Bodybuilding and Mind-set: Good or Bad?.


Mental Healthy Well Being & New Research

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The simple truth is that not many simple truths exist: For each rule there are exceptions, and despite our tendency to view the world in black-and-white terms, most things really come in shades of gray. Even so, there are times when it's advantageous to take a fairly extreme perspective. One of those times is when you're trying to understand the personality differences that we all carry into the gym, personality differences that emphasize success or failure. To illustrate the two extremes in how people mentally approach their training, let's oversimplify things and divide the world into winners and losers. While our immediate goal is to help you use your mind for bigger gains in the world of muscle, our message applies just as much to every other walk of life. Best of all, we'll show you how you can reorient your thinking and become the winner you'd really like to be.

Decades ago research psychologists noticed that one of the ways people differ is in how they approach challenging situations and what they expect as a result, At one end of the spectrum are people who openly seek challenges and expect themselves to succeed. As you would guess, these people are the winners-success is a common experience for them. At the other end of the spectrum are people who try to avoid challenges because they're very fearful of failure.

These people are the losers-success is a rare experience for them. People in the first group tend to emphasize the rewards inherent in a challenge and de-emphasize the costs associated with obtaining the reward. People in the second group are the opposite; they tend to deemphasize the rewards and emphasize the costs associated with obtaining them. Let's see how these attitudes affect you in the gym. Someone who has the first mind-set comes into the gym expecting to succeed, not only with his general plan to become bigger, stronger or whatever but also in terms of having a great workout that particular day.

If his program calls for hitting 12 dips with 150 pounds hanging from his waist, that's what he expects to do. While he knows that he's got to dig deep to squeeze out the last two or three reps, he doesn't let that become an obstacle. Rather, he takes it all in stride, gaining steam from the idea that if he hits the 150x12 he'll have a new personal record and will have taken another step toward his goals by doing so.

Someone who has the second mind-set comes into the gym expecting things to not go very well and reminds himself of all the reasons why he'd be foolish to expect too much from his workout. the time he gets to his dips, the idea of banging out reps with 25 pounds has taken on overwhelming proportions. You can guess what happens next-he falls short of his goal, which he interprets as showing how correct he was in viewing his potential as nothing but limited.

Understanding the difference between these two mind-sets involves the psychological construct called "locus of control," which boils down to whether you think you're the master of your destiny or you view yourself as a hapless pawn. People who believe that they pull their own strings are said to have an "internal locus of control," and people who feel others are pulling their strings have an "external locus of control." Remember how we noted that winners emphasize the positive and dc-emphasize the negative, while losers do the opposite? Psychological research has demonstrated that when you give "internal' and "external" people both positive and negative information about themselves, the externals recall more negative material about themselves than the internals do, illustrating this pattern. This process is the key to developing a successful mind-set.

To succeed, you must first try, but to try hard, you must believe success is possible. Winners blow right through each of these steps: They seek new challenges, and because they expect to make good in them, they really put their shoulders to the task. Winners might get themselves psyched by considering other challenging situations they've faced and how they excelled in them. When confronting challenges, they might exhort themselves like the Little Engine That Could el think! can, I think I can ). They might use specific psychological techniques to get through the tough steps-whether its focusing on just one rep at a time rather than the whole set or the whole workout or trying to transform what most people would see as simple pain into what they might call 'growth cues"-signs that they're in the process of gaining.

They always dangle the carrot of their goal in front of their mind's eye, reminding themselves of how much they want it and how what they're doing right here and right now is taking them closer to their goal.

Losers do the reverse: They rehearse past failures, remind themselves that their hone structure is better suited for the marathon than muscled and may even think about how badly they might injure themselves trying to lift all those heavy weights. Losers know that failure likely awaits them and that the best way to avoid failure is to avoid challenges, so that's what they do- they forever whittle down the challenges they're willing to accept. Just as winners gravitate toward other winners, losers gravitate toward other losers-so they can reinforce their expectations of failure.

The story could stop here, but the good news is that losers can become winners. If they want to they can make over their mind-sets. For starters they have to come to believe that they can succeed and that, in fact, their success lies largely within their control.

Ironically, lifting weights is one of the best tools in the world for demonstrating this. Consider that just about anyone can make dramatic progress in bodybuilding or lifting- even if not everybody can become a world champion. Even nicer, most people can, for limited periods of time, make extremely fast progress with appropriate, specialized routines. The result of these last two facts is that lifting weights can give you a substantial basis for proving to yourself that you can succeed, and by your own efforts.

Consider the skinny guy who has never gained much weight who suddenly sees that in six weeks of over-the-edge intensive training he's put an inch or more on his arms and several on his chest, boosted his squat by nearly 100 pounds and outgrown two sets of clothes in the process. How can he not believe in himself now? Flow can he not expect success that next time he faces a challenge?

Or consider the person who's been stuck with a certain PR bench press forever and a day. He thinks he's tried everything and nothing has boosted his bench. He's ready to throw in the towel, hut he doesn't. He does more research, develops another training routine, puts his head down and tries yet again and voila-he has a breakthrough and in four weeks his bench is at a 25- pound all-time high.

How can he not believe in himself at this point? How can he not feel like the master of his destiny? How can he not expect success the next time he faces a challenge? The bottom line is that the next time he'll believe in himself, and because of that he'll succeed again. Each time the process will gain some momentum, He's doing more than just getting bigger and stronger along the way-he's doing a makeover of his mind-set.

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