The Truth About Your Fitness Fitness Fears and How to Overcome Them
By Hannibal Canario
There I was, only several feet away. Should I continue? Should I turn back? The more I contemplated the answers to these questions, the further away I was from achieving my goal. Time was of the essence. I had to act quickly and could not waste another second. After taking a deep breath, I finally came to a conclusion: Maybe next time.
That was me on the verge of taking my initial first steps into a gym. So what happened?
Fear, that’s what.
Yep, fear always gets the best of us. Fear is what keeps us up at night and it is what grounds us in place, and what causes us to run away from success.
Simply put, fear can really screw with your life.
We all have something which triggers a subconscious fight or flight response produced by fear: heights, spiders, asking your crush to be your prom date.
In fact, the paralyzing effects of fear can be such a daunting obstacle to overcome that it can easily prevent you from achieving any of your fitness goals such as dropping a few pounds, building muscle or improving your overall health.
For me, it was the idea of walking into a gym and being placed on a pedestal for all to judge, ridicule and humiliate. For you, it could be something entirely different:
- Falling off a diet
- Getting injured
- Strength Training
- Not being consistent
I’m sure we could stack additional items onto this list but you get the point. Fear sucks, or that’s what we have come to believe.
You see, we immediately tend to view fear as our enemy, the culprit that is responsible for our lack of progress and results. But is fear truly the problem? Or could it be that we have been approaching it completely wrong?
Well, in this article I will address these concerns as we explore the best solution to finally conquering our fitness fears.
The Truth About Your Fitness Fears
Unless you were born in Hell’s Kitchen and your name just happens to be Matt Murdock, living a fearless life might seem quite elusive. Luckily for you, it’s not that difficult to attain, that is, if you approach it correctly.
The problem with trying to get over the “fear hump” is our natural inclination to get rid of them completely. We assume that eliminating the factor responsible for panic, despair, dread, horror and discomfort will altogether alleviate our problems, vanquishing them into the netherworld.
But has fighting your fears truly helped you to overcome them?
In my case, it sure didn't. Trying to fight past my fitness fears was exhausting. The closer I got to actually stepping into the gym the harder it was for me to actually enter. I kept trying to ignore my fears, pretending that there was nothing blocking my way but this proved to be extremely difficult. It seemed like a no-win situation.
The truth is that forcing our fears away is nothing more than a patch to a larger problem.
You see, fear is a very complex emotion which needs to be understood before we can overcome it. To nerd out just a bit, fears are nothing more than stored memories. Our body stores our fears in a specific region of the brain called the Amygdalae. These stored memories are then used as a form of protection. For example, riding on a rollercoaster prompts you to hold on to dear life. This is our brain reminding us of the dangers that can come from being taken up to such heights and dropped at an intense speed.
In a similar way, our brain can create memories that haven’t happened yet. These are memories that we envision to be true or that cultivate from past experiences. For example, the fear of stepping into a gym, picking up a barbell, or trying something other than the treadmill, stems forth from an idea which we have planted into our minds (kind of like Inception). It is this fabricated idea that ultimately leads to such anticipated feelings as embarrassment, injury, or intimidation.
This is where the bad begins to happen as the forming of such ideas can lead us on a downward spiral of anxiety or depression. As a result, we walk away from our goals and instead retreat into hiding. We run away from our fears. It is as if we have raised mental walls, shielding ourselves from all that brings discomfort. Within these walls we are at ease, comfortable, and protected.
But this is only the beginning. As time goes by, we begin to create excuses as a means of justification for remaining confined within our personal fortress of solitude:
“I’ll never be able to lose 30lbs so why even bother.”
“Summer has already passed so I’ll begin working out next Spring.”
“All the free weights are taken so I’ll just stick to the elliptical today.”
However, the more excuses we create, the fewer results we obtain and soon after reality slowly begins to trickle in. It is at this moment that we begin to realize that those indestructible walls which we have relied on for protection are full of cracks and ready to collapse. Next thing you know, we are back at square one dealing with frustration and depression. But don’t worry! Those walls were destined to come down eventually, and here’s why.
Becoming Bigger than Your Fears
To conquer your fitness fears, you first have to step out of your comfort zone and venture into the unknown and into a world where you and your fears partake in a seductive tango.
In her book, “Feel the Fear…and Do It Anyway”, Susan Jeffers shows us that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It is the way in which we approach it that dictates if we will be successful or not. In other words:
“Fear is a fighter’s best friend. You know, but it ain’t nothing to be ashamed of. See, fear keeps you sharp, it keeps you awake, you know, it makes you want to survive. You know what I mean? But the thing is, you gotta learn how to control it. All right? ‘Cause fear is like this fire, all right? And it’s burning deep inside. Now, if you control it,…..it’s gonna make you hot. But, you see, if this thing here, it controls you, it’s gonna burn you and everything else around you up. That’s right, you know?” — Rocky Balboa
Yup, even the worst of Rocky movies can teach us a valuable lesson.
