Does the mind feed the body or does the body feed the mind? We are told that the mind is the body’s control center and that it is responsible for all voluntary action in the body. That sounds accurate. The mind may very well control the body, but I truly believe that the body can feed the mind through the environment we keep, physical activity, and our habits. I’m no doctor—I can’t offer any kind of professional opinion on mental health—but I can offer a few principles that may help you feel positive and mentally focused so that you stand a better chance of realizing your physical aspirations.
Manage Your Environment
While our environment is physical and literal in nature, it does have an impact on the mind. Stress often makes me feel like there are too many things beyond my control. Unfortunately, life is always going to be like that, which is why it’s only natural to take into consideration and benefit from the things we can control. Maintaining neat and orderly surroundings alleviates stress for many people and allows them to focus better. I know that when I’m surrounded by a mess I feel distracted and unfocused. This may sound cheesy, but one of the things I have found helpful from an early age is to make my bed immediately upon waking up in the morning. Doing this not only brings order to an area but I start the day productively which helps set the tone for the day. Plus, it costs nothing and only takes a minute or two to do. Similarly, I suggest carrying this over into other parts of your physical environment. Eliminating clutter, putting things away, organizing, and completing unfinished tasks or previously started projects can all help you feel better about your physical environment and better able to take control in other areas.
The people in your life also make up your environment. There is no doubt that people can serve to either help you focus or distract you from your goals. Just as a good bodybuilder seeks out a training environment where he is surrounded by bodybuilders who are bigger, stronger, more successful and otherwise better than him, we would all be smart to keep that in mind when choosing the people in our personal lives. People who create drama, make you feel bad about yourself, or don’t support you and what you’re trying to accomplish should be kept at a distance. Something else to consider is conflicting lifestyles. I’m not saying you and your friends need to live the same life, but it may be difficult if you’re serious about training and your friends aren’t. When I was younger, I’d often go out to eat with my friends but then bow out afterward when they go drinking. They’d bust my balls but ultimately respected what I was trying to accomplish. If your friends don’t afford you that kind of respect, I’d stay away from them. In short, keep your environment clean, free of distractions, and positive.
Take Positive Action
Next, let’s talk about being physical because, yes, the mind and the body are undoubtedly connected. Simply put, it’s important to be physical in order to sleep well at night. We are designed to use our bodies, tire ourselves out, and then sleep. Generally, people who are very physical each day do not have trouble sleeping at night. I fall asleep almost the moment my head hits the pillow; I sleep well and then I get up and do it all over again the next day. When I’m being sedentary, I do not sleep well at night. If an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, I suggest making yourself so busy physically that you have neither the time nor the energy to even allow worry or anxiety to enter your mind. Be so busy doing things that being down or sad is not possible. Think less, do more, and things fall into place.
Personally, I have found that being productive every day is key. If I’m not working, training, or spending time with my family, I’m either creating, improving, or working on something. Cut the grass, wash the car, plant a garden, clean the house, or paint something that needs refinishing. Learn something new or find a hobby—gardening, metal working, sewing. There’s no end to what can be done. Take an interest in something, learn about it and create. The sense of satisfaction that comes from improvement or creation can do more for your mind than you realize. There is no reason for you to ever be bored or for your hands to be idle unless you’re sleeping.
Out of things to do? Plan tomorrow’s schedule. Prepare for what you’re going to be doing. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the power of good nutrition and the importance of food prep. Cut all the crap out of your diet, stick to whole and unprocessed foods, and make sure you have it ready to go for the following day. Even the best plan does you no good if you don’t have the food you need when you need it. Don’t wait until it’s time to eat to find food or ask yourself what you’re going to eat. Not only is that stressful, it leaves so much room for error and inconsistency. Whether it’s with food or anything else, develop a plan and prepare so that you can successfully implement that plan. Without preparation you will simply add stress to your life.
Adopt Useful Habits
Habits require physical action but are more mental in nature, and some can be very beneficial. For example, making a list of what you want to accomplish each day is helpful. Before going to sleep at night, go over what you are going to do the following day and the order in which you will do it. Waiting until you wake up to think about what you need to do is a mistake. Not only is it added stress but it’s very possible that you’ll forget things you might have thought of the day prior. Just wake up and get to work. Speaking of waking up, wake up early. There is a huge mental payoff that comes from knowing you are getting work done while others are still sleeping or otherwise unproductive. Nothing is worse than feeling like you’ve wasted a morning. When I accomplish a lot by 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., I feel like a champ and find myself looking for more things to do. Trust me, this is a mental game worth playing with yourself. Conquer the world early and then go on to conquer the galaxy. That’s a great feeling at the end of the day.
I think it’s important to note, however, that this is only worthwhile if you do it consistently. Having one great day and then three shitty ones doesn’t help. Do it one day, do it the next, do it for the whole week, the month, the year…now you’re getting somewhere. What you want is momentum. It’s like riding a bike. The key is pedaling as aggressively as you can sustain at all times. Morons pedal lazily and then hit a hill and pedal like mad—bad strategy. There’s not only the distinct possibility that you might burn out before you reach the top, but even if you make it, you’ll be slow and the climb will kick your ass. The guy who has momentum behind him when he hits the hill cranks right up in record time and without as much pain. Be consistent and build momentum. In order to do these things, you have to possess adequate focus. Constantly assess what you’re doing, the track you’re on, and ask whether or not you are moving closer to your goal. If yes, great, continue. If not, no good, change something.
Lastly, I think it’s important that we look forward to things. For example, my daughter begins talking about her birthday when it is months away. She talks about which friends will be invited, the games they will play, and even what will be on the cake. This process of visualization is not only exciting but serves to help her shape the event to what she wants it to be. We should all take advantage of this innate mental process of anticipating something, visualizing it over and over, and eventually realizing it.
At the end of the day I’m no mental health expert, but I have found that the list of things we can do to improve our mental state is virtually limitless. While the mind feeds the body, the body also feeds the mind—it is essential that we find satisfaction in the things we do each day. We can’t just simply think ourselves into a better mental state. We need to find confidence and encouragement by taking action. Be productive, build momentum, and don’t stop.
Bodybuilders are arguably one the most rigid athletes around. The attention to detail needed to become successful results in a monotonous and repetitive life. But what happens over the holidays? Are they supposed to forget what they're doing and go off the rails, or do they just completely avoid social gatherings? We got the Animals together to discuss what they do and do not do when it comes to holiday eating.
Hand two motivated individuals the same hammer and neither will create the same thing. But how do you find that motivation to build? Whether we understand it or not, are aware of it or not, discontent often lies at the heart of change. For me, feelings of inadequacy coupled with an irrepressible need for self-improvement got me motivated pretty early in life. A bench and barbell set that could serve as a heavy-duty clothing rack and dust collection unit for one guy, allowed me to transform myself both physically and mentally. This is for the one who helped me get started. Thanks, Dad.
Preparation is fundamental to anyone hoping to attain their physique related goals. The word “prep” has become so overused that it’s actually easy to forget that it is short for preparation. Take food prep and contest prep, for example. We set aside time to prepare food in advance. Why? Efficiency is part of it, but it’s mainly so that we can repeat day after day of proper eating with no missed or imperfect meals. The entire concept of contest preparation is based on having what you need come the day of the show: a dialed in, competitive physique. Ultimately, preparation is about having what you need when you need it.