Mental Strategies For Gym Success

Start at the Beginning

• Plan this out. Don’t just start training and exercising without having a goal in mind. Figure out ahead of time exactly where you want to go with this.
• Adhere to the Delayed Gratification Method: Work toward a reward that does not come immediately. When you start taking it easy with your diet or your work outs, you know that the reward just got farther away.
• Determine just what gets you down that road to reward faster and what causes delays.

What You Want to Do Isn’t Always What You Need to Do

mental strategiesEverybody experiences the struggle between doing what you want with your lifting career and doing what you need. In fact, this struggle never really ends and most of us have to continue overcoming the urge to stray from our plans to do what feels right instead of what we know is right.

Recognizing this dilemma is the first key to success. A lot of lifters never even come to understand that simply following their inclinations will often lead them in the wrong direction.

This is not just a battle that should be won for the sake of your excellence in lifting. This is an issue of character development that will be useful in every aspect of your life.

In terms of lifting, ask yourself: What attitudes and qualities should you really seek to develop? And are your present activities helping you to develop them?

Have Fun or Get Results?

Having fun while you lift is important. You should not underestimate how necessary it is if you want to experience long-term success with your weight training.

However, you should not let your exuberance get in the way of achieving your long-term goals. Consider the following possibilities:
• You end up spending the majority of your training time trying to reach new 1RMs even though you are suffering from orthopedic issues that could put an end to your lifting for a long while.
• You achieve gym numbers that never actually turn into achievements in official competitions.
• Your diet is lousy and your body comp is worse.
• Your wobble board skills are great but you still can’t do pull-ups.
• You bench press 90 lbs. less than your “touch and go” maximum.

If you see yourself in one of those scenarios, don’t feel too bad. It’s human nature. The question is: Can you overcome these inclinations?


You can work your way out of bad habits by using something called “deliberate practice.”

Pop psychologist Malcolm Gladwell named this type of work ethic and described its results. He’s the one that famously wrote about the 10,000 hours of practice that can turn you into an expert in your chosen field of focus. If you want to apply that to weight training, you would need to train four times per week for about 90 minutes each session if you wanted to spend 32 years achieving mastery.

If that sounds like a long time to wait, try using deliberate practice and mental strategies to make the most of your time in the gym.

1. Process, rather than outcome, should be your focus.
2. Set goals that are specific rather than general.
3. Obtain and use immediate quality feedback.

Learn to Delay Gratification

It is admittedly difficult to engage in deliberate practice continuously. One reason for that is the required attention on your weaknesses rather than your strengths.

Now, I know that this doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But just wait until you start collecting medals and other forms of adulation later on. They’ll be justifying your excellence due to good genes or secret steroid use when it is really just your own determination.

Achieving this level of excellence requires you to understand how the Delayed Gratification Method (DGM) works.

Your parents may have already started teaching you this method when you were younger. You didn’t get dessert unless you claned your plate. You got a reward only after you did the right thing.

To apply this to your weight training, do the following two things:

1. Figure out what is the right thing for you to do now.
2. What will be the reward for making the right choice?

Here are some examples of using this system to solve common problems:

Problem: You are too thin and can’t seem to put on muscle.
Solution: Set a weight-gain goal and start eating your way to success. Start each work out with your weight. If you haven’t reached the needed weight, you don’t train!

Problem: You hate mobility work even though you love lifting. Now you are experiencing shoulder pain when you bench and other issues.
Solution: Don’t use ignorance of mobility exercises as an excuse. Pick up Essential Eight by Mike Boyle. This describes eight drills that you can do before workouts so that you don’t have to worry.

Problem: You can’t squat as much as you can bench.
Solution: Just like you had to eat vegetables to finish dinner, you have to perform leg exercises. Treat upper body lifting like the dessert you want to earn.

Use these examples to figure out measurable ways to define your training needs. When you meet these needs, only then can you go on to do what you want during training.

You can use the same system to address any issues that you are having with your diet. For example, every time that you reach a body comp goal, you get to eat your favorite food.

How to Get DGM to Work for You

Step #1: List your bad habits in training. Common examples might include staying up late the night before workouts, eating the wrong foods or avoiding certain exercises.
Step #2: Figure out your reward. It’s important to have something really gratifying awaiting you at the end of all your hard work and sacrifice.
Step #3: Make measurable parameters. Essentially, they should look like quick equations. You do this and you get that.

Now, what’s the first thing that you want to improve? Leave your reply in the comment box below!

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  1. I love the 10,000 hour rule. It’s great for getting people in the right mindset about mastering a skill (not thinking they’ll get it in a weekend), but many people don’t really grasp just how long 10K hours is.
    I am a 5th degree black belt in Taekwondo and have been training for over 15 years. A few months back I did and article on the 10,000 hour rule and I calculated how much time I’ve spent training. I hadn’t even made it to 4K hours. Ouch! Instead of getting discouraged, I think of how much more I’ll know when I DO get to 10K hours.

    • Tom

      You are right Jacob, 10,000 hours IS a long time. Great focus and goal setting are key to achieving that number but the eventual rewards will be priceless.

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