Why do some people make progress while others seem stuck in the same place forever? Is there a secret? After all, there are a lot more people who want to make progress in their training than there are who actually do make progress.
At first glance it might be tempting to sort this out by using any number of exotic explanations, but in the end there's a direct link between motivation and progress. Highly motivated people move forward, and those with little
motivation tend to tread water or just sink. When you consider that lifting weights is hard work-and lifting weights to make maximum progress is very hard work-It's easy to understand why motivation is such a powerful determinant
of your success. 'So," you say, "I'll buy your theory, but that's the easy part. Tell me something I don't know that will help me boost my motivation."
Standard approaches to boosting motivation rely on such time-honored techniques as the classic pep talk: "Come on, you I can do it!" This is also known as the win-this one-for-the-Gipper strategy Sometimes a little edge is added by
including an element of threat or fear ("If you don't do this…" ) or an element of embarrassment or ridicule ("Even my grandmother could...'). Despite their outward differences, all of these approaches depend on conscious mental
processes-they're designed to work with your full awareness of what's going on. There's certainly nothing wrong with this strategy, but what if we could manage to bring unconscious processes into the mix? Is it possible to use your
unconscious mind to boost motivation and trigger more progress?
For a long time unconscious mental processes were in relative disfavor with research psychologists, but for the past decade or so they've been making a comeback. One of the lessons learned from this research is that our minds react
automatically to things around us, before we are even conscious of them. These automatic reactions can influence both our thinking and our behavior. Let's introduce two tools for boosting your motivation and improving your
performance by putting your unconscious mind to work.
The first technique is called "priming." It works by getting your unconscious mind to influence what you think and do. For example, in one study research psychologists
primed subjects with stereotypes of old people and then timed how fast they walked down the halt when they thought the experiment was over, compared to subjects who hadn't been primed that way. The primed subjects walked slower.
Highlighting the power of the unconscious mind, the primes used in this research were words like "Florida," "bingo," "forgetful," words that were associated with stereotypes of the elderly but were not related to physical attributes.
Once primed, the unconscious mind went to work.
You can prime yourself for the type of training that leads to progress by using cues that encourage your unconscious mind to spur you on. For example, bodybuilders have a long tradition of using inspiring photographs to help trigger
high-octane workouts. Keep your motivation high by fueling your unconscious mind with visual images of the body you want and also of the effort required to get it. Talking about effort, we know an Olympic lifter who watches a videotape
of world champions training right before he works out. He does this because he noticed that the top guys are the ones who train the hardest, so he primes his brain with images of them performing gut-busting workouts. He swears it does
the trick. Whatever your specific approach, the important thing is to find cues that stimulate the type of drive needed to reach your goal.
When you're getting ready for a heavy set of squats, it's no time to think about tiptoeing through the tulips. Instead, you want to get primal, reaching back to the automatic fight-or-flight systems that kept your ancestors away from
tigers. And speaking of tigers, we know a powerlifter who swears just thinking the word tiger gets his juices flowing.
Another successful strategy for harnessing your unconscious involves creating very specific plans for reaching goals. Called "implementation intentions" by research psychologists, these plans contain such details as how, when and where
certain things will be done to reach a goal. The idea is that once you define specific tasks and tie them to environmental cues, the unconscious mind can help to automatically trigger the appropriate behavior. "Sounds cute," you say,
"but does it work?"
One study found that when people set goals to complete a task-something difficult that they had avoided doing-fewer than one-fourth met their goal When they had to form specific plans that spelled out how, when and where, the completion
rate nearly tripled, however. How many people do you know who keep repeating the same bodybuilding and lifting goals, month after month, year after year; but never really do what's necessary to reach them? That's exactly the sort of
situation you can remedy by using this detailed planning technique to bring your unconscious mind into the battle.
For example, one reason those highly detailed cycling programs can be very productive is that you know exactly what you are expected to lift at every workout: "It's Wednesday, so this must be 390 in the bench press." The environmental
cue-the workout day-is associated with a specific performance, which should help you take each critical step along the path to your overall goal. This type of approach gets added zip because you know what's expected beforehand, and your
unconscious can begin preparing you to meet your objective.
By the way, these cues can also be internal. For example, a technique that can bring great results involves always demanding a certain number of additional reps after you hit a specific effort/pain threshold. You can use a certain level
of breathing- hard enough to normally make you want to quit-as the cue to stop thinking and take two extra breaths or use some other strategy specifically designed to get you through the set on the way to your overall goal.
After you've used any techniques a few times, the correct response will become automatic-thanks to the power of your unconscious mind. Thinking, no doubt, plays a tremendous role in your progress, but there are times when the smartest
people-very consciously-let their unconscious minds do some of the work.