What often separates the most successful among us is a willingness to live a life of awareness; in particular, an awareness of the many beliefs that may influence the choices we make and, in turn, the results we achieve. Through experience, knowledge and accumulated wisdom, aspiring movers and shakers of the world have determined that in order to live the deliberate and focused lives that will get them the results they desire, it’s up to them to map out exactly what it is they want to achieve and to then go and get it. Such ‘mapping’ and successful goal achievement requires a full-scale unearthing, scrutinization and, in many cases, modification of the basic assumptions we make about ourselves and the world around us. In short, we must first identify then, if necessary change, our beliefs.
The beliefs we hold (in other words, the thoughts we assume to be true) may lead to the erroneous thinking that prevents us from fully achieving our goals and realizing our dreams. Indeed, our combined beliefs (or belief system) shape our thoughts and feelings in such a way that every waking moment of our lives is influenced by them.
Our belief system may be viewed as a guiding mechanism that directs us to our ultimate destination. Those who have built meaningful lives and are exactly where they want to be in life are, more so than others, enlightened to which beliefs work for them and which impede progress. For these people, the power of belief is never to be underestimated nor overlooked. In fact, so critical to transformational success are our beliefs and thoughts that they are believed to have the power to alter our body chemistry and the very structure of our DNA. Indeed, how we program our minds can quite literally change our lives, for better or worse. In his seminal book The Biology of Belief, researcher Bruce Lipton contends that beliefs have the power to alter the structure and development of the cells of the body due to an accumulation of transformational energy that is released in proportion to the nature of one’s thoughts.3 According to Lipton, how we view ourselves and what we believe to be true has the potential to change our genetic structure, health, and wellbeing. He’s not the first to acknowledge the life-changing nature of positive beliefs and thoughts.
Like any other arena requiring tremendous planning, effort and execution, bodybuilding excellence comes largely as a result of the way in which we program our minds for success. If you are like most people, certain beliefs will be holding you back from fulfilling your true bodybuilding potential. The first step to eliminating such detrimental thinking is to first identity your guiding beliefs. The more we think a certain way, the more it becomes true for us. It’s therefore vitally important that any faulty beliefs (however small they may be and however long we have had them) are addressed immediately.
In this article I’ll discuss the common beliefs that hold bodybuilders back and provide tips on how to overcome them so we may reimagine our lives with greater precision and clarity. While there are many thousands of beliefs which may potentially prevent us from achieving musclebuilding excellence, I’ll focus on four of particular significance to lifters at all levels: feelings of unworthiness; fear of failure; the opinions of others; and genetic predestination.
In bodybuilding, there are probably as many success stories concerning those who despite subpar genetics and ‘unfavorable’ life circumstances became great as there are examples of lifters with sufficient support and incredible potential who did not make it nearly as far. What separates the successful among these people from the unsuccessful? Top of the list would be whether we truly believe we are worthy of success.
You’ve no doubt heard the following excuses masquerading as reasons for not following through to goal achievement: “I’m too old”, “I don’t deserve it”, “I’m not smart enough”, “It’ll take too long”, “I don’t have enough energy”…and so on. You may have made some of these excuses yourself. At the core of such thinking is the belief that we are not worthy of success; that we are not destined for greatness. It is imperative that you banish such thinking if your full bodybuilding potential is to be realized. Just as the person who believes he can achieve a certain outcome and the person who doesn’t are both right, formulating a litany of excuses to justify an unwillingness to fully commit is a good way to ensure that our behaviors, and results, reflect the way we think. With a sense of unworthiness influencing our thoughts we’ll likely lack energy; become lethargic and forgetful; procrastinate; more readily tolerate mediocrity; and thus will never truly be the best we can be.
Such self-sabotaging thoughts stem from deeply-held doubts concerning our ability to succeed. Feelings of unworthiness often have their origins in childhood (for example, by constantly being told we are never good enough we become convinced that we are unworthy of success), and many people who think this way often do so with a false mental image of perfection in mind. With a belief that we may be ridiculed or thought stupid or useless if we do not stack up we become afraid to risk achieving a certain level of perfection or success (which indeed we secretly do not believe we can achieve). To minimize such risk we may, unwittingly or otherwise, sabotage our efforts with negative thoughts and self-defeating affirmations.
To achieve any degree of bodybuilding success it’s important to truly believe that you are fundamentally worthy of success. As bodybuilders we are often our own worst critics. We set our targets high (a good thing) but often undermine goal achievement by questioning whether we are good enough (clearly a bad thing). By constantly comparing yourself to others and by aspiring to unrealistic standards of success you may begin to harbor doubts based on feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. You may then begin making the kinds of excuses outlined above. Once such beliefs become ingrained you’ll not only believe them to be true; you’ll never achieve your full potential. So, first believe you are worthy, but do so with the intention of being the very best you can be in mind. Whatever the circumstances and whatever your potential, the belief that you are worthy of success will help produce training outcomes unhampered by self-defeating thoughts.
