Mind Games

Sports psychologist Stephen Walker explains how honing your mental game can help your weight loss.
Mind Games

In three decades working in sports psychology, Stephen Walker has helped a slew of elite athletes, including Olympic track star Kara Goucher, improve their performance by perfecting their “head games.” Walker, himself an expert skier, avid runner and 10-handicap golfer, took some time to chat with WeightWatchers.com about how weekend warriors can use sports psychology to help themselves develop and stick to a fitness regimen and healthy diet.

WeightWatchers.com: What’s the most important thing a guy can do when he’s trying to adopt a workout regimen?

Walker: The most important thing to remember is that consistency is more important than intensity. A lot of guys will get started with a good, long workout but will be so sore the next day. They’ll say, "What was I thinking?" Then, they’ll take a few days off, which makes it harder to get into a routine. It’s better to shoot for a moderate workout three or four days in a row rather than do one hard workout that leaves you sore for days.

WeightWatchers.com: Once a guy has established a routine, how can he stay motivated to stick with it?

Walker: Working out with a good buddy distributes the burden of motivation. That said, I recommend some mix of training by yourself and with a buddy. You don’t want to get to where you rely on your partner so much, you’re sunk if he can’t make it one day. Think of a ratio that will work well for you — maybe three workouts with a friend and two on your own every week.

WeightWatchers.com: You help professional athletes cut down on negative self-chatter before and during workouts. How can a regular guy do the same thing?

Walker: I have people I’m working with focus on completing a simple task, emptying the dishwasher, with as little emotion as possible. It gets you into the mindset of going through the motions, placing things where they need to be placed, without giving in to that whiny voice that says, “I hate doing this. It’s her turn. I did it last time.” You don’t want to give the whiner any traction. If you can train yourself to do this while you’re emptying the dishwasher, the skill will translate to your workouts, too.

WeightWatchers.com: What’s the best thing a guy can do mentally to stick with a weight-loss plan?

Walker: You need to have a fairly well-thought-out plan for what you’re going to do for each meal. Don’t leave it up to impulse. The best-case scenario is that you’ll prepare your meals in advance. I’m also a proponent of taking a five-minute break to calm your mind before ordering lunch, and picturing in your mind’s eye what you want to order.

WeightWatchers.com: You’re big on positive mental imagery. How can a guy who’s trying to lose weight use mental imagery to help himself along?

Walker: Keep a picture in your wallet of how you want to be, maybe of how you once were. You need some relative comparison of this other version of you that you’re striving for. But it’s important that these are positive targets rather than negative targets. I’m not big on people carrying around a picture of themselves at their biggest weight to make them feel disgusted with themselves.

WeightWatchers.com: Any other tricks for gaining mental toughness?

Walker: Keep a little notebook by your bedside table. At the end of each day, grab a pen and jot down one thing you did that day that made you feel like you were making progress, even if the day sucked in general. Write it with enough precision that when you look at it six months down the road, you can put yourself back into that workout and realize how important that little success was in contributing to your overall development. When you start out, it might be something like, “I got up, got my gym trunks on and showed up at the gym, and was able to maintain a heart rate of 160 for 20 minutes.” Later on, it might be, “Bob and I went to Eagle Trail, ran 3.8 miles and ran up a big hill. It was pretty tough at the top, but I can feel my legs getting stronger.” When you review that little book, it can change your perspective of your readiness and your capabilities. The more you’re acknowledging your little successes, the more you build into your mind the idea that there’s nothing you can’t do.
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