The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

Rule #1: Stop Being So Logical, pt 1

When I first conceived of this blog, I started with the desire to present psychological studies and motivational stories of individuals that have overcome the odds to physical fitness.  The problem with that is that it doesn’t say anything about how YOU should actually integrate a workout schedule and habit into your everyday life.  I know with the things I was originally learning, my propensity to exercise didn’t increase.  My desire to overcome adversity, plan ahead, maximize my time in the gym didn’t change at all.

Originally I thought the most important factors would be to help people overcome Learned Helplessness.  A term coined by Martin Seligman on his studies with dogs that had no control over when they were shocked.  After a couple of these pairings with “no control”, these dogs, who then had the control to stop the shocks, just sat there being shocked with no desire to try and change it, even though they now had the power to.

This seems like what I see in the fitness center and the corporation that I work at.  The holidays come and people literally have less time to work out.  And since their definition of a “workout” is an hour in the gym, they don’t make it in.  It’s the all or nothing mentality that cripples so many of us from keeping habits that will eventually pay off.  Then when the situation changes, aka January, and they get busy at work, which cuts into their workout time, they “learn” that they don’t have complete control over their time, feel like they can’t make any difference to their lifestyle and give-up before they had even really started.  I thought that teaching people about this would make a huge change in their lives.  When in reality, it’s marginal at best and a cool factoid to know about at worst.

Then there’s resilience or grit, which is the number one indicator of success in any and almost every field of endeavor.  The ability to keep moving on, to stick to a challenge, to do what others won’t do.  The three hours of practice, the getting up before the butt-crack of dawn (btw, what kind of expression is that?), the working out on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  The total commitment to a goal.  If people were to learn of this trait, to know that it basically defines success or failure, and how to increase it, surely they would make the correct lifestyle changes.  This too, is complete and utter non-sense.

For what is evident about human nature more than “pain or pleasure” is that we lie to ourselves…CONSTANTLY.  If we don’t have a certain attribute, we lie to ourselves so convincingly that we can’t even conceive that we don’t have that trait.  The explanation we feed ourselves for all of those instances when we didn’t show it is, “Well, those were just the exceptions to the rule – OBVIOUSLY.”  So I learned a bit about Cognitive Dissonance.  The study of how we lie to ourselves, so that we don’t even remember the times that we didn’t act accordingly.  It’s quite an interesting field, and shows how we will work hard at maintaining the identity we have for ourselves.  So if we don’t work out, it’s not that we’re lazy or have no integrity to our word, but instead, it’s that we justify it by saying that we’re already “in shape.”  This is despite the fact that the last time you went up a flight of stairs you almost heaved over from the 12 steps you climbed.  That was conveniently forgotten.  Better yet, you woke up the morning after being sick, look in the mirror after a night of throwing up, having lost 5 pounds of water weight and thought you looked better than you have in years, saying “I don’t need to do that crazy workout shit any more.”

Then you get those that “Don’t have time” and yet watch 2 hours of TV per day.  It’s not that you’re lazy, but that your favorite show is on…because there isn’t a little web-site called Hulu where you could watch your show at anytime.  And when you offer that suggestion, then you get the whole, “Well, I don’t want to hear about it from other people before I’ve seen it.”  GOSH, that would be the end of the world!

Then you question people with their Integrity to their word and they exclaim, “I have that…,” failing to mention that they just don’t have it to themselves.  They say, “I told my son that I’d be home for dinner.  And I WAS!”  Negating the fact that they also said they were going to wake up a half an hour earlier and head to the gym for 20 minutes.  When the morning came, they justified it with, “Well, I was tired, and besides what’s 20 minutes going to do?” 

Oh, lying to ourselves is such a wonderful and magical facade that creates the life we want all while not actually living it. 

As for me, I’ll tell you what 20 minutes is going to do.  It’s going to allow you to trust yourself.  To know that if you make a commitment, to yourself, that you will keep future commitments, to yourself. 

What I’ve noticed is that “momentum” towards something you want is nothing but the negative pyramid that Cognitive Dissonance talks about working in reverse.  In cognitive dissonance, you start with a small justification and soon enough you have snowball effect that keeps you entrenched to a position in which you didn’t even believe in the previous week. 

Momentum, on the other hand, moves us towards a position we want and starts with every action we take, for or against our current beliefs.  And Momentum either drives us further along towards our goals, until our “head” can catch up to form new justifications and beliefs, or it drives us down a path we never intended to be on—so entrenched to the status quo and the rut that we’ve been in that we forget that there are alternatives.   Because to change, to go back…well, that would require the dreaded “W” word.  That “W” word should not be ushered because, well, that would mean I might have to do it again.  I might find that I can find purpose, a life’s purpose in that “W” word.  I might have to defend that “W” when I don’t see results or even worst, when I do see results.  I might have to not lie and say that good old-fashioned hard “W” is the reason why I have a better body and not the new super acai frappacinio is the reason why I lost weight.  Who would’ve thunk that “Work” would be so Wonderful???

But with all of that said, it would be nothing but the standard blog on working out.  Just another blog, just another after thought.  Just another diet plan, another workout idea.

You see, the problem with all of this, is that it all makes sense.  Learned helplessness I honestly do believe is a disease that we’ve all become too familiar with.  Whether it be from our inability to control anything in politics and taxes to our jobs, we have forgotten that we have power over our lives and our desires.  Power to create, power to form, power to direct where our lives will go, where our focus will be, despite what happens in our lives.

Resiliency and grit do create success.  More so than any other factors, good old-fashioned hard work.  Not working “smarter”, not the latest workout phase, the latest diet plan.  But fucking hard work.  Sure you may learn things along the way, but that’s not how you start out.  You start out like a baby learning to walk.  Struggling, struggling…but by god, fucking walking.  It doesn’t look pretty, and sometimes you fall.  In fact, you might fall a lot.  But it’s fun.  It’s something you want to do.  It’s something you’re Determined to do.  And the falling comes with the territory.

And what you don’t see are fucking seminars and books on Walking.  You do it because it’s natural.  So is moving.  Technically, so is eating.

The problem with these books and gimmicks is that they don’t talk to someone at the beginner level.  They talk from someone who’s tripped and fell, not realizing that nothing they say will really change your ability to walk, except for you walking.  I know how to walk perfectly and even if my 7 month nephew could understand me, it wouldn’t make a difference if I explained it to him.  Stand on your feet.  Move your right foot forward.  His response would be, “Thank You, Captain Obvious.”

And cognitive dissonance, also makes sense.  The obvious problem there is that the people that probably would need to read this blog the most would probably enjoy being punched in the face more so than reading this information.  They will clamp down and exclaim “I don’t need that!  I know how to lose weight because I lost 20 pounds with weight watchers 10 years ago.”  Oh, yes you do.

In part 2, we’ll discuss why these things don’t work out so succinctly and what’s the first thing you can do to get you moving in the right direction.

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2 comments found

  1. hard work blows… it sucks you have to face certain death or some sort of life-altering event for you to even CONSIDER hard work as a part of daily life. but no surprise with America’s entire existence revolving around the ease of success and the the seductive rhetoric of the media claiming a quick-fix for everything.

    a wise man once told me you have to keep the ball rolling… that’s the only way people will figure where the best solution is for them =]

    the real question is, how do we bridge the gap between the people who live hard work everyday and the people who are afraid of it?

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