How to deal with (gym) anxiety: Learning to flex your mindset muscle

Your mindset when entering (or re-entering the gym) can be the deciding factor when it comes to whether your gym going habits and “results” are lifelong or fleeting.

For many “the gym” rustles up a lot of fears; there’s the fear of failing, the fear of looking silly, the fear of feeling awkward and uncomfortable. These fears can cause us to avoid the challenge altogether and stay home or when we do go we stick to the confines of the treadmill or to an exercise mat in the corner of the room attempting to take up as little space and draw as little attention as possible.

We’re convinced when we see the more experienced gym goers that they must have “woke up like that”, that they were obviously born/naturally athletic, that they must be genetically gifted and that the confidence and the physique must have come easy to them. It’s also very easy to scroll through social media and assume the same thing of the “fitspos” on there. They support the illusion that seemingly “overnight” results are possible a single post or encounter in the gym fails to transfer the real depth behind these transformations and appearances.

It’s very possible they could be genetically gifted but when you fall into the trap of thinking the supposed fruits of their “lucky” genetic predisposition means your own potential is irreversibly limited you’re creating your own self-limiting beliefs that trip you up before you’ve even started. This is one example of the impact a “fixed mindset” can have on your gym experience.

It is hard to convey, and until you actually experience it it’s hard to understand, how much time, patience and effort it can actually take. The failures they likely overcame and the learning experiences they had to go through to get to their current stage where gym going habits have become second nature and actually enjoyable. Getting to this point for many can mean challenging our beliefs about both “the gym” and ourselves.

“Approach the gym with a childlike curiosity. The gym offers you an opportunity to play with purpose”.

“Setbacks” or “Speed bumps” (as reframed by Dr. Orvidas (PhD) in a recent instagram post (@coachkaseyjo)) are inevitable and understanding that you WILL encounter obstacles actually prepares you to work through them. Finding something difficult isn’t always a sign it’s the wrong method, but often requires you to be more patient and persistent. “Perfect” actions implemented during bursts of motivation with short term intensity will very rarely trump imperfect action and long term consistency. The desire to avoid challenge often leads to program or diet hopping, assuming the “right” program should feel easy. And the motivation to do it won’t fizzle out this time it will suddenly last a lifetime. But we fail to allow time for any option to actually work.

“The idea of confronting failure and it being important to personal evolution, is the most important thing to me in the gym” – Mark Twight (Trainer of the Amazon’s in the Wonder Woman film)

We become so focused on the outcome we desire that we neglect to actually put sufficient, consistent effort into the tiny, sustainable behaviours that still require effort but actually help us reach that outcome. Often we assume the process has to be hard to be effective. We attempt to restrict ourselves or to “avoid ______” . These methods and two workouts a day make us feel more productive while the concept of smaller changes over time in the moment can feel pointless or inconsequential. Change doesn’t come without effort or struggle but there are often more sustainable, long term approaches that make this struggle worthwhile. But sometimes we’re sometimes defensive or fixated on doing “what we’ve always done” because it “worked” at some stage in our life that we continue to limit the potential for improvement through the guidance of others, or the exploration of other options that seem to conflict with fixed beliefs we may not even realise we have.

The act of overcoming resistance, both mentally and physically in the gym can transfer a sense of resilience and confidence to how you tackle numerous aspects of your life. Your psychological capacity is a lot like your physical capacity in the gym; they’re both tested, but your body adapts, it “super compensates” and grows back stronger. Stress is often viewed negatively but we actually need certain amount of stress to actually stimulate positive changes too. When managed appropriately so as to not have the opposite effect, that change can be in the form of muscle growth, fat loss and/or mental growth. Seeking challenge and situations that can make us uncomfortable is a characteristic of what’s known as a “growth mindset

How you can flex your growth mindset muscle:

Approach the gym with a childlike curiosity. The gym offers you an opportunity to play with purpose.

Just like learning how to read, write and walk. Learning how to train/exercise takes practice. To start it can make you feel uncoordinated and awkward but it gets better and you actually grow to enjoy the transition from awkward to easy and actively seek out the feeling.

Let’s let go of the dichotomy between “body builders”, gym goers there for “functionality” purposes or those pursuing “wellness” as if one particular pursuit was more honourable than another. When in fact the gym can aid a number of different pursuits, and these pursuits can be very nuanced. There’s no single “right” way to use the gym, no matter our individual “angle” we’re all here pursuing improvement and growth in some form. “Improvement” and “progress” have many faces. And our reasons for using the gym can change all the time finding the one that resonates with you the most and best supports a healthy gym going habit is important.

Gyms are not made to suit every “angle” and you are allowed to be picky about the gym you choose to ensure you find a good fit for your particular purpose, seeking a vibe and a community within a community you’d like to be apart of.

When you’re there make an effort to acknowledge those “genetically gifted” gym goers (without being too disruptive of their workout). Behind the resting train face and the head phones you’ll probably find they’re not as intimidating as you think. If you’re one of those long term gym goers make an effort to acknowledge new faces you might just be the reason they go from feeling of out of place to feeling accepted enough to come again another day. You were likely in their shoes once too.

If possible seek help and knowledge from a trainer, coach, nutritionist whichever’s more appropriate in light of your goals who have got the study/science and the experience behind them and have likely coached and supported A LOT of people through exact struggles you’re experiencing.

Before you decide how many days a week you’re going to train, what exercises you’re going to do, before you place a limitation on your potential or create a potentially unrealistic time line or get disheartened comparing yourself to the person next to you. Be prepared for your plan to potentially change, for more patience, time and effort to be required, for it to take longer than expected and that having to change your plan might actually a good thing.

Published by kaylamadefitness

A blog combining my two favourite things: resistance training and writing. Striving to educate, empower and enliven the gym experience through genuine support, guidance, information and connection.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: