Take a leap

Do you wish you were more willing to take risks, whether it be skiing harder slopes, signing up for your first fitness competition, or taking part in an obstacle race? Good news! You can get bolder by simply building your mental toughness and building your confidence to overcome your greatest fitness fears.

Learn how to overcome your greatest fitness fears.

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While courage may seem like something you're born with, it's not entirely the case. In many ways, mental toughness is like physical strength. "Nobody is born strong physically, but there is a plan to build that strength," said Jason Selk, LPC, NCC, director of exercise psychology at Enhanced Performance in St. Louis and author of Executive Toughness (McGraw-Hill, 2011) and 10 minute tenacity (McGraw-Hill, 2008). Same goes for your mind.

This is the thought that helped catapult Kim Dolan Leto, Arizona-based director of family health and wellness at the International Sports Sciences Association, onto the stage at Ms. Fitness World. "Becoming an athlete starts in your head," she says. "They exchange excuses for solutions and struggle daily to eat clean, to be mean and to balance life."

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Nature versus nutrition

Of course nature plays a role. "Some people are born with personality traits that make them natural risk takers," said Richard B. Dauber, Ph.D., clinical and athletic psychologist and director of the Morris Psychological Group in Parsippany, New Jersey. However, these individuals share certain qualities, and understanding what they are can develop your own toughness. The most important? An unwavering belief in their ability to achieve goals.

"You have to believe in yourself. To paraphrase Henry Ford, if you believe you will succeed or fail, you will," says Dauber. And although the toughest ones fail occasionally, they regard any failure as Opportunity to learn and move on.

No fear

How exactly do you strengthen your mind so that you are less afraid of doing greater fitness? Follow these three steps:

  1. Find focus. Define your end goal, what Selk calls a product goal. Ultimately, what do you want to achieve and why do you want to do it? Selk recommends not pursuing more than two product goals at the same time – one personal and one professional. Also, make sure that the end goal is focused on performance and outcome. "If you focus too much on the outcome, especially if it wins, the fear of failure can hold you back," says Dauber.
  2. Take small steps. Create process goals that bring you closer to your end goal. These effort-based goals are meant to build your confidence, which is why they need to be small and achievable, Selk says. For example, if you want to make it to the national stage as a fitness competitor, make entering a small local competition your first step and consider yourself successful regardless of your placement.
  3. See your success. Visualize what you want on the go. "People often focus on what they don't want," says Dauber. For example, you don't want to earn any placement other than first in the fitness competition. You then get stuck with those fears that cripple your efforts to build the nerve to move on to the next level. Instead, think about what you want and imagine how you will achieve it.

In the end, the structure of guts depends almost entirely on your mind, perhaps the strongest muscle in your body. As Selk says, "If the desire is there and you invest the time, your mind can take you anywhere."

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