A lot of fitness gurus want you to believe that they have an insane amount of grit, and that’s what keeps them going. But while grit comes in handy when the going gets rough, relying on it for your whole (hopefully lifelong) fitness journey sounds downright awful. Besides which, what’s more likely is that they got to where they are because they love it. What if it’s not about getting on a streak? What if it’s not about white-knuckling it? Maybe it’s just about getting past the thoughts that are holding you back so that motivation becomes the easy part.
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People love to tell me their plans to “get in shape.” Perhaps it’s self-consciousness. They hope that if they tell me about all the training they’re going to do in the future, I won’t judge them for the training they’re not doing now. (Hint, this is them projecting their own self-judgment.) They then give me the reasons why they’re not exercising now, the foremost of which it usually a lack of time. I used to try to help people get past their excuses, because I thought that I’d be helping them by, for instance, explaining how exercise could be the solution to their back pain, but over time I noticed a pattern. As I overcame their objections, new ones would instantaneously replace the old ones.
I finally realized that these objections were actually a cover for deeper, subconscious reservations. Trying to invalidate people’s stated excuses was not only not compassionate, it was superficial. As long as we stayed focused on the surface, we were unable to see what it masked: fears and self-limiting beliefs. And once we bring those beliefs to light, we could address them directly. That’s the aim of this article, to help you take a look at your own fears and beliefs so that you too can move past these and discover what’s beyond them. In part two, coming out next week, I’ll help you find a fitness practice that resonates with you.
Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not a person who’s been fit her whole life. I wasn’t a gymnast or a soccer player as a kid. I was a nerd. I started working out at age 30, and only because I was under the delusion that if I got a perfect body, I’d get a handsome, funny boyfriend who adored me. And this fantasy was so delicious that I spent quite a long time living in it, not acting to make it reality. I had very visible cellulite all the way to my knees, and I thought that this was my barrier to love. So I’d fantasize about all the love I’d receive once I got rid of it. But what if I discovered there was really nothing I could do about my cellulite? Or even worse, what if I actually achieved the body I wanted, but it didn’t earn me the attention and love I so craved?
At first glance, this looks like two fears (I’ll do all this work and won’t get the body I want. I’ll get the body but not the boyfriend.) but because even in the first case the body is still a means to an end, I can boil this down to one fear: I’m afraid I’ll do all this work and I won’t be rewarded with love. Adjacent to this fear is the fear that getting rid of my cellulite is the only way I have to get love and if it doesn’t work, I won’t get love. So when we really dig, we discover the core fear: I’m afraid that working out will reveal that I can’t have love.
Not being lovable was probably the biggest fear in my life, so you can understand why I’d rather not confront it, why staying stuck felt much more comfortable. But the cost of staying stuck was high. It made me feel powerless.
Since I’m writing this article, you probably guessed that I managed to get past this fear and start working out. My cellulite was very stubborn, but it did finally melt away once I got very lean for a couple of bikini competitions. Here’s the thing: I got the body but I didn’t get the boyfriend. My new fit body didn’t solve my romantic problems! And, it turns out that once I put on enough weight to restore healthy reproductive function—yes, I had to get that lean for competition—some of the cellulite came back. But by that point, training was no longer a means to an end. I was intrinsically motivated to train. I loved it; I looked forward to it. Now I definitely like the way my body looks now, cellulite and all, but that’s beside the point. I just want to train.
To work with your own fears and self-limiting beliefs, you can take the following four steps:
Identify a self-limiting belief.
Figure out what the payoff is of staying in this belief.
Figure out what the cost is of staying in this belief.
Debunk the belief.
Okay, step one. What possible fears might you have around getting fit? Write them down, and really take your time doing this. Get even the tiniest, most irrational ones out, because they can hinder you as much as the ones that seem reasonable. I’ve listed some examples below to help you out.
People at the gym are going to stare at me or laugh at me.
My spouse/best friend/loved one is not fit. They’ll resent me. What if they even leave me?
I used to play college basketball and I’ll never be that fit again. I’m not sure I can deal with the disappointment.
Working out is going to take over my life. I don’t have 10 hours a week to devote to it and I don’t want to give up foods I love, like ice cream and beer.
The physical discomfort will be unbearable.
What if I work really hard and I still can’t look the way I want to look?
I’ll tell you a secret about these fears. They’re often based in projection. For instance, if someone is afraid that people will judge their body or their technique when they’re at the gym, that’s because they themselves believe that there’s something wrong with them that others will be able to see. Life coach Brooke Castillo has a great way of putting it. If you don’t have blue hair and someone says, “I just can’t stand your blue hair!” Will you get your feelings hurt? Of course not. We’re only sensitive about the things that we suspect might be true.
Step two: write out the payoff to staying stuck in each belief. Usually the payoff is just not having to face the possibility of your belief being true. By not testing the belief, you get to stay in fantasy.
Step three is writing out the cost. What is it costing you in terms of physical and mental health? Do you have aches and pains you know would go away if you got stronger? Do you have a mood disorder that you know responds well to cardio? The cost could be just missing out on all the incredible benefits of exercise.
The final step, debunking the belief, is probably the trickiest. In some cases, you may even have to admit that your fear might prove to be true. However, this often means you didn’t dig deep enough with first step. For instance, if I had stopped at, “I’m afraid I’ll get the body of my dreams and have no boyfriend to show for it,” then at this stage, I couldn’t debunk it with confidence. But because I got to the core belief, I was able to address it in step 4. When we dig deep enough on step one, we usually come up with something fairly close to I’m afraid that if I start working out, I’ll be less happy. This is almost never true, and the closer you can bring your own step one to this underlying belief, the clearer that will be.
As an illustration, here’s my old self-limiting belief, according to this four-step template:
Getting in shape will reveal that I’m unlovable.
I can live in the safety of fantasy and potential.
I’m stuck. I loathe my body and don’t take care myself.
Lots of people fall in love, whether they look like a fitness model or not. One is not dependent upon the other.
Finally, take some time to really absorb what you’ve written. Really spend some time with the payoffs and the costs of holding onto your fears. This is an important step, and if you are thorough with it, it could transform your relationship to fitness and to your body. Look out next week for the secrets to getting intrinsically motivated with your movement practice, and if you want to talk more, email me to set up a free consultation call.