respect.” - Mahatma Ghandi


Respect permeates every facet of our lives, especially the most important ones - our relationships to others and our relationship to our self. The tendency is to think of respect as how we treat others or how they treat us, but in relation to fitness and wellness, the concept of respect has much to do with turning that respect inward.


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Finding our true sense of self starts with the same discipline and tenacity that creates champions. Self-respect is about self-knowledge and accessing the quiet space that exists in our minds, that space where we tap into the true power of words.


In fitness, self-respect and self-knowledge are about knowing the boundaries of when to start and when to stop. It is just as courageous to stop at the right time as it is to fight through setbacks when the timing is right. The ability to discern the difference is the essence of self-respect.


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4. Purpose

“I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” - Phillipians 4:13


Having faith is an example of having a sense of purpose. Having the right motives also demonstrate sense of purpose. In fitness, expressing your health, wholeness, and wellness for those you love is an example of purpose.


"Failures need not be lasting if we possess the willingness to examine them and grow from them."

In the gym, we tend to focus on the what - what is your goal and what will it take to achieve that goal. Purpose is the why behind your goal. Goals in fitness will come and go, but having a lasting purpose is like a north star that leads you to your next goal.


FIND YOUR PURPOSE: Be What You Love: Finding Purpose in Art, Sport, and Life


5. Failure

“If you want to succeed, double your failure rate” - Thomas J. Watson


No one likes failure, and you probably don’t like hearing that every failure has a silver lining. I know I don’t like hearing that, especially when I am in the midst of failing. But words sometimes have their greatest truth when they sting the most.


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Failures need not be lasting if we possess the willingness to examine them and grow from them. In fitness, the concept of failure is more than having a chip on your shoulder. Thinking “I’ll show you” works only up to a certain point.


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The interesting thing about failure as it relates to fitness is the literal application. For example, muscles only grow by failure, and yet think how many people are afraid to lift heavy weights. Seek your boundaries, push to failure, and fail often. As for the chip on your shoulder, ditch it. It will slow you down in the long run.


Habit. Discipline. Respect. Purpose. Failure.

These words are at the core of what we do in our fitness lives and they have one common thread among them - the ability to look deep within. In fitness, we must be able and willing to explore the mind as much as we are inclined to explore the body. Success is about finding the words that matter most.


Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.