A Mental Game

A few weeks ago, it was recommended I read a book called 12 Week Year and while reading this the author had talked about the emotional stages of change that a person goes through WHEN they are making the mental transition from one thought process to another.

What you may not realize is that exercise is more of a mental game than anything and being a trainer we honestly spend MORE of our time coaching someone through the mental change of a healthier way of living and thinking.

What we have seen is that diets and exercise programs RARELY fail people, its people failing themselves.

Pretty bold statement, huh?

That may get some people heated and sound a tad pompous that I can just hide behind that statement in case someone didn’t see the results of a program.

A number of people, though, fail to understand that to really be successful with this world, they must change the way they think and that is a lot more than they bargained for.

Most of the time they are thinking “Come on; I just want to sweat, feel sore the next day and look hot. I don’t want to have to alter my lifestyle and the way I THINK.”

Remember YOUR current thought process is exactly WHY you are in the situation you are in now. Whether you realize it or not you have trained your mind to cause you to react and live a certain way and this is why you are in the situation you are in now.

Being in the midst of the self-improvement industry coaching people to change a thought process is sometimes what we spend most of our time doing as trainers.

I’ve read a number of theories and journals explaining this process, but I felt that a chapter in this book did a pretty fair job explaining it and it made me reflect on how you could relate this to a person’s wanting to change their health; because face it, if you can’t change your thought process you will NOT get the body you want.

Stages of Change

Stage of Change | Fitness Revolution Rowlett

To make a lifestyle change you have to change the way you think and this can be very uncomfortable, it’s new territory and that is usually pretty scary to people.

I have found it helpful to better understand the stages of change that we go through so that when we are presented with these stages we can better handle the emotions we are feeling without derailing our progress.

Uninformed Optimism

This part of change is the honeymoon phase. You’re excited about the new and coming change. You’re going to get in great shape, look hot make all your friends jealous, and tick off the ex because you have a smokin bod. Oh, we’ve all had those thoughts when we start a new workout program, or heck when we start ANYTHING new.  You’re enjoying the imagined future benefits of the results you are going to get.

BUT just like anything, you may not have the full spectrum of knowledge that goes with making any new decision so instead, we are riding on an emotional high of already achieving the result.

Think about a DIY project that you see on TV, it looks so easy and you think “hey I can do that!,” and before you have any of the materials you are already envisioning how awesome the new project will look. Admit it, we have all done it.

Informed Pessimism

This phase is where some reality of your decision to change starts to hit you.

You’ve begun your new workout program and have seen SOME results, obviously not the results that you were hoping. “Damn, this is kinda hard” starts to creep up in your head.

The benefits don’t seem real at this point or they are too far away to even fathom.

“This is a LOT more work than I thought it would be.” I can’t tell you how often I hear new clients say this, and THIS isn’t is the bad part yet…

Valley of Despair

THIS phase is where everything sucks and this is where MOST people quit on their goals.

You’re feeling the full effect of this change. You’ve been dieting for “x” weeks and haven’t see the results you’re wanting and in fact, you THINK you look worse than before. So at this point, you begin to try to justify to yourself that if this isn’t working and you are this unhappy you may as well just go back to the way things were.

You see, this is where the change you were trying to make really impacts you and the mind seeks the quickest way to relieve you of this discomfort. So at this point, you’ll find reasons to revert back to the way you lived before, compared to the uncomfortableness your current situation it can’t be that bad… right?

Informed Optimism

You’ve finally weathered the storm and you’re making the effort to change and it’s starting to bear the fruits and the results you are wanting.

Things become more routine, habitual, it makes sense and this does NOT feel as hard as it once did.

You absolutely do not want to quit and this stage and most people do not, now you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Success and Fulfillment

This really needs no introduction, you’ve made it and the change has stuck, at this point you can’t imagine living another way; it’s routine.

What stage are you in?

You’ve probably read something above that hit a mark with you to give you an idea of what stage you are in if you are making a change in your life or any change you’ve made in the past.

So if you know what stage you are in WHAT do you do NOW?

I can pretty much list EVERY client I have ever had in one of these stages of change and I’ll give you some ideas on what we did to help to move forward.


You MUST have a clear “vision” or end game of what you are wanting to accomplish, the clearer the better.

Not just wanting to lose 30lbs or look so good that you get a partner. You need to go deeper than that and the best way I have found to help with this is to connect with HOW you are going to feel emotionally.

HOW are you going to feel when you lose that 30lbs? HOW are you going to feel when your ex sees how hot you are (I don’t care how shallow that sounds, we all have our own reasons for doing things)? HOW are you going to feel fitting into the little black dress that you’ve always wanted to wear?

You must connect with that emotional side first on HOW you are going to feel. Be as clear and detailed as you can with this because THIS is what is going to keep you going when times get rough.


After you have your clear vision and feeling here are some things that I have done to help people with each stage”

  • Uninformed Optimism: Keep riding the high and build a crazy amount of momentum to carry you through the next few stages. Start learning and become as informed as possible about the upcoming challenges that you may face because if or when they do come you’d better be prepared to know what to do, how to handle it, and you won’t be caught off guard if or when these challenges present themselves.
  • Informed Pessimism: Find ways to remind you of WHY you are changing.  I have personally found that listing the things I’m hoping to AVOID by changing continues to spur me on further, to at least recognize that “yes this is hard but it’s still better than where I was when I started”
  • Valley of Despair: At this stage, from my personal experience and clients as well, this is where the scale is about even with the discomfort of changing vs. the discomfort of NOT changing so the tactic need to be a bit different.  This is the stage that I’ll tell my clients to do whatever it is they need to do to remind them of WHAT they are working for.  Put up pictures, write notes and leave them everywhere, watch videos, listen to audio books, do anything and everything you can to keep you focused on your vision or end game.  What I can tell you is that this stage of change is never as long as you think it might be, typically it last only a few days or a week at the most, especially when it comes to making a physical change. Remember, the scale is about balanced on reasons to continue this change vs reasons not to, just keep adding to the “reasons” to change and the momentum will start to build AND remind yourself that this phase is NEVER long.  It’s always darkest before dawn.
  • Informed Optimism: You’ve passed the hardest part and see the light at the end of the tunnel, whatever you have done just don’t stop. You’ve found a way that got you this far and if it’s working you just keep going. Some people may not think that this is that bad of a phase, & compared to the previous ways it’s not, but I have seen people quit right HERE!  Why? Well, they feel they have figured it out and its no longer fun to them; so this is WHY I continue to harp on reminding yourself of your endgame and end date.  It’s not over until you are at your HS reunion or until you can fit into that little back dress. Don’t stop keep going, you’re almost done.

I really didn’t feel the need to go over the last phase of success because by the point in time your thought process is so routine that you’ll know no other way.

Starting Tomorrow

So starting tomorrow, or better yet NOW, come to accept the fact that if you are wanting to change the way your body looks you have to change the way you think, and as cliche as it sounds it never too late to start. Get a clear vision of what you are wanting and connect with it on some emotional level, identify what stage of change you are in and when you feel yourself start to waiver try one of the tips above. You may not get it right your first time but YOU WILL succeed eventually, then when you do try it again and again. Heck, try it with something else besides fitness in your life and I bet you will find that growing or evolving into the person that you want becomes easier when you lean how to handle these upcoming emotions.

In Health and Awesomeness,

Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.

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