How to Beat Mental Blocks that Stop Progress
We’ve all been there. You’ve got past the first hurdle – you have a routine, an exercise schedule. You’re there, at the gym 2, 3, 4 times a week and you’re on the way to achieving “New Year, New Me”. But suddenly doubt creeps in. Maybe there’s a particular exercise you can’t bring yourself to do, so you do something else instead. Maybe you’ve been lifting the same weight every time and can’t see how you’re ever going to bust through that plateau. Like I said, we’ve all been there.
I’ve definitely been there, with both those examples and more. And whilst this certainly won’t be a definitive list, here are a few suggestions as to how you can get past the mental block you have!
1. Hire a Personal Trainer, or Train with a Friend
Now this might seem like the obvious answer, coming from a personal trainer, but it works for a reason! There’s a strong chance a personal trainer can help you get past whatever the block is – if you’re struggling to go heavier, a personal trainer can check your form and point out where you can improve to boost your numbers. A PT can motivate you in the moment, giving you the drive to push that little bit harder. Moreover, if the issue is motivating yourself to even get in the door of a gym, having a PT can make you accountable, which works brilliantly, let me tell you! We can also tell if you’re plateauing because of strength levels or because of a lack of bravery. The brain is always more likely to give up before your body actually needs to.
Equally, sometimes just having a friend you can train with can work in much the same way, as you can push each other. If you’re competitive by nature, then this is only going to work all the more.
2. Little by Little
There’s a well-known term amongst fitness professionals and many gym-goers alike: progressive overload. Basically, it means you keep moving forward the exercises you perform get progressively harder. It’s been a staple of strength training for a long time now (‘officially’ since World War II even). This doesn’t mean you need to consistently pick different and more complex exercises though – far from it! All it means is that you work up to lifting heavier weights, more reps, longer times, etc.
Because if you think about it, jumping from a 60kg squat to a 100kg squat is a huge jump – an unrealistic jump in the majority of cases. But if you try and increase the weight by just a small amount every time you do the exercise, suddenly that may not seem so tough to visualise. Even if you did squats twice per week, but only increased by 1kg each time, you’re progressing – and THAT is what matters most. Going up by 2kg per week might not seem so great to some, but over the course of a year, that really starts to add up. What’s more, having these short term achievements does wonders for your confidence.
This applies to many things outside the gym as well – you're hardly going to be able to pick up a violin and suddenly be a maestro. Progressive overload – it's mental AND physical.
Definitely a classic, that a lot of people suffer from – me included. You start the year with big goals and big motivation, but that shrinks and shrinks as you realise how far you’ve got to go to get to that goal. So what do you do? You break those big goals up into smaller ones. More manageable ones. Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Realistic and Time-Related.
You can do this for short, medium and long term goals, so that your long term goal is the big target, but you are regularly able to achieve goals along the way, boosting your confidence as you go (see a recurring theme here??)
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Another common one here, but again, there’s a good reason for that! Sometimes the worst phrase to come into our heads in the moment is “but what if”. As soon as that doubt comes in, it can stop you from even trying. If you really think about it, assuming you’re using whatever equipment to hand in a safe way, what’s the worst that could happen? You don’t quite manage it, so you lower the weight and try again. No biggie. You’ll never know unless you try, and it won’t hurt you if you fail. If anything, it’ll make you push even harder (especially if you have someone else there watching you as you do it).
Of course, that’s only 4 ideas and there are many, many more! How do you get past mental blocks with exercise (or indeed with anything you are working towards)? Let me know in the comments! I would love to hear your thoughts.