Habits of Fit People: Believe in Yourself

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You want to be a fit person, right? That's why I'm sharing my own habits for keeping fit and staying healthy in the ongoing Habits of Fit People series.

Here's one that works for me: Believing in myself. OK, I'm not trying to get all new age-y on you, but your attitude really does matter when it comes to creating and sticking with a fitness routine. Beyond personal experience, I've got some research to back me up here. Turns out, the "secret" to starting and sticking with a workout routine may all be in your head, at least according to one recent study. In fact, if you "think yourself fit," you could be 139% more likely to stick to a workout routine!

When it comes to reaching any goal in life, attitude is important. Countless studies show that happier people are healthier; that positive people live longer; and that confident people are more likely to succeed. Couldn't we apply all of these same things to exercise?

The October 2008 edition of Annals of Behavioral Medicine included an article on this very topic. Researchers surveyed 205 exercisers about psychosocial variables, including their expectations and self-efficacy, which in this case, is the belief that you can do something successfully. Stick with me here. Applied to exercise, a person with high self-efficacy would believe, "I know how to exercise safely and correctly. I'm confident and capable of working out and sticking to a routine. I know that exercising will help me reach my goals."

After analyzing the survey data, researchers at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I. found that the biggest predictor of maintaining an exercise routine was a person's self-efficacy, or, a person's belief that he or she could exercise successfully. That factor alone was, "responsible for a 139% increase in the odds of being active after a year," according to an L.A. Times story about the study.

In my own experience in exercise and in life, I know that believing in myself and staying positive are important predictors for my own success and happiness. But if you're not confident about exercising, I have some ideas for you. After all, you can always increase your self-efficacy. Here's how:

  • Build experience. The easiest way to increase your self-efficacy about exercise is to become more experienced. As they say, practice makes perfect! With fitness that means that the more you work out, the more experienced and confident you'll become. Experience can come from actually doing (figuring out how to use the machines at the gym, even if that means reading the instructions listed on the machine itself), practicing (using a yoga video at home for a while, and then trying a group class), and learning (by reading fitness articles or watching videos). Remember that everyone starts somewhere. As much as I know today about exercise, I started where you did—without any knowledge or experience.

  • Find a fitness role model. Ideally, you should be able to relate to this person. When you see someone who exercised to reach their goals, just like you're doing, your belief in yourself (self-efficacy) increases. ("I can do it, too!") That's why your SparkFriends are so inspiring. Each time you see a Motivational SparkPage or success story, you feel a little more empowered yourself. Fitness role models can help you build experience and confidence in yourself, too. If you're scared to go to the gym, out of fear that you'll mess up or look foolish, bring an experienced friend with you to show you the ropes, for example.

  • Encourage yourself. Even if no one else does, tell yourself that you can do it. Congratulate yourself for every mile you travel, every pound you lift, and every workout you complete, no matter how small. Whatever you do, don't psych yourself out. Even if you have a hard time believing an inner dialogue that's positive, trust the process. Turn every negative thought ("Everyone is watching me because they know that I don't know what I'm doing!") into a positive one ("Even if I'm not doing this exactly right, the important thing is that I'm here and I'm trying! No one's watching anyway—they're all paying attention to their own workouts.").

On a scale of 1-10, I'd say that I have high self-efficacy when it comes to fitness: maybe an 8 (I still have more to learn). I built experience, which boosts confidence, by reading about fitness, trying new exercises, and continuing to learn new teaching and fitness techniques. My fitness role models tend to be instructors whose styles and techniques (and extensive knowledge!) I admire, so I learn a lot from them by taking their workshops and asking questions. And do I encourage myself? You bet. I always have to tell myself "You can do it! Don't give up!" when I'm tired and want to quit. How about you?

Rate your fitness "self-efficacy" on a scale of 1-10 below. Then tell us how you've increased your fitness experience; whether or not you have a fitness role model; and what you say to yourself for encouragement.