Fear is a controllable emotion and we are the ones behind the wheel.
Fear is a part of us all. It is a normal, healthy, human emotion to have.
Fear is empowering. It is what challenges us to become better, to become stronger. It is what gets you to the gym, helps you burn fat, push the bar further, increase your sprint time, and reach new personal records.
In fact, researchers at the University of Bath, UK, conducted an interview with 281 male and female undergraduates where half were asked to imagine a scenario in which they were able to keep to a fitness program while the other half imagined a scenario in which they were not able to follow through with the same program. The findings showed that those who were asked to envision themselves not completing the program were motivated to continue with their training for fear of not looking good. The other halves that were able to complete the program and obtain a more attractive look did not have the same motivation to continue on.
This study implies that fear is a true indication that we want to succeed. So instead of wanting to rid ourselves of the fuel that motivates us to continue pressing forward, we should embrace it and keep it along for the ride.
“I’m always afraid of failing. It’s great motivation to work harder.” — Mark Cuban
Looking your fitness fears dead in the eye and embracing them is the ideal way to conquer them. This is exactly what I did to overcome mine. It took me close to one year but I finally stopped running away from my fears and instead became one with them. I told myself repeatedly that nothing was going to hold me back. If others just like me could take those extra steps then so could I. It soon became apparent that the ridicule, embarrassment and humiliation which I had expected were nowhere to be found. Instead, I met great people with similar goals who were also working on conquering their own personal fears.
As the years came and went, fear has been my motivation to continue improving my health and life.
Let’s now see how you can begin embracing your fitness fears today.
6 Ways to Embrace Your Fitness Fears
- Take Risks
The first step is always the hardest but it is also the step that gets you through the door, the step which brings you closer to the bar. It is what pushes you to set a new personal record and prepares you to adjust for a healthier life. Taking risks enables you to live outside of your comfort zone and fear will help you enjoy every minute of it. Sometimes all it takes is closing our eyes and diving right in.
- Fake it Till You Make it (Like a boss)
Let’s face it. The gym can be a really intimidating place when we are unsure of what to do. Well, I've got great news. Nobody in the room knows this but you, which means you can fake knowing it and no one would have a clue. Just try to be mindful of your capabilities. We wouldn't want you to hurt yourself.
BONUS: Research has also shown that faking confidence will indeed help you to develop into a confident person.
So walk into the room and pick up those weights like a boss.
- Think of Where You are and Where You Want to be
When you look at yourself in the mirror you might not like what you see. You say to yourself: “I’m too fat.”, “I’m too scrawny.”, “I’m too weak.” or “I’m too old.”
Now close your eyes and envision how you want to look and feel within the next six months.
By putting yourself exactly where you want to be, you will be more inclined to do whatever it takes to get there.
Take the example of Roger Bannister who was the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Roger kept envisioning himself completing this run successfully that to him, it felt as if he had already done it. Eventually, Roger did run a mile in under 4 minutes. All it took was seeing himself where he wanted to be. You can do the same with your fitness goals.
- Become Invisible
This is not really a step but a thought to help those with a fear of being judged.
You might neglect going to the gym or performing a certain exercise for the fear of being under surveillance. However, take a moment to think about the average gym goer. They are usually focused, in the zone. In fact, part of their time spent at the gym involves them judging themselves.
In other words, they are too busy to be looking at you.
Think of it like you just put on The One Ring and walked straight into Mordor, not a single eye on you.
- Create a ritual
Give yourself a 10 minute pep talk. Take time each morning to plan out your meals for the day. Do your pre-workout stretches in the weight room.
As previously mentioned, the hardest part is taking the initial first steps. Creating a ritual, however, will prepare your mind for what’s to come next.
Rituals remove the need to make a decision. It is now an automatic response, a pattern, which allows everything that follows to become easier to handle.
Fear is usually a response to something which we feel we are not good at.
I personally remember the day I began deadlifting. At first, I believed that I was doing one heck of a job but after watching other regular gym goers perform this kind of lift, I soon realized that my form was way off. It was at that moment when I came to the conclusion that this exercise wasn’t for me which led me to quit it entirely for months. However, I understood the impact that deadlifting would have at helping me reach my goals, so I dedicated myself to learning how to do it correctly by practicing privately at home. Doing so allowed my confidence to bolster back up and soon I was deadlifting once again but this time with great form. Since then, deadlifting has become one of my top go-to exercises.
The moral of the story: take the time to research and practice whatever you fear doing and watch as you slowly begin to build the confidence to tackle it.
Time to Get in Shape
So there you have it. Fear is a complex yet powerful tool that can be used at your will. Do not allow it to dictate your life. Instead, embrace it and watch as it serves you to becoming stronger, leaner, faster and healthier. Your journey to becoming fearless starts now.