How To Master The Inner Game Of Fitness

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Anyone who’s achieved a big goal in life knows that success is mostly mental.

You can have the best information and strategies in the world, but none of those outer games matter unless your inner game is solid.

The same principle holds true when it comes to getting in great shape.

If you want to win the inner game of fitness, you need to focus on three main things:

  1. Quality sleep - getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep every single night

  2. Stress management - doing things like meditation that buffer you against stress

  3. Relationship with self - focusing on your wins instead of beating yourself up

I like to think of these three things as multipliers for your exercise and nutrition habits.

For example, if you feel relaxed and content with yourself, eating right becomes exponentially easier.

If you don’t have good quality sleep, you won’t be able to recover and get stronger from your training.

The more you focus on the inner game, the more effective everything else becomes.

The more you focus on the inner game, the more effective everything else becomes.

Let’s go through each of the three areas in more detail and I’ll give you some ideas of things to try. First up is sleep.

How To Get More High-Quality Sleep

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I could reference countless studies demonstrating how sleep affects your longevity, performance, productivity, mental health, and ability to gain strength/muscle.

But since 90% of people are focused on fat loss, I’m just going to say this:

When you’re low on sleep, you’re more likely to overeat. Here’s why...

Lack of sleep shifts your hormonal balance away from those hormones that promote fullness and towards those that promote hunger. Meaning it’s very hard to lose weight without adequate sleep.

When you’re low on sleep, you’re more likely to overeat.

Adequate sleep = 7-9 hours every night. None of this “I’ll make up for it on the weekend” crap.

Here are three things you can do today to get better sleep:

1. Set a “wind-down” alarm on your phone. Have it go off at least one hour before you want to go to bed. When it goes off, dim the lights and stop using all electronics. Put your cell phone in another room and replace the TV with a book. Personally, I like to read fiction at night since non-fiction keeps my brain working. When my reading comprehension goes down and my eyes start to gloss over, I know I’m ready to sleep.

2. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Don’t do anything else in your bed except sleep, read, and have sex - otherwise you will start to associate your bed with wake-fullness. Also, keep your bedroom as cold and dark as possible. I sleep best under the covers, in just my boxers, with the A/C set to 64 degrees or lower. Use light blocking shades and put black electric tape over any electronic readout or light source.

3. Drink chamomile or lemon balm tea. If you’re traveling to somewhere with a time difference, you can also experiment with taking 3-5 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before bed. I don’t recommend taking any other sleep medicine. I also don’t recommend drinking alcohol as a way to fall asleep more easily; your sleep will be lower quality and you will be more likely to wake up in the night. Plus, you’ll be drinking empty calories.

Keep in mind that you’ll probably have to shift your bedtime forward gradually (by 30 mins or so each night) otherwise you won’t be tired.

Now that we’ve talked about sleep, let’s go over some strategies to buffer yourself against stress.

Stress Management For Weight Loss

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Trying to live in a body that’s inundated by stress is like trying to drive a car that’s overheating.

You might be fine for a little while, but eventually you’re going to be broken down on the side of the road.

Many of the guys I work with have demanding, fast-paced careers. This means they’re experiencing high levels of cortisol throughout the day. And excess cortisol production can very easily lead to increased belly fat.

On top of that, many people turn to food when we’re stressed, instead of healthier options like exercise or meditation. This further contributes to weight gain.

Does this mean you’re doomed to fat if you’re a busy guy? Of course not. It’s your relationship with stress, not the amount of stress you experience, that largely determines how your body reacts.

It’s your relationship with stress, not the amount of stress you experience, that largely determines how your body reacts.

Here are 3 simple things you can do to buffer yourself against stress:

1. Develop a morning routine. For many of my clients, a short meditation to start the day can work wonders. It’s as simple as sitting down, setting a timer for 5-10 minutes, and returning to your breath until the time is up. For other people, going for a walk or reading can serve a similar function. Basically you’re putting on your anti-stress armor for the day.

2. Prioritize ruthlessly. Much of our stress throughout the day comes from trying to do everything at work instead of focusing on the few critical things that would make the biggest impact. I recommend taking 5 minutes at the end of each work day and writing down your MIT (Most Important Thing) for tomorrow. Then you’re free to focus on that high leverage task and let go of all the small stuff that doesn’t matter so much.

3. Take mindful breaks throughout the day. This could look like three deep breaths after wrapping up work, or a yoga class on Sunday. While our bodies can handle acute periods of stress, chronic stress ultimately wears us down. By making “clean cuts” and disconnecting from work regularly, you’re giving your system a chance to reset. 

Think of these three practices as engine coolant - they prevent stress from overheating your system.

Now let’s talk about the final piece of the inner game puzzle: your relationship with yourself.

Developing A Good Relationship With Yourself

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An important part of getting fit is working on your relationship with yourself.

When we start our fitness journey, most of us are driven by criticism. We hate the way we look naked and we start comparing ourselves to other people.

In other words, we’re moving away from something we don’t want instead of towards something we want.

There are a couple of problems with this type of “away from” motivation...

First, it’s not great for our self-image. Second, it’s not enough to help us maintain our progress once we get in decent shape.

Here are three ways to improve your relationship with yourself:

1. Write down your wins each day. I have all of my clients keep a journal next to their beds. At the end of each day, they bullet-point out what they did well that day and what they’re grateful for. We’re naturally wired to focus on what’s wrong, but this practice helps our brains focus on what’s working.

2. Control the controllables. Recognize that you can’t directly control the number on the scale, or the amount of weight your able to lift. But you can focus on the process. So make sure to acknowledge yourself for a successful process just as much as you would for a successful outcome.

3. Blame the system, not the person. When we slip up, it’s easy to beat ourselves up and decide that we don’t have enough willpower. This just leads to a downward spiral of shame and bad behavior. Instead, focus on what you need to tweak in your environment or your process in order to encourage the behavior you want next time.

When we’re driven by criticism, one bad choice can turn into a landslide of unhealthy behavior. 

When we’re driven by criticism, one bad choice can turn into a landslide of unhealthy behavior. 

We figure that since we had one drink, we may as well go wild.

On the other hand, when we have a loving relationship with ourselves we can enjoy the occasional indulgence and then get back on track.

Which Habit Are You Going To Start With?

Let’s be honest: we all pretty much know what we need to do in order to lose weight... move more, eat less. We just get stuck when it comes to implementing that knowledge. And a lot of that comes down to mindset.

Here’s my challenge for you: choose the one area this week that you think would have the biggest impact on your inner game. It could be sleep, stress, or self-criticism. Then choose one small habit that would result in a 10% improvement.

For example, if you haven’t been getting enough sleep, you could set an alarm on your phone that reminds you to wind down 10 minutes earlier than usual.

That’s it. Don’t try to overhaul your entire life. Just choose one thing to experiment with from the chart below:

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If you want some help mastering your inner game, apply for a complimentary strategy session.

We’ll help you turn the above advice into a custom game plan that works for your life. And, if you’d like, we can talk about whether our online fitness coaching would be a good match for you.

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