A friend of mine was talking about exercise barriers this week.
I had a lot of barriers when I first started trying to create a consistent exercise habit. It took me a year of on-and-off success to get even CLOSE to consistency, and I’m STILL battling barriers to get to my ideal.
But this conversation brought up one barrier in particular that was both surprising and surprisingly hard to get past.
First, What Is a Barrier?
Barriers are things that keep you from achieving your goals:
- Physical barriers are the presence or absence of something. So it might be the lid that keeps you from putting something away; or you might not have a hamper, so you toss your dirty clothes on the floor.
- Then there are the barriers inside our heads—these beliefs or “scripts” sabotage us through our assumptions, emotions, thinking patterns, and mental frameworks.
Often these internal barriers—limiting beliefs, hidden beliefs, invisible scripts, whatever you want to call them—are the most difficult to see.
One that sabotaged me early on was this:
“We should be happy with our bodies, no matter what they look like, because all bodies are beautiful.”
Body Positivity vs. Aesthetic Fitness Goals
Why is that a barrier? It sounds positive.
But hidden behind that belief was this:
“All bodies are beautiful. If I focus on aesthetic results, then I’m not appreciating my body the way it is now. I’m judging myself and others based on my aesthetic ideal. Judging is bad.”
That is the real limiting belief.
I have a soft spot for body positivity. Probably because I have spent most of my life disliking mine.
Thus, I felt guilty—I’m supposed to be this super, body positive dude, right?
…Yet I’m trying to get ripped, so I can be “hotter?”
I’m supposed to preach about how we should accept and love bodies of all shapes and sizes, right?
…Yet I’m trying to get a six-pack and guns, so I can rip my shirt off and flex, like a half-naked, really short Superman?
I felt like an asshole. That belief made me feel like my fitness goal was compromising my values—so I resisted working out, because I was burdened with guilt, which is rarely a productive emotion.
To get around this, I tried to exercise for other reasons:
- Health benefits
We know exercise has a lot benefits. We’ve heard it a million times.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter that these are great reasons to exercise. I just flat out didn’t care.
Being Honest & Getting Results
When you’re deciding on a goal, ask yourself: why do I want to do this?
Ask yourself that question enough times in a row, and you’ll end up eliminating a lot of goals. You’ll realize they’re based on things you don’t actually care about, so they’re doomed to failure–why would you put your all into eliminating your barriers, if you don’t even care about it?
You won’t. And that’s why it’s important to be brutally honest with yourself about what matters to you.
Just because we know something is good for us, doesn’t mean we’re going to do it. I like being stronger and having more energy, but I didn’t care enough about those things for them to feed an exercise habit.
I needed something that made me WANT to succeed. I needed something that would make me systematically attack my barriers, until I got there, no matter how long it took.
When I was honest with myself, the answer to WHY I wanted to create an exercise habit was NOT:
- To become healthier
- To have more energy
- To be stronger
Despite my guilt, it was still:
- To look in the mirror and see bigger, more defined muscles.
That’s it. That is my goal for exercise. Pure aesthetic results. That is what makes me want to succeed at creating a fitness habit.
I could have kept feeling guilty about this, but I began to think about it the same way I think about mental self-improvement: you can be happy and accepting of where you are (and where others are, because you only have control over what you do), while also striving to become better.
Accepting where you are and where others are doesn’t have to get in the way of growth.
So instead of saying:
I should be motivated by xyz (health, strength, whatever).
(The word “should” rarely serves us.)
I started saying:
Who cares what I should feel, what do I actually feel? What makes me want to succeed at this?
What is the biggest REWARD for changing my behavior?
That happens to be looking in the mirror and seeing bigger, more defined muscles.
Once I realized the hidden belief about my aesthetic goals, I lost all that guilt. I became objectively focused on getting results (“What will make me succeed?”), and left the emotional component behind by being honest.
As a result, I started making a lot more progress.
Digging Into Mental Barriers
Kakashi says in the anime, Naruto (yes, this is an unapologetic anime nerd reference), “Look underneath the underneath.”
I have no idea what that underneath stuff means in the ninja world, but in the case of mental barriers and limiting beliefs, it means stop looking at what you tell yourself you believe, and start looking at what is actually dictating your actions, emotions, and thoughts.
When you discover what is REALLY dictating the things you do, you create an opportunity to take control.
When you take control, you can start to make real progress on the things that are important to you.
In my case, taking care of my body and feeling good about it are important to me. I want the aesthetic results AND all the extra benefits.
Focusing on the aesthetic results happens to make me want to succeed at that goal—so that’s what I focus on.
Instead of focusing on all the things people tell us matter about exercising (or whatever your goal is), ask yourself what will make you WANT to succeed?
It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or more to create the habit (more on this later), what will make you keep trying for as long as it takes to get there?
If you keep failing, look at the beliefs ruling your actions and feelings—you might find something, like I did, that’s sabotaging you from the inside out.
Maybe something that makes you feel like an ass for wanting to be ripped.
Whatever it is, find it and crush it.
You deserve to get what you want, and success isn’t magic.