When I started out trying to lose weight, I had no idea how much of a mental process it would be. I studied up on nutrition and kilocalories and exercise physiology. But I didn’t focus too much on the mental side of things.
I mean…eat less + workout more = weight loss.
Well, kinda. Sorta. Only in the most basic terms.
Now, I’m a few years older, a few pounds lighter, and a few miles wearier, and I understand that success in weight loss and fitness is as much a mental game as anything else.
And the main thing that destroys any chance at that success is fear. Frank Herbert was right–fear is the mind-killer. But it’s also the run-killer. The lift-killer. The goal-killer. The happiness-killer. The you-killer.
What Are You Afraid Of?
Let’s take running as an example. Running, despite being a high-impact sport, is all about where your headspace is.
From simply getting your shoes on to finishing a run, the challenge isn’t how far or how fast your legs can take you, it’s about being in the right place with your brainyparts.
Just think about it this way, running isn’t complicated. It’s basic and fundamental and not challenging to get right. You’re putting one foot in front of the other for an indeterminate length of time.
So why is it so hard?
Because you’re thinking about it.
You’re thinking that you’re going to be running for, let’s say, 30 solid minutes. You’re thinking that your shoes are too tight (or too loose). You’re thinking about your feet slamming into the pavement and kind of jarring your knees.
You’re watching out for branches and rocks on the trail. You’re thinking about how thirsty you are. You’re thinking about how your shorts are riding up. You’re thinking about how bright the sun is. You’re thinking about how chapped your lips are.
You’re thinking about how much your lungs burn as you gulp for as much oxygen as you can to maybe, possibly, potentially alleviate that stitch in your side.
You’re thinking about how long it’s been and how fast you’ve been running. Only it’s been three minutes and you’ve run 0.33 miles. You have ten times that left to run.
But you power through. You finish. You’re drenched in sweat, your muscles ache, and you’re wheezing for breath. But you finish your run. You stretch your legs, and you go inside to grab a glass of ice-cold water. You collapse into a salt-encrusted heap on the couch to binge watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.
Fast forward two days later, and it’s time to run again.
Only…ugh. It’s 5:30am. You remember all that nastiness from last time. You’re still sore. Your mouth is already parched from not drinking enough. You’re tired, and I mean, the sun isn’t even out yet. And 30 minutes is just such a long time to be doing any one, single thing.
Don’t get me wrong–you’re making excuses. But more than that, you’re afraid.
Afraid that last time was a fluke. Afraid that you’ll feel as bad as you did last time. Afraid that if you get out of your comfort zone right that very second you’ll feel as bad as you did in that first third of the first mile last time. You’re afraid that feeling of adjustment (that we all feel each and every time, by the way) won’t go away this time, that you’ll feel that initial terribleness for the entire length of the run.
Nevermind the nice runner’s high you basked in while watching TV after your last run. Nevermind the feeling of accomplishment you felt at pushing through the soreness. Nevermind the extra snacks you allowed yourself for running. Nevermind that you finished that 30-minutes 0.25 miles farther along than you did the run before it.
No, you don’t remember the good stuff. You focus on the bad because you’re afraid of that temporary discomfort you felt as your body warmed up.
It’s in our nature to fear pain, to fear things that make us uncomfortable. I feel like it’s humanity’s default setting to seek out the path of least resistance and most comfort.
That’s why we focus on the negative when it comes to exercise and fitness. It’s all self-preservation. It is hard-wired into us. Fear is hard-wired into us because otherwise we do stupid things that injure and/or kill us.
But if you want to be a runner, to succeed at weight loss, to make any gains toward your fitness goals, you have to mentally push past that genetic predisposition to fear. You have to learn the difference between the pain of injury and adjustment, the difference between laziness and hating an activity.
Side note: if you find that you truly hate the activity–like running or lifting–try something else–like tennis, swimming, or bodyweight work. Fitness is about fun and positivity. Don’t waste your time if you hate doing something. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to weight loss and fitness.
You have to accept that fear of discomfort. You have to understand that fear. You have to weigh the options. Are your goals worth feeling like a stuff, shuffling robot for a few minutes? Are you okay with being sweaty and gritty and gasping for a few breaths if it gets you closer to where you want to be? Are 30 minutes of hard work worth a couple extra items on your dinner plate?
Everything’s a tradeoff.
Because you know what? Running sucks. Sometimes I hate it. I don’t like being jarred for miles on end and gasping for breath on super humid days. Every single day I walk outside or hop on the treadmill, I’m afraid of how it’s going to make me feel for those first few (or last few) minutes. I’m afraid I’ll hurt my hip again. I’m afraid I’ll have an asthma attack.
I’m so afraid of my overall distance that simply putting on running shoes and taking that first step is almost debilitating, nearly overwhelming.
And it never gets any easier. That fear is always going to be there. That fear of something being hard is never going to go away. Because running is always going to be hard.
What you have to learn to succeed at any of your fitness goals is how to understand that fear and not let it overwhelm you. You have to take that fear, realize that it’s a normal response, and then turn it into something useful.
You just have to be aware that you’re afraid, and you have to realize that we are all afraid of something. That’s what makes us human. We are all scared. We all hate discomfort and pain and terribleness in our lives.
Fear is a part of us all. But we get to choose whether or not it is our mind-killer.