2. Fear of Failure
Closely tied to feelings of unworthiness is a fear of failure. This fear is frequently seen in bodybuilding circles and experienced by those who are afraid to fully commit. Whether it’s fear of pursuing to a healthy way of living, lifting a particularly heavy weight, pushing to complete failure on a heavy set of squats, or entering one’s first contest, a fear of slipping up is one of the biggest barriers to success. It is also completely unfounded and irrational.
Successful people frequently experience failure – but for such people, failure is not viewed negatively. For them, not only is failure a teacher and a powerful guiding force for positive change, the actions taken en route to failing (or potential failure) take such people one step closer to success (in this regard, failure can be viewed as an essential element of success). For example, say you’re aiming for 15 reps with 300lbs on the bench press, yet you ‘only’ achieve 12. Could this be considered a failure? When you look at one alternative (doing nothing at all) it’s a resounding success. And while you haven’t precisely hit your target, you have gained a degree of benefit from the movement and, most important of all, you’ve proven to yourself that you will stop at nothing to achieve your goal. You’ve done your best.
This is the main reason why one should never fear failure, for everything we do today paves the way for the success we achieve tomorrow. Every bit counts. By taking a long view with regards to success (applying yourself over the long-term rather than seeking immediate gratification), being persistent over time and viewing failure in the wider context of your life you can class yourself among the most successful people in the world. By applying energy and discipline to all that you do, occasional failures will serve only as learning lessons. Viewed in positive terms, failure gives us greater incentive to redouble our efforts to ensure that we continue to edge ever-closer to our goals. It’s also important to know that what you get by achieving your goals is not as important as the kind of person you become by persistently pursuing them. The more difficult your goals are to achieve the more you will have to stretch yourself intellectually, physically and emotionally. Tremendous personal growth will have occurred irrespective of whether the goal has been achieved. Indeed, success in life is not necessarily to be measured by one’s position in life but by what they have had to overcome to get there.
A fear of failure is paralyzing. It stops momentum in its tracks. Underpinning such a fear is a deep-seated belief that we are not capable, which may, in turn, drain us of the confidence needed to be at our best. We may feel we are unworthy of success. We may believe that if we fail in our attempt to complete a certain task we may be harshly judged and thusly considered by others to have not measured up. So we procrastinate or remain uncommitted. Procrastination, a major enemy of success, is on the rise.7 For most people, the root cause of procrastination is fear and self-doubt and the associated belief that a task is not achievable. Thus, a fear of failure leads us to put off the work that must be done today. Over time, we may eventually fall behind and find it impossible to catch up.
Entering a bodybuilding contest can be anxiety-provoking, as might be completing a grueling workout. Once again, such thinking often arises from a fear of not measuring up. Whether committing to a contest or engaging with the iron, there is to be no self-doubt. Cast aside thoughts of what other people are thinking and whether you have what it takes. Put one foot in front of the other, keep going and do your best. Most important, should failure, at any step along the way, occur, do not become discouraged but, instead, aim to determine a more successful way forward. The most successful among us know from experience that there is no such thing as failure: only learning experiences and opportunities to grow.
3. The Opinions of Others
Basing one’s decision to act on what another person thinks is pointless and can lead one to question whether they have what it takes to get the job done should the other person’s expectations not be met. It’s important to remember that no matter how hard you try you will never please everyone, nor will you fully meet everyone’s expectations of you.1 The problem is that many (often insecure) people seek validation from others as a form of fuel to inspire action. This way of thinking is fundamentally flawed.
Firstly, by letting the opinions of others influence your actions you become disempowered – rather than shaping your own destiny, you are ceding control to another person. Whatever the task may be, very little satisfaction can be derived when you let the opinions of another person influence the control you have over it. In this way, you are living the life of someone else and not on your own terms. The sole point of reference when it comes to taking action should be how you personally feel about the task at hand. While it’s nice to please others and to be loved and respected, these should not be the first consideration when seeking to excel. In fact, by aiming to please everyone, you really end up pleasing no one – least of all yourself.
The other associated problem is that if your task is in any way significant then many may have an opinion on it. Barring enlisted professional instruction and expert guidance, basing your decisions on the opinions of others can create much confusion: who do you trust? What are the motives behind such views? The people around us will each have different expectations, opinions, and beliefs concerning what we are capable of. So overwhelming are the competing demands of each opinion, belief, and expectation that a person sensitive to such commentary may lose sight of their own motivations and become unduly stretched in their ability to perform. One thing many successful people have in common is a willingness to choose their own road, rather than being swayed by the opinions and expectations of others. By knowing what you want and how to successfully achieve it you’ll begin to form your own definition of success. By choosing your own way forward and committing fully to the task at hand you’ll learn to become more focused and less open to conflicting and, in many cases, progress-stifling opinion.
