Having been a runner her entire life, Christine James was a collegiate athlete and later ran on a Nike-sponsored running team. However, one day she found herself at a fitness standstill. Over time, she felt she had accomplished her running goals and longed to find a new sport. “I wanted it to be a lifestyle for me, never something I pursued simply with a final goal in mind,” James said. “Then one day I met a girl who changed my perspective on my future. She encouraged me to train for a bodybuilding competition, something I had never even considered.”
At first James didn’t sign on, but as time passed she began to tell herself, “I can do that.” Her confidence in believing she could be successful allowed her to take on the new fitness challenge and the discipline to see it through.
Preparing for her first bodybuilding competition, James has been compelled to make fitness and healthy living a priority. While her eating plan has helped her to achieve her goals, sticking to the plan has required mindfulness. She pays attention to how food affects her body and energy levels and uses that knowledge to help her train more effectively. “This journey has rejuvenated my passion. I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded individuals who share similar goals and having their support has been incredible.”
James has had the willingness to act with passion and confidence in an effort to pursue new fitness goals. Her story highlights the key to building a strong fitness foundation. Like the construction of a house, building a healthy lifestyle begins from the ground up. The following principles represent the cornerstone for being successful in any fitness journey.
1. Prioritize Fitness and Healthy Living. People are taught from an early age to give first to others. While this trait is important, those who have mastered fitness and health as a way of life recognize that in order to best serve others, they must first care for themselves. Researchers from Canada’s University of Alberta found that people who are active and fit made exercise a priority. They consider this to be non-negotiable.
This requires spending some time every day on self-improvement. Just as sleep, family and work are priorities in life, fitness must also be seen as a priority. Healthy people seek out creative ways to incorporate fitness into their daily routine, to encourage others to participate and to embrace a lifestyle that promotes balance. Though it isn’t always easy, it is essential to achieving healthy living. While fit-minded individuals make “we” time, they also make “me” time.
2. Be Mindful. An innovator in the field of mindfulness-based psychology, Arnie Kozak, PhD, said, “mindfulness means paying attention with intent, interest and even fascination, and doing so without judgment.” This is more than simply thinking about your fitness. To be truly mindful, you must be intimately aware of what your body is doing and how it is reacting. It’s the mind/body connection that creates that awareness.
Consider this: how many people do you know who exercise all the time, but never achieve their fitness goals? Danya Henig, dedicated student of yoga and owner of a Sumit Yoga Studio in Scottsdale, Arizona, says that she was drawn to the discipline initially for the physical benefits yoga offered. However, “as I continued practicing,” said Henig, “I began to see how it helped me mentally. Now I do it almost exclusively for that reason. Making that connection helps me better achieve my fitness goals.”
The key to being mindful is focusing on your actions while they are being done. You must quiet the mind from outside distractions and pay attention to your body. Gavin and Mcbrearty’s (2006) review of fitness literature has shown that connecting the mind and body leads to positive adherence to exercise and fitness goals. Be completely present in your workout and commit to engaging your mind and body. This will turn a routine 30-minute workout into something transformative.
3. Act Confident. Generally, fit people exude a unique confidence. That confidence comes from believing in yourself. Healthy individuals must think that they are worthy and important; that they deserve to feel that way. To achieve this sense of confidence, you should ensure your inner voice speaks with words of affirmation. In her best-selling book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin says that people should “act the way they want to feel.” When you act confident, you begin to feel confident and become capable of achieving your fitness goals.
4. Ignite Passion. It’s one thing to be good at something, it’s another to love doing it. Passion fuels action. Daniel Pink, a member of the Washington Speaker’s Bureau and author of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, discusses the ways in which individuals make choices for fundamental and instrumental reasons. “You can make a decision for instrumental reasons – because you think it will lead to something else. Or you can make a decision for fundamental reasons – because it’s something you want to do for its own sake. … The people who really flourish make decisions for fundamental reasons.”
Find the things that are worth doing, have meaning and are exciting, and pursue them. Weave them into every aspect of life. Imagine the person who embarks on a fitness journey and incorporates exercises they don’t find enjoyable. Will they reach their goal? Possibly. However, they might not be able to sustain their pursuits for long because they are not truly invested and enjoying what they’re doing.
Tanya Pinto, an Ironman competitor and athlete, says passion is what drives her to get up in the morning and exercise before the sun comes up. “I worked hard for many years to develop the skills necessary to successfully compete in the races I’ve done, but truly enjoying what I was doing was what gave me the persistence necessary to achieve my long-term goals.”
In order to help identify passions, you should consider what you enjoyed when you were young. Reflecting on these memories often sparks ideas for activities to include in your fitness activities.
5. Build Support. “Participation is motivated by enjoyment and the development and maintenance of social support networks,” according to Allender et. al. (2006). Self-help books always seem to include a chapter on building a network of strong healthy relationships. According to the Mayo Clinic, these relationships allow people to work through difficult times.
Motivated people often have a handful of individuals in their lives they’d be willing to drop everything for if they were needed. More importantly, they have people who would be willing to do the same for them. You get what you give. Supporting others is the key to having support reciprocated. Whether giving of your time or offering some kind words, the smallest gesture can often be the most meaningful.
The quest for health and fitness represents a big change. As such, the journey is often met with resistance and unforeseen obstacles. Long-time friends suddenly find themselves disengaged and often resentful of the changes they perceive. At that point, a person must decide which relationships to keep and which to let go. Author Chris Guillebeau speaks to this point when he discusses “gatekeepers.” These are individuals who limit choices and prevent others from achieving their goals. Let go of these negative influences. Seeking out supportive networks of like-minded people and surrounding yourself with others who believe and share in common goals is the key to success.
Implementing the Five Elements
Fitness is a journey. It’s something that people strive for and is perfected over time. Even the people most admired in the fitness world have goals they continually work toward. Whether you are starting at the beginning or well on your way to achieving a healthy life; keeping the principles of balance, mindfulness, confidence, passion and support can help sustain motivation and achieve success. Take the time now to build a solid foundation to provide ongoing support in the future.
By Kim Miller