The Mental Game: Finding Your Why In Fitness
by Chris Albert, originally shared on Warrior Soul Agoge.
The following is an excerpt from Fitness is Freedom. This is a mental training manifesto that we make part of all of our digital courses on the Warrior Soul Agoge. You can get the whole ebook by signing up for our free newsletter at https://warriorsoullife.com.
“At its base, physical fitness is about freedom. The question is this: what are you going to allow yourself to be capable of and for how long? My goal is to allow you to be capable of doing anything you want to do for the rest of your life.”
-Chris Albert, Founder and Creator of the Warrior Soul Agoge
INTRODUCTION: WHAT YOU’RE MISSING
On any given adventure into the fitness blogosphere you see them:
- The tan douche flashing his abs in a selfie.
- The tattooed monster demonstrating his max effort squat.
- The fitness diva showing you her latest glute exercise.
- The silicon valley nerd turned fitness guru showing you his latest biohack to help you achieve optimal performance.
- The cross training athlete taking you through his latest sado-masochistic torture routine.
- The yogi encouraging you to find a new stage of enlightenment by twisting and contorting your posture.
- The holistic living specialist telling you to eat organic or die.
- The meathead encouraging you to eat ungodly colon clogging amounts of protein.
- The bikini mom who shows you her workouts on her porch on the coast in Hawaii or Malibu.
My point is not to criticize any of these “stereotypical” fitness archetypes. Hell, I’ve actually filled one or two of these roles in my day. But after a couple of decades of dealing with or being in the fitness industry, I’ve started to see things in a different light.
Last year I left the fitness industry to open my own military clothing company, and for the first time in a long time, I was able to detach myself from the marketing mindset of a personal trainer. I still trained myself, and I still followed a lot of my former peers, but I began to see their posts and videos in a different light . . . one of confusion.
I started seeing things from your perspective - the person being marketed to. For most of my career, I could not figure out why people found fitness to be so confusing. Before, I would ask myself questions: why do people jump from diet to diet and program to program without ever really figuring out what works for them? Why do people try vegan one week only to go paleo the next? Why do guys try to “bulk” for a month and then get surprised at how much fat they gain and move on to a “cut?” Why are there kids looking into taking steroids after only months of training? And above all, why, despite the fact that there is so much information on the internet about fitness, are the numbers of people becoming obese going up?
I don’t pretend that I know the answers to any of these questions, but my time watching the fitness industry as an “outsider” has given me some insight. It seems to me that people are confused because the fitness industry is in one big state of confusion. On any given day you have hundreds of coaches, trainers, and fat loss gurus trying to get your attention, and each of them puts their own spin on things: paleo, vegan, functional, body shaping, fat-loss, muscle building, cardio, metcon - all of these terms have become buzzwords meant to attract you to one form of fitness or another.
So the question remains - how do you, the person looking to adopt fitness into your own life so that you can live a better and more fruitful life, sort through the immense amount of bull excrement to reach your own goals? How do you reclaim your body and put yourself on the path to personal satisfaction with your look and performance? How do you fit it into your life in the best way? And where, in God’s name, do you start?
I will tell you that, like any fitness professional, I do have my own opinions about what diet to try, what training routine to follow, and what methods are most effective, but I also understand something that most fitness professionals do not: unless you can implement a nutrition and training plan sustainably, it will not work for you.
This may sound like common sense, but I want you to really think about what this means . . .
- It means that though losing fat and building muscle is ruled by natural phenomena as discovered by science, the practice of effective diet and exercise programming is much more art than science. This is because any severely dogmatic approach to fitness will inevitably fall prey to the dynamic nature of your life. Your life changes day by day, month by month, year by year, and so does your body. Any program that does not account for the need to be dynamic will inevitably become ineffective at getting what you want out of it.
- It means that in addition to a diet and training program, you need a system. What’s the difference? A diet and training program will tell you exactly what to do and when to do it. This is great if the program is designed specifically for you and your current life, but here’s the biggest problem: most trainers and fitness personalities have no idea what it’s like to be you. Fitness is their top priority and their profession. You, on the other hand, probably have a job that doesn’t entail wearing mesh shorts and going to the gym everyday. In addition to being told what to do and when to do it, you need a way of reaffirming the importance of a fitness routine in your life or you will stop doing it as soon as it becomes inconvenient.
What I am about to deliver to you is not a diet or a training program. It is a system of mindset framing and practices that will help you to create a lifestyle that will help to get you to your goals regardless of what program you choose. Rather than telling you exactly what to do to get “muscular and shredded” for a month or a year, my lofty intention in this guide is to give you a blueprint for behavior that will allow you to remain healthy, fit, lean, and capable of your optimal performance levels for the rest of your life.
