The more I research various techniques for achieving health, wellness, and performance goals the more I come to realize what a critical role our mind plays in our desired outcomes.
My first realization of the importance of the mind in our health outcomes was when I read the book Wired To Eat by Robb Wolf. The whole premise of the book is based around our instinctual desire to eat the most calorically dense foods available to us so we can survive the next famine.
Then there is stress and its role in our health, affecting everything from our food choices to our sleep quality.
On the more positive side of the brain’s role in health outcomes, we have meditation. With meditation we can combat stress, improve sleep, and be more present with our thoughts and decisions.
It turns out, much of what I work on with clients revolves around the mental side of health and wellness. As a coach providing clients with information and an exercise routine is the easy part. Finding a way for them to then put that information into practice in a way that works for them, their lives, and allows them to develop life long habits is the most challenging part.
Needless to say your mind is a powerful tool.
Another area where the mind can play a critical role in an outcome is in relation to performance goals.
I have written a few blog posts on how different aspects of your mental health can impact performance, including how your mental state can improve your performance, how your mental state can decrease your performance, and how your mental state can push you past the limits of what you think you can do.
All those posts have to do with your brain affecting performance in the moment. What I have yet to explore is whether you can use your brain to enhance the impact of the training you are doing leading up to your desired performance outcome. In other words, can you do some mental work while you are training to get a greater effect from the training you are putting in?
Turns out the answer is yes!!!
In a 2017 study researchers took a group of kickboxers and had them focus on training countermovement jumps, bench press, medicine ball throws, and squats. The researchers split the group in two subgroups. One group performed motivation self-talk during their rest periods between training sets and the other did not. After the training session was over the group that was performing motivational self-talk also performed 30 minutes of mental imagery training. During these 30 minutes the group was instructed to imagine themselves performing each exercise exerting maximal effort. The other group performed neural cognitive tasks.
After 12 weeks of training, the group doing the mental imagery and motivational self talk improved significantly for every exercise.
It appears that instead of sitting on your butt scrolling Instagram between sets you might be better off telling yourself that you can lift more, do more reps, and that you’re getting stronger and that will actually translate into better results!
This isn’t the only study to show mental training can increase physical performance. Luke Mitchell wrote an article over on the Stronger By Science site citing studies done with gymnasts, field hockey players, as well as strength athletes that have shown improvements in physical performance from mental training as well. Luke even outlines how you can incorporate it into your own training.
The mind is quite impactful in determining our health outcomes. Whether it is shaping our relationship with food, giving us late night cravings for pizza, affecting our performance during a race, or increasing the training effect from our exercise the mind can play a key role. If we can learn to harness some of our mental capabilities we can make huge strides towards our goals.
What can you do to up your mental game that will help you achieve your goals?
It really depends on what your goals are.The one area where I think everyone needs help is dealing with stress. I have yet to have a client who runs into a stressful situation and it doesn’t derail them in some way. In addition stress is inevitable, as much as I wish we could, there is no way to eliminate all stress from your life. This is why it is important to have processes in place to mitigate it as much as possible. In addition much of our stress is mental rather than physical. This is where a practice like meditation can shine. It doesn’t have to be meditation, you could try a breathing practice or you could develop a walking practice, anything that relieves the stress.
What if you have performance goals?
Yes you could do visualization exercises and positive affirmations during exercise as in the study above but before you go down that path, I think it makes a bigger difference if you enhance your mental resilience via stress management first. We all have a “stress bucket”, and everything in our life contributes to that bucket, from parenting, to work, to training. If we can lessen the stress in one are we can tolerate more stress in another. So if we better handle the stress in other parts of our life, we can perhaps increase our training and therefore achieve better performance.
In our modern world our mental health is constantly under attack. We get a lot of messaging saying we are not doing enough. We are not eating right, we are not working out enough, we are not parenting right, we are not sleeping enough. If we let this messaging get to us, it’s no wonder these messages become a reality. This is yet another ancestral mismatch. Our ancestors probably did the opposite to their fellow tribes people. Boosting the mental health of their fellow tribes people would mean better odds of the survival of the entire tribe. It might seem a little “woo woo” but imagining yourself succeeding at your goals whatever they may be will likely contribute positively to the outcome. To get more information on how we can better align our modern world with ancestral best practices to achieve your health, wellness, and performance goals be sure to sign up for my newsletter where I send out actionable information on a weekly basis.