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How to Push through the Burn of Exercise

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How to Push through the Burn of Exercise

When you take 20 athletes of equal ability and give ten of them mental training, the ten with mental training will outperform the others every time. Whether you’re an athlete in competition, a health enthusiast, or new to sport and fitness, Sport Psychologist Dr. Haley Perlus shares how professional athletes mentally train to maximize results­—and how you can apply these insights to your life. Read on to empower yourself to take control of your mind, overcome fear and doubt, and realize your true potential.

One of my roles as a doctor of sport psychology and a peak performance coach working with athletes and fitness enthusiasts, is to help uncover the underlying demons that get in your way of committing to your plan. In health and fitness, the most powerful demons are the excuses people use that make skipping exercise or eating unhealthy acceptable. There are three common excuses that get in the way of healthy living. Let’s address these excuses head on so that, starting now, they never get in your way of achieving your best health and fitness again.

1. The genetics excuse

Your fate does not end with your genetic code. You’re not destined to have your mom’s butt or your father’s love handles and the science of epigenetics is demonstrating this more each day. For example, a group of Swedish researchers found that six months of regular exercise changed the muscle and fat tissue composition in thousands of genes, leading to overall changes in how the body processes and stores glucose and fatty acids. 1
The truth is you have tremendous control over your body, performance, and overall health. Every day you either work to keep the genes you have or improve them in an effort to achieve your goals. The choice is yours–what will you do today?

2. The “I can’t” excuse

We all have self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that undermine our performance. I once heard them called gremlins and the name has stuck with me. Gremlins are the little invisible creatures that come out during meal and fitness time. They will do whatever it takes to convince you that giving in to sugar or giving up on that final set of push-ups is your only option. Here is a list of gremlins that you may be living with:

  • Perfectionism
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Self-consciousness
  • Stubbornness
  • Anxiety
  • Competitiveness
  • Distractions
  • Stress

Although there are specific mental toughness techniques to help cope with your gremlins (available to you in private consultations or my soon-to-be-released book, The One Minute Diet), a great start is to identify your personal gremlins, give them a name, and create a visual picture of them in your mind. Distinguishing yourself from your gremlins serve two important functions:

  1. It creates objectivity and distance, making it easier to see things more clearly and deal with your problems (i.e. bad habits), while still taking responsibility for them.
  2. It helps you to maintain your self-confidence. Gremlins are the parts of yourself you like the least. By visualizing them as a separate thing, you can still think of yourself as a mentally strong person who can overpower your gremlins and achieve your goals.

Once you have given your gremlins a name and clear image, observe how much easier it is to trim back the fat (pun intended) on your problems and come up with a plan to take them down!

3. The rationale excuse

Have you ever woken up in the morning to train, but decided that you deserved to sleep in instead? You convinced yourself you’d train later and, when that never happened, you told yourself that the day would count as your day off. After a few days off in a row, you realized the whole week was ruined. So, you did what you wanted for the rest of the week, and told yourself you’d start again on Monday. I call this the rationale excuse because you tell yourself “rational lies” that make it easy to give in to instant gratification. Although these rational lies bring you short-term satisfaction, they alwohhh ays leave you disappointed because, once again, you failed to follow through on your plan.

Realize that every time you skip training or eat something unhealthy, it’s not that you deserved it, but rather you chose it. When you begin changing your self-talk about the decisions you make, you’ll stop telling yourself rational lies and gain control of your day.

No matter what excuse resonates with you most, when it comes to staying on track of proper nutrition and fitness, there is no such thing as a good excuse. The next time you catch yourself thinking about your poor genetic make-up, fighting with your gremlins, or rationalizing why it’s okay to stray from your goals, review this article (bookmark it on your computer so you can quickly access it) and remember that these are poor excuses. Then, you’ll be able to get out of your own way and start realizing your personal best mind, body, and health!


  1. Rönn T et al. (2013). A Six Months Exercise Intervention Influences the Genome-wide DNA Methylation Pattern in Human Adipose Tissue. PLOS Genetics. Accessed on 1/12/15 from: http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1003572


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