The power of the mind

I’ve always been fascinated by how our minds work (and their flaws!). I loved studying Psychology at A Level and I specialised in Sports Psychology in my degree. As time goes on, I’m realising just how powerful the mind can be, and am learning more about neuroscience, psychology, and other related sciences. Then of course there’s my own personal experience to draw upon, and there’s a lot I don’t understand (but try to decipher!).

I recently joined my local sports centre and started out with swimming, then added exercise classes, and now I use the gym too and have a personal programme set up (I’m a bit obsessive and I always favour my latest craze so the last two weeks I’ve been to the gym seven times but haven’t been swimming at all – that’s a whole other topic though!).

Today I’ve been thinking about how powerful our mind can be in affecting our behaviour. My previous two workouts have gone really well. I’ve been pleased about that, but being me I can’t just accept that; I’ve been trying to figure out why so I can make the most of my future workouts. Some reasons I considered included:

  • Time of day – late afternoon rather than morning (when I tend to have more energy)
  • Food consumption – after breakfast and lunch rather than just breakfast (and time for nutrients to get into my body)
  • Clothing – shorter leggings and a breathable top so I didn’t feel like I was sweating as much
  • Mood – I’ve been feeling a bit down and usually find I benefit more from utilising physical energy (maybe pent up frustration?)
  • Fitness – second week of the gym so my fitness may be improving
  • Familiarity – getting into a routine and getting used to the different machines so I can focus more on the exercises themselves
  • Time pressure – I’d committed to attending a class at a set time after the gym workout so was motivated to finish it in a certain timeframe

I’ve just finished today’s workout and it went OK but I don’t feel it went as well – particularly in the cardio sections. Now it could be nothing to do with any of these factors, but some of them were playing on my mind whilst I was working out (it’s earlier in the day, I’ve only had breakfast, I did the exercise class before rather than after so might be more tired and don’t have any commitments straight after so there’s no pressure, my t-shirt isn’t a breathable one, etc etc… little insight into my mind for you there!). As these were running through my head I became aware that I was struggling more than I had in my previous workouts.

Was this a result of ruminating on why I might not do so well? If I’d have gone in feeling confident that I was going to smash it would I have not struggled as much? Can I alter my mindset going in to the gym to help me make the most of my workout?

Has anyone else experienced this where their expectations affect their behaviour and result in a potentially different outcome? Or am I trying to give meaning to something that is mostly down to other factors?