Let me start by saying that I am not a psychologist or a therapist. This is coming from experience training many different people and training myself. This is meant to be a helpful read to at least get you thinking in the right direction. That direction is knowing training includes a mental approach and should be treated just as seriously, if not more, than the physical, recovery, and nutritional pillars of training. I have mentioned these pillars before in another post called “Get Stronger by Lifting Less?” and in this post we will dive into the non-physical pillar a little bit. I will acknowledge that everyone is a unique individual and each has their own special personality and so everyone will have a slightly different approach. However, there is the commonality that we are all mortal human beings and we all have brains that for the most part function the same way just like how we all have muscles that operate in the same way. We all want our training to be successful in that we actually achieve our goals and part of achieving our goals is to have the right mind set and vision of ourselves doing so.
Ask any top performing athlete if they consistently see themselves failing. They will most likely tell you no or at the very least yes but they found a way to shift their mindset. They always envision themselves performing well even when the odds are against them. They envision themselves running fast, being explosive, jumping high, moving with precision, and winning before the competition is even underway. They do this before competition the day of or up to 4 years away (think Olympian). Either way it is a strong and solid train of thought that is repeated over and over again without wavering too far off their path. When they are in this mindset their behavior matches what they envision themselves accomplishing. They start working harder in practice, taking their recovery seriously, eating better, strategizing, etc. What I am describing here is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy and it is not exclusive to athletes. What it is, is a phenomenon where one’s expectations for themselves achieving a goal leads to actually fulfilling the prophesied outcome as a result of a change in their consequential behavior. In this case we will look into how this can be present in lifting.
When people decide to start lifting it is generally to increase lean muscle mass and increase general strength. Well, there is another dimension to the purpose of lifting. Some people want an improved level of self-esteem, positive self body image, and more self-confidence (keyword is “self”). All of these things can be linked to our behavior in some sense so in order to make these things better then we must change our behavior in a way that is specific to our goals. And to change our behavior we must envision ourselves being different and taking the corresponding actions to do so which in this case is lifting. So we are seeing ourselves being this better version of ourselves as a result of lifting. So what do we do? We obviously start lifting but that's not all we do. We also start eating better, sleeping better, and managing our stress better in some shape or fashion. Why? Because we now know that all of those things have a profound effect on our lifting performance. We want to get the most out of lifting in order to achieve this prophesied version of ourselves so we study every aspect of lifting and practice it. We practice all of these things because we want the positive outcome of lifting that badly!
Let's fast forward a few years and assume that we understand that consistency is a paramount part of lifting along with all of these other things we learned. Then someone you know finally says to you “Wow you look great and seem so confident in yourself! How did you do it?” (or some version of that) and it hits you right then and there. You realize that you have actually come a long way and are indeed a better version of yourself and it's all because your vision and new behavior is what got you there. This is a quick and basic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy coming to fruition in relation to lifting. Clients share stories like that to me all the time and it is fantastic! Yet, the foundation of it all is to actually see something in yourself that is worthy of such substance.
Unfortunately you can’t just say to yourself “I’m going to be great!” and then go about living your normal life and expect change. That’s just not how it works no matter how easy it sounds. Your self-prophecy has to have some gravity to it while being realistic. Not only that, but you have to really believe in it with all of your being and quintessence of your soul. Think about something that you really love and believe in more than anything…that is the level you need to put into yourself in order for this to work the way you want it to. Easier said than done, believe me I know! Yet, that is the foundation of a self fulfilling prophecy, believing in yourself. I'm not saying to abandon all other aspects of your life because many of those other aspects matter too. That is where being realistic comes into play. Understanding that there are other things to life besides lifting but those things are most likely to improve because your behavior towards lifting can overlap into other areas such as your personal (self) and social life (friends and family).
A self-fulfilling prophecy is not just for an individual but can be for a team of people as well. You can find yourself a team that is on board with a common prophecy and that is Merritt Powerbuilding. Ask yourself a few questions. What do you see in yourself that can get better from lifting? What if you had a coach and at least two other people with a similar vision? What if you gave yourself 12 weeks to at least get started? What could you really accomplish then? Sign up for Merritt Powerbuilding and find out.
Who knows…maybe someone you know will say “Wow you look great and seem so confident in yourself!”.
Keith Oelschlaeger, CSCS, MS is a personal trainer at Merritt Clubs Canton.