By: Ryan Mekota, Psy.D., Clinical Neuropsychologist (& RF member)
Everything you are, will be, and can achieve starts up top in the ol’ squishy stuff between your ears. Every movement, every blink of the eyelid, every twitch of a fingertip starts in the brain. Similarly, every emotional reaction, every decision, and every thought occurs there too. Your heart rate, your breath, your stress level – all correlated with or controlled entirely by brain functions. Therefore, the mental game associated with any complex behavior such as a meaningful lifestyle change cannot be overstated. Our brains are literally the hub for every single thing your body does. Nothing occurs without its consent. That might already be something we all know intuitively, but it serves to emphasize the importance of our minds to make health and wellness goals (like the RF RISE UP challenge) a huge success. Without our mental acuity and proper nurturing of our minds, we are either destined for underwhelming results or failure. But we won’t allow failure to happen, because we know we can do it and we’re worth it! (← see that? already a mind trick called “positive self-talk”).
Eighty percent of Americans do not meet the CDC guidelines for recommended exercise. That is astonishing to me. So on one hand, we are the fat lazy Americans just like the stereotype indicates. But on the other hand, it is an opportunity. We can be truly elite. We can be a part of just 20% of people who kick the most ass. And that can occur in spades if we try our darndest to hit it hard at RF, following the lead of Coach Josh and Coach Matt along the way. But we know that working out is not the same as relaxing at home and watching House of Cards or Googling cat facts. Doing the type of workouts that can create meaningful changes is hard. Period. No way around it. I think it is very important to provide ourselves the validation by acknowledging that fact. The positive long-term effects of regular exercise are well-known and almost innumerable (e.g., improved physical and mental health, more energy, heightened immune system, etc.), but 80% of us still don’t do it nearly enough. Hmm… To figure that out, let’s explore the brainz…
The reasons why we struggle so much is due to our more primitive bits upstairs. Those bits implore us to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Better yet, they are telling us to maximize pleasure now and minimize pain now. Unfortunately, RF workouts (and therefore any sustained physical exertion) are considered pain-inducing stimuli. So although Matt and Josh have developed the most effective and efficient workouts based on the latest research of exercise science, the consequence is that they create all sorts of burning and aching and such. So the trick becomes to get our more advanced brain bits to work for us and override the *cue Arnold voice* little sissy puny primitive brain regions. We do that by attaching meaning to our workouts and our goals.
There is perhaps no goal more futile than that which is created by someone else. When someone else tells us what we have to achieve, it is a normal and well-known psychological phenomenon that some part of us might respond by thinking “F that noise, I’m gonna do my thang, and it ain’t that.” (Hopefully you’ve turned off the Arnold voice by now.) We in the biz refer to that response as “reactance” – the tendency to act contrary to or refuse a demand (e.g., goal set for you) outright due to the perceived threat over behavioral control. In other words, life goals must be uniquely personal. They must be yours. Which is exactly why Josh and Matt have not created goals for you, they have implored you to come up with your own. (They’re cute little budding psychologists and they didn’t even know it!)
Figure out your values, the things that are most important to you. For me, my strongest values are family, a meaningful career, mental health, and physical health. My wife, son, mental health, and strength are most important to me. I want to represent strength for my family, protect them (the Neanderthal in me), and be able to roll around and play sports with Emil, my son, as he grows up. During my workout, I know that each time I finish I’m getting a little bit stronger and a little bit bigger (gettin’ them show muscles). I also want to feel good and be resilient to stress. I know that I am in a better mood and have a more positive attitude when I’m on a workout schedule than when I am not. And I want my wife to be proud to take me around and show her friends what a stud she’s got (OK so maybe I’m still working on that one). Once we identify the things most important to us, we can use them as motivation. We can attach greater meaning to the sled pushes beyond just the physical exertion required. Every time I hit another rep beyond what I could do in the same exercise a week prior, I know that I’ve gotten a little stronger. And for me, that connects to much more than just the pain or exertion required to do it. It means that I can be both physically and mentally stronger for my family and be the security they need and deserve. It means I can look in the mirror and be proud of myself for getting it done in the gym . It means I can wear a bro tank and not feel self-conscious (#bodybyJosh). And it means I’m a part of the elite 20% .
So find your why, and make it accessible to you. Your why might be many different things. Your meaning can be about your most primal self (get jacked/sexy in order to be a lecherously lusted for) or a more abstract and future self (be able to move well and be active as I age), just be honest in your search. Any given day, what you use to get it done in and out of the gym might shift, but they will still speak to your core and be a profound source of motivation. Remind yourself of why you can do this, and why you will be successful in achieving whatever it is that you want to achieve.