Your Workout Mindset Matters

Did you know that your workout mindset matters for both your health and fitness?  I know what you’re thinking: “Of course mindset matters! Being positive about my workouts and routine are what will set me up for success.”  While I whole-heartedly believe this philosophical standpoint as well, did you know that there are also actual physiological implications that go along with your mindset?

Here’s what I mean:  We already know that a positive mindset (e.g. enthusiasm, preparedness, purpose, and follow-through, etc.) is more likely to get you to your health/fitness goals than a negative mindset (e.g. lack of planning, focus on perceived failures, exercise as a chore, etc.).  That’s our philosophical view impacting our practice of a health and fitness regime.  However, our mindset factors into other bodily processes, and effects much more than just our muscles and body fat to lean muscle mass ratio.

The positive impact of physical activity itself is undeniable.  In fact, there are several research studies indicating links between regular physical activity and memory boosts1, improved mental health2, enhanced creativity3, and even slower cognitive decline4.  Enlightening, sure.  Surprising? Not really.  What is surprising is more recently emerging research about effects of mindset/perception itself.  For example, a 2017 Stanford University study found that people who think they’re not doing as much exercise as their peers suffered more negative health effects than those who thought they exercised more than their peers, even if the actual amount of exercise was the same5.  To reiterate, simply believing/perceiving that you exercise less than your peers, whether that’s true or not, can actually negatively impact your physical health.

None of us, instructors and participants alike, are immune to feelings and/or perceptions of failure.  We all know what it feels like to not achieve a health/fitness goal in the time or manner we hoped for, and sometimes not achieve it at all.  These perceived failures can often be triggered or exacerbated by times and feelings of stress – stress from work, responsibilities at home, social stressors, and even health/fitness stressors, including the perception that we’re not being active enough. 


How is this information useful, and what can we do about it, you ask?  First, breathe.  Give yourself a break.  Try and consider these times of frustration about not hitting your health/fitness goals as more of a “setback” rather than a “failure”.  Is there a difference, and is one really any better than the other? Absolutely!  Setbacks are usually unexpected slip-ups or a loss of focus, and are often out of your control (e.g. got busy at work or distracted with a home project taking longer than expected).  Failure, on the other hand, is a choice made in response to a setback (i.e. giving up because you think you’re too far gone to pick back up where you were).  As long as you continue to work at something, you have not failed.

To root this into something tangible, let’s consider The Stages of Behavior Change model.  If we consider that each goal that we have is itself a behavior change in progress, then we can assess where on the model each goal is for us at any given point in time.  When you put it all together, in short, as long as we are continuing to work (setbacks included), we are all variably at one stage or another.  Through that lens, hopefully you can see that setbacks are not an indication of failure, but rather, simply a shift in your current stage of the behavioral change model.  An oft quoted cliché, attributable to Arthur Ashe, and rather apropos here states, “Success is a journey, not a destination.”  When you view setbacks as part of the process, and not an end result (i.e. failure), you’re more likely to rebound, and even improve.  That mindset is not only more accurate, but much better for your overall health and fitness! 

Written by David Lopez-Herrera, Energy X Fitness Coach