Why your mindset is as important as your macros
In fitness marketing, realistic doesn’t sell. Do you want to get shredded now? Buy this meal plan. Want to gain 10kg of muscle? Get my 8-week training plan here. Even if you’re smarter than this, it’s still hard. Marketers have known this forever. Looking like your favourite bodybuilder, fitness model, or celebrity while eating whatever food you want? There are a thousand people on Instagram already doing it. Why can’t you?
The problem with goal setting
If you weigh 90kg now, and you’ve decided that you’re going to have a 6 pack and look ripped at 85kg, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. What happens if you start dieting, and you drop 5kg in 3 weeks from a mixture of fat, water, and glycogen loss? Do you look the way you hoped? The problem isn’t the rate of weight loss, that would be great progress in that time frame. The problem is your expectations.
It’s easy to be unrealistic in the age of social media, where every picture creates an ideal, rather than reality. We always want what someone else already has. Men tend to idealise a physique 28lbs more muscular than their current body for example. What was once seen as extreme is now much more acceptable in society. You can see the difference in previous extremes becoming social norms. Look at children’s comics, toys, cartoons, and video games to see what I mean. Have they changed since you were a kid? Between 1977 and 1998, even Luke and Han got jacked.
Once the expectation for a cover model physique at 85kg has been set, anything less than that will be a failure. If I’d have told you that you’ll have to cut all the way to 72kg to look the way you want, would you still want to start? If I tell you you’ll likely never look that way at 85kg, how is your motivation doing now?
What if I told you that the higher your weight loss goals are, the more likely you’ll fail to reach them? It might sound counter intuitive, but goal setting might not be all it cracked up to be.
Several of my female clients have shown me a picture of a fitness model with the physique they’d like to emulate. You might think it’s a great idea to aim high and have an end goal in sight. But what about the several kilos of fat loss? What about the 5 to 10kg of muscle gain? What about the genetic differences? What about the years of hard work needed to get there? You don’t see that when you scroll past the picture amongst all the other noise. You only see the result. With all that understood, it’s a recipe for quitting before you even start.
Goals such as these are known as “performance goals”, and tend to go hand in hand with a fixed mindset.
The fixed mindset
People with a fixed mindset are usually more concerned with how they look now more than in the future. In athletes, those with this mindset believe they have fixed talents and abilities.
Let’s go back to the example of our 90kg dieter who wants to look shredded at 85kg. The fixed mindset is the reason he quits when his current look doesn’t align with his expectations.
The growth mindset
People with a growth mindset think more about making daily progress. They embrace the effort, learning, and practice needed to achieve something. This subtle switch in beliefs means they understand that not everyone has the same potential. They know achieving anything takes dedication and practice, regardless of genetics or intelligence.
With this mindset, our 90kg dieter doesn’t concentrate on a fictional end goal. Instead, he makes small steps to move forwards every day by concentrating on things he can actually control.
Let’s go through a couple of scenarios where you might have had a fixed mindset.
You want to lose weight without tracking macros or counting calories.
- A fixed mindset would involve the idea of an ideal weight that you should be able to reach. You’d have to remove calorie dense foods from your diet and take up an exercise plan to get there. Every time it gets hard, or you don’t eat or exercise in a way that leads you to your goal is a failure. You have to keep getting “back on track” every time something hasn’t gone to plan or isn’t as easy as it should be.
- A growth mindset would involve the idea of daily progress. Eating satiating, less calorie dense foods you still like the taste of. Doing exercise that you enjoy. If one day you have a very palatable food that triggers overeating, you use that as a learning experience. You reflect on what happened and try to avoid or limit that food most days without demonising it.
You want to “bulk” and add a couple of kilogrammes of solid muscle in the next 6 months while gaining very minimal fat.
- A fixed mindset would involve a strict dietary approach. Striving to gain exactly 0.5kg of pure muscle each month while still having a 6-pack at all times. You’d add exactly 10kg to your squat and bench a lifetime PR during this period.
- A growth mindset would be to concentrate on progressive overload, performing your best in the gym each session. Meanwhile using the time to loosen up and liberalise your diet in order to put you in a small surplus. You’d concentrate on eating, training, and sleeping well every day and use periodic mini-cuts for a few weeks at a time to keep any excess fat gain in check.
Switching from one way of thinking to the other is often the difference between success and not even getting started. Admitting that your expectations don’t gel with reality is the beginning of making better progress.
No one cares where you are now compared to where you want to be. Only you do. Check any kind of entitlement at the door and embrace patience, hard work, and a willingness to learn and get to it.
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