How to Face Your Fears & Stay Fit
“Hey, I’d love to go to the gym, but I can’t because of [fill in the blank]”
We’ve all said it before. 
We use that same line for a lot of things that may be inconvenient or cause us some kind of discomfort.
When it comes to fitness goals, whether your dream is to one day compete as a fighter, or maybe you just want to tone up and look better, it requires work. You may not want to hear this, but it takes hard work. A lot of it. Not only does it take work, but it also takes perseverance. Think about how many things happen in our daily lives that make us say, “forget the gym, I’m going home.” It happens all the time. Rough commute to work? Bad conversation with your boss/significant other? Feeling a little soreness in a muscle? All of these are reasons why Americans avoid the gym for periods of time.
I’ve seen the data that comes from the research polls and while the results are alarming, they are by no means a surprise. Not long ago, the CDC ran a poll and found that 80% of US adults do not get the recommended amount of exercise each week. That doesn’t clarify much, so let’s break down that statement.
According to their standards, this means people are not able to commit 150 minutes a week to moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense training. That is literally 15 minutes per day of hard work or 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. That’s it, and a lot of us can’t (or won’t) get there. If you feel like you are in this group, it’s nothing to be mad or sad about. It simply gives you a view of where you are and where you want to be. You can’t get to a destination if you don’t know where to start.

There will always be days when something comes up that rearranges any and all plans you’ve had for the day (that one phone call you probably shouldn’t have answered?). We’ve all had those days. Every single one of us. 
-This is where “grit” comes in-
I know it’s a buzzword and there have been several books written about how this mindset can help people overcome adversity and challenges, but it also absolutely applies to physical training. Each one of us has different priorities that require our time and attention, but doesn’t your mind and body need your time and attention too? Have you ever heard the phrase that says you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself? Think about that next time the gym gets demoted on your daily to-do list.
To develop grit, you first have to develop your awareness to understand when these feelings are happening. Not going to the gym because your cell phone has a low battery, and you won’t be able to listen to your music on the treadmill is a good place to start. That is an excuse taking root in the soil of your mind. The internal feeling starts with thoughts of the gym and our avoidance of discomfort. At this point, our minds start fishing for a way out. This is where the practice of thought-stopping comes in. I’ve talked about this in the past, but it comes into play quite a bit in life, doesn’t it?
-awareness must evolve to mindfulness-
Once you’re aware that your mind is coming up with reasons not to workout, the rationalizations follow. You know what they are. I just ate, I don’t have a clean shirt, I don’t know what exercises to do. This is the point that awareness must evolve to mindfulness. This means having a conversation with yourself to understand the root cause of this feeling of avoidance. What is it that’s making you not want to go to the gym or workout at home? There is a reason, you just need to find where it originated. I’m guessing that deep down, you already know that answer, but many people don’t want to talk or think about what that really is. I’m here to tell you that if this sounds like you, this behavior is absolutely reversible.
-expectancy theory of avoidance-
These feelings fall under what the psychological community refers to as feelings of avoidance or escape. Simply put, it refers to people who either refuse to enter a situation (in this case, the gym), or try to leave as soon as they get there (escaping).
Because avoidance is a highly studied topic in clinical psychology and psychiatry, there are many different theories on the origins of avoidance. To keep it simple, the one I’m focusing on which I believe applies most directly to training is the expectancy theory of avoidance. This theory claims that avoidance is driven by the expectation of an unpleasant outcome if the situation is not avoided.
Yes, this applies to not walking down a dark alley at night, but avoiding the feeling of exercise discomfort is part of the same mindset. How many of you have decided on leg day that something else was more important or you’re still tired from the day before? Now, how many of you went and worked out anyway?
If you went anyway, you understand that the mental image is much worse than the actual results. I know you’re going to be sore after hitting the weights or the treadmill, but it’s temporary and that pain is actually a sign that your body is strengthening itself for the next workout. Our strength and endurance increase because we push our bodies to the point that they have to become faster and stronger in order to keep up with our workouts.
But with avoidance, you need to find the root cause. Is it an injury? Is it just because we have low energy due to diet or other reasons? It may be just as simple as you don’t feel like it because your friends wanted to go out after work. No matter what it is, once you get real with yourself, you’ll find that cause and finally understand why you’re not in the shape you want to be in. 

The solution for each person depends on the root problem. It could be as simple as changing gyms or workout routines. Exercise monotony is a real thing which is what makes MMA such a great sport because each discipline requires unique and special training which always keeps things fresh and new.
Once you have developed the awareness to understand when these thoughts arrive in your mind, your next step should be to stop and begin examining the real reason for wanting to avoid the gym. I understand there will be some occasions where life responsibilities do get in the way, but if that’s not the issue, you need to know what that issue is so you can confront it. 
-exposure therapy aka training-
That brings me to what psychologists say is one of the most effective techniques to overcome avoidance (and one I’ve touched on before), and that is exposure therapy. The doctors can call it therapy, I call it training. A lot of people put a negative connotation on the word therapy like something is wrong with you. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t, but it happens. Don’t believe or agree? According to financial experts, the mental health industry is a $225 billion-dollar industry. But even with that information, the stigma still exists.
Instead, by using the exposure technique (which means working out, even on the days you really don’t want to) avoidance can reversed through mental performance training. You can see a professional about it, but by heightening your awareness and expanding your mindfulness, this can also be a DIY job that can be very effective. If you need proof, then read or watch some interviews with GSP or even Ronda Rousey. Both are world class, elite fighters who have struggled in the past with everything I just talked about. While they are unique because of their athletic gifts, they had to overcome struggles with avoidance through the use of awareness and mindfulness to overcome fear and insecurity.
My hope is that next time you tell someone or tell yourself that your plans to go to the gym have changed, stop for a minute. Have that conversation with yourself and ask yourself the tough questions. You don’t need to share them with anyone, but you need to be honest with yourself. 
Once you’ve found your answers, you’ll finally be able to clearly define yourself to yourself and take full ownership of every aspect of your life including the times you avoided the gym and feel guilty. The answers you need are sitting there in your mind waiting to be discovered, all you need to do is look.
I'll see you in the next one,
-Steven Williams

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