Say someone passes judgment on your physique, informing you that you need more size while another believes you are sufficiently massive but need more cuts and better balance and yet another believes you have it all but just need more ‘polish’. How do you make sense of all this information? The truth is: to become a bodybuilding champion requires the complementary inclusion of all of the above. Work ethic and the execution of sound training and nutrition principals will allow you to fully tap into your unique potential to bring about each. No amount of criticism, judgment, or ‘helpful’ advice from others will get you there any faster. In fact, as mentioned above, the ensuing paralysis by analysis may only compromise your ability to execute.
To achieve any degree of bodybuilding success it’s important that you retain a healthy detachment from the opinions of others. Hold true to the maxim that what other people think of you is none of your business. Most important of all, don’t take anything personally. Through experience, persistence and an ability to judiciously absorb useful information, you’ll determine what works best for you. Learn to distinguish the constructive criticism of experts from the mere opinion of everyone else.
4. Genetic Limitations
The belief that genetic factors are largely responsible for influencing physical potential has held many a well-meaning bodybuilder back from tapping into what is truly possible. Physical and functional units of heredity which collectively form one’s unique biological blueprint (and which determine the expression of a wide range of different traits, including strength and musclebuilding success) genes are important for health outcomes in that they provide instructions for making countless proteins. These proteins determine the structure and function of every cell of the body. When we say we are limited by our genes, however, we are implying that this genetic code is immutable; that the progress we make is in a sense biologically constrained. Such a belief is extremely self-defeating, not to mention fundamentally incorrect.
While it’s partially correct to acknowledge the importance of genetics when it comes to shaping a muscle or full maximizing one’s muscular development (after all, should your biceps not peak to perfection you may indeed look to, but not become limited by, genetic limitations rather than fruitlessly pounding them into submission), by using the genetics card to accept mediocrity we may never truly become all we can be. As one of many examples, many bodybuilders quit their shredding efforts on the basis that they have been ‘cursed’ with ‘thick skin’. Such lifters believe that the genetic cards have been stacked against them and, as such, getting in shape is simply not worth the effort. At this point genetic potential becomes just another excuse for not pushing harder and not finding new ways to progress further. We come to believe we are biologically programmed in a way that is not conducive to bodybuilding success. However, because we have developed this faulty thinking pattern (genetic immutability has become a core belief), we learn never to fully extend ourselves. In the end we are limited by what we perceive to be our genetic capabilities.
By forgetting genetics and instead forming a belief that we are capable of achieving a certain outcome, our success rate will automatically increase. We will be less likely to hold back. Here the subconscious mind also must be taken into account. Millions of times more powerful than the conscious mind in its neurological processing abilities, the positive, affirming messages we send to our subconscious forces the body to respond in ways previously unimagined. By properly programming the subconscious mind, ‘barriers’ that were previously considered genetic can be overcome. It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into any great detail on how best to program the subconscious mind but a good start would require: knowing exactly what you want in life; identifying and eliminating negative thoughts and speech patterns that prevent you from getting what you want; replacing these negative thoughts and speech patterns with those conducive to getting you to where you want to be; and constantly affirming these correct thoughts and speech patterns.
As well as programming the mind to accept more than what we believe we are genetically ‘destined’ to achieve, there is much evidence to show that while we may not be able to alter our inherent genetic code, we can change the functioning and enhance the expression of our genes. Called epigenetic modification, this exciting new branch of research is doing much to confirm the positive belief that we have the power to alter the way our genes are expressed.2, 4, 5, 6
Though our genotype (or genetic constitution) in this regard remains fixed, our phenotype (or observable characteristics which result from the interaction of one’s genotype with the environment) can be changed. In addition, various forms of effector proteins (which serve as signals to activate genes) are released by cellular membranes to control the reading of genes.3 Thus, worn out proteins are replaced and new proteins are created. Among such effector proteins are cytoskeleton proteins (which regulate the shape and motility of cells), transport proteins (which shuttle nutrients and chemical energy into cells) and enzymes (which control numerous biological functions). Combined with various receptor proteins (which provide an initial awareness of environmental signals in order for the effector proteins to do their job), cellular behaviour can be altered. This effector-receptor complex combined with the epigenetic modification which alters gene expression (not to mention positive energy frequencies generated via positive thinking) provides compelling evidence to suggest that we have more control over our biology (including our health and fitness outcomes) than we may have previously thought possible.
All of this means that by sticking to an effective training regimen and by living a fitness lifestyle we can, in a way, overcome genetic ‘barriers’ to achieve more than what we may have previously believed possible (environment, lifestyle and disease state all influence epigenetic modification and effector-receptor protein effectiveness). Indeed, rather than blaming our genes for holding us back we should instead be assisting them to build us bigger and stronger.
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