We will do this by focusing on the most important element of getting you to your peak physical state: your mind. Without the proper mindset in approaching any fitness program, you are destined to fail. The truth is that any fitness program is simply a temporary answer to a larger and more permanent question.
Too often, we look at fitness plans as a means of getting us to some superficial goal that did not have a whole lot of meaning for our lives in the first place. In this way, fitness becomes a fantasy and our quest for it becomes a sort of vacation, where we temporarily pursue a goal for a set period of time. The reality is that your two greatest assets on this Earth for anything you want to do are your body and your mind, and if one of these two assets breaks down, then so does your path to happiness.
Rather than asking yourself: “how do I lose 20 pounds?” or “how do I become more muscular?,” you need to ask yourself a more important question first: “how much do I want to be capable of and for how long?”
This is important because, when you frame your fitness quest in this vital question, it gives you a more permanent reason to pursue your peak physical state. Getting abs or fitting into a new pair of jeans becomes a disposable luxury when compared to many of the other things you probably face in your life. As soon as your life’s stressors increase, then these goals become inconvenient and they go out the window. But when you understand that maintaining your physical state is a key to doing well at your job, being there for your family, or keeping you out of the hospital, your fitness routine becomes permanent and necessary.
This guidebook creates this understanding by framing fitness into your mindset as something that is vital to who you are as a person. Then it leverages your mindset through a series of tools and daily practices that will help you to sustain your fitness journey for as long as you continue these practices in good faith.
Section 1: Develop Your Mindset
There are hundreds of training and nutrition books on the market. All of them give you some sort of preferred view of ways in which you could potentially increase your fitness levels. They will lay out charts that tell you what to eat and when to eat it, but they are missing two very important points:
- How do you implement the plan into your already busy life?
- How do you keep the plan implemented for the long haul?
The science behind nutrition and training is important, but when it comes to getting results, one factor trumps all others: consistency.
The dirtiest secret of the fitness industry is this: most diets and training plans work. The very act of reducing your calories and being more active will help you to burn fat. Performing resistance training will help you to build muscle. The problem is that most us do not do these things on a consistent enough basis to get any results from them.
You can have the best, most scientifically proven to be effective plan on the planet, but it will not work for you unless you are able to do it and you consider it important enough to continue doing it on a consistent basis.
This is where mindset and lifestyle come in: they reaffirm the importance of fitness in your life and they make it’s pursuit more sustainable.
In this section, I will teach you step by step tools to framing your mindset so that you keep your fitness goals front and center on your list of priorities.
These tools have nothing to do with grams of nutrients or sets of exercises and everything to do with how you manage your life. As such, not only will this system help you to get you closer to your fitness goals, it will also make you into a better and more capable person.
Step 1: Find Your Why
So many self-help gurus start by telling their followers that they need goals. Goals are, of course, important, but there are good goals and bad goals. Bad goals are goals that other people have set out for you. For example, if your goal is to go to a military college simply because your father wants you to go there but deep down inside you really wanted to grow your hair out and become a rock star, you will probably be in for a very miserable four years if you choose the military college.
The problem is that many of us lie to ourselves by adopting the dreams of others when they are not truly our own. When I taught political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, 90% of my students wanted to be lawyers. I would ask them why they wanted to be lawyers and most of them could not answer me but they believed that becoming a lawyer was a good and safe choice. I’ve had many former students write me since then to tell me how miserable law school was and how much they hated being a lawyer.
What these students failed to do was to ask themselves “why?” Why did they want to be lawyers and what would it mean to them? Instead they asked themselves “what?” What did they want to be? When you ask yourself “why?” you give yourself a purpose and a reason to pursue what you are pursuing. When you ask yourself “what?” you give yourself a title. “Why” is more powerful because it gives you a meaningful reason to get out of bed in the morning. You are fulfilling your passion and your purpose for your life. “What” is less powerful because it forces you to get up out of fear that you will not be able to fulfill the role that others expect you to fill. You do it for the title and nothing more, and this makes you more likely to give up and quit or press on and be miserable.
When it comes to fitness, many people still fail to ask themselves “why?” All of us want to be lean, to be fit, to look better, and to feel better, but what does this desire emanate from? How is pursuing these goals going to add to your life and everything you want in it?
Why is your “why” so important? It’s important because fitness, like anything worth doing in this life, is difficult. There’s going to be days when you don’t feel like training, and days that you really want ice cream. There will also be days where you will absolutely convince yourself that you just don’t have time to get a workout in. It’s your “why” that will get you out of bed in the morning, and your “why” that will get you through your bad days and keep you going when all hope seems lost.
Crafting your why is very important. Your why needs to be powerful enough that it convinces you to keep going. It needs to be more powerful than “I want ripped abs,” or “I want a nice butt.” Your why needs to literally to speak to your soul, and by soul, I mean the essence of who you are and who you want to be. When you think about your why, it should bring tears to your eyes because it is that impactful and that important to you. As Drew Canole from FitlifeTV says, “You want a why that makes you cry.”
So many people make the mistake of attaching their fitness goals to how they look, numbers on a scale, or any number of other surface factors.
The problem here is that fitness becomes something you want rather than something you need to live your life. This pushes training and nutrition down the priority list and makes it into an extracurricular activity that you only do when you have the time. This means that anytime fitness becomes even slightly inconvenient for you, it goes out the window. There’s many products out there that address the convenience factor. We’ve got 5 Minute Abs, 8 Minute Butt, and Six Pack Shortcuts. But unless we address the root issue of why you’re doing it, you’ll end up finding that it won’t be important enough for you to do it on a regular basis.
So how do you figure out what your “why” is?
You need to think about what being fit is going to mean to you, and you have to realize what fitness really is: a way of making your life better.
You see, in this highly image focused world, we sometimes forget that being fit is not just about looking good. Having a great set of abs, great arms, or a nice butt is a bi-product of fitness, but not its true purpose. Real fitness is about so much more.
I remember back when I was a bodybuilder. I looked great, had a good set of abs and great arms, but I felt like crap all the time. My brain felt like mush, I had digestive issues from an autoimmune disease called ulcerative colitis, and I could barely stay awake after I got home from work. I couldn’t go hiking, running, or swimming - three things that I love with all my heart, and if I went two hours without eating I would get moody and drowsy. I didn’t have a relationship because I didn’t want to take time away from eating or training.
Eventually life caught up to me and it became impossible to focus only on training and dieting. Working out took a backseat to “more important” life issues, and I treated fitness in my mind as a matter of luxury and convenience. I would train when life allowed it, much like I’d buy a nice pair of shoes when I could afford them. The problem was that my “why” was not associated with any purpose higher than my own vanity and I was ready to give up fitness so readily when life got hard because I saw it as a luxury that could be put aside.
I’m going to pause this story for a second to make a point: keep in mind that I was a certified personal trainer, and I was making this rationalization even though I worked in a gym and was advising people on how to become more fit! To some extent, my income was tied to the way I looked and whether or not anyone would hire me. I’m making this point to get you to realize something: if vanity was not motivating enough to get me to sustain my regimen as a fitness professional, it will not be a motivating factor for you to follow a regimen in the long term!
Back to the story . . .
Soon I began to rationalize the pounds of fat I added to my physique with statements like “I’m getting old.” And then my whole life began to suffer. My self esteem went down and I was moody all of the time. No one wants an out of shape crabby trainer, so I began to lose clients. My income went down, and I began to get stressed. Soon I began to lose sleep, and then I experienced the worse ulcerative colitis flare up of my life. I couldn’t take on clients even if I wanted to because I was rushing to the bathroom 30-40 times a day. I sunk into depression, found myself in and out of the hospital, lost the ownership shares of the gym I helped to start, and found myself living out of my car with no money and no prospects for employment.
Obviously this story is a bit extreme. You probably won’t end up out on the streets if you don’t train. That was something that happened to me in my life, but I am convinced that it was my lack of a really important “why” that led to my downfall. Today, things are very different. My body doesn’t fluctuate anymore. I don’t “bulk” or “cut.” I don’t do severe diets and I truly love the food that I eat. I train six days a week. I stay lean and muscular all year round and I go out on long runs, hikes, and I practice brazilian jiu jitsu. I coach people from around the world in fitness, I run a clothing company, and I am in an amazing relationship with the woman of my dreams who does all of these things with me. Training and eating well is not some chore I need to do when I have the time, nor is it a burden. It is part of my life and something that makes me better at everything else that I do in business, love, and life, and I know it can do the same for you whether you are a trainer or an accountant.
This is why fitness is so important: it can touch every other aspect of your life if you allow it to. But in order to do this, you need to know and understand your why, and that why needs to be of primary importance in your life. My why is this: I train because I want to live my best life, free of disease, and to be able to travel, work for my goals, and be an active member of my family for as long as I can throughout my life.
This why goes beyond abs or looking good. It speaks to the very essence of who I am and who I want to be.
Now it’s time to find your why.
Exercise: Write down why pursuing your fitness goals is important to your life. Go beyond the simple aesthetics of wanting to look a certain way or wanting to life a certain amount. Think about who you are and who you want to be, and tie your why in with that identity.