Strong Starts in the Mind (Or, 5 Mental Laws for Gym Mastery)

Lisbeth Mindset


I can’t put it more plainly than this: Strong starts in the mind.  

We get this idea “I’m going to get strong. I’ll go to the gym and lift all the weights.” And while the gym is a great place to get strong, the act of getting strong doesn’t start in the gym. 

The act of getting strong starts in your head. 

Your thoughts will enable (and/or disable) you long before your muscles and tendons get a chance to enter the game. 

Why Training Your Mind Is Crucial

I’m going to be saying “strong starts in the mind” until they pry the steel bar from my cold, dead hands, because this concept is that important, and we all need to embrace and understand it. 

But I’m not one of those people who will tell you that “the mind is a muscle” because the mind is not a muscle! Your rectus femoris is a muscle. Your gluteus maximus is a muscle. You have about 700 muscles in your body, but your mind is not one of them. But I digress. Your mind is not a muscle, but it is trainable.

Training your mind at the same time you train your body is crucial because if your mind isn’t right, your lift won’t be right and your body doesn’t have much of a chance of getting righteous. That’s just how it is. We are complex beings who learn most by falling on our faces. Screwing up. Failing. Whatever you want to call it.  

The garden of hope is watered by our tears.

So it’s critical that you learn to train your mind to get back up when you’re down, to soar when all you want to do is sink, to come out to play when all you want to do is hide. You simply must learn to rise time after time, failure after failure, devastating blow after devastating blow. 

Because this is how you get strong in the mind. Just like in the gym, you earn it. 

People call this concept by different words. Some might call it “buoyancy” and others might call it “resilience” and some harder-edged folks might call it “being unfuckwithable.” Whatever your term, the definition is the same: your mind is good, and you’re ready to go. 

So, how do we get there? How do we train our multi-tasked, somewhat addled perpetual state of motion and confusion (and, sometimes, depression) to a sense of strong in the mind? 

Let’s start with these 5 thoughts, which are important in the gym and outside the gym: 

1) Prepare: Your Mind Can Grow Stronger 

  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Life is hard for everyone, and that includes you. 
  • Ban the words “busy” and “tired” from your lexicon. They don’t help. Stop using them. 
  • Never speak of your age like it’s a disability. Age just is. You can’t grow younger. 
  • View absolutely everything as an opportunity to improve. 

2) Remember: Movement Is More Important Than Outcome 

Focus on the process, not the product. Drill the importance of movement itself into your head, instead of focusing on how perfectly you executed a movement. With practice, you’ll improve. 

 People who focus on outcomes are generally less successful and more unhappy than those who focus on the process. So, stop doing that. Lose yourself in the movement and the pure joy of being able to move your body.  

As Dr. George Sheehan reminded us in “Running and Being”: “Play, then, is the answer to the puzzle of our existence … Play is where our life lives … If you are doing something you would do for nothing, then you are on your way to salvation. And if you could drop it in a minute and forget the outcome, you are even further along. And if, while you are doing it, you are transported into another existence, there is no need for you to worry about the future.” 

3) Think: “This Bar Is Light” 

Say this in your mind, or say it out loud to yourself, right there in the gym. I do. I say it repeatedly. In fact, I wrote an essay about it. (Read “This Bar is Light.” ) 

Write “this bar is light” with a Sharpie on your arm if you want to. Stamp those words into your mind. This one little mental trick can have amazing results. 


4) Use Acronyms  

Some folks might call this a mnemonic device, but the basic concept is the same: a word that you use to remind you of key concepts to remember. For example:   

STRONG becomes: 

Scale if you need to 

This bar is light 


One thought at a time 

Now is all that exists 

Greatness is earned 


BREATHE becomes: 

Be here now 


Emphasize the good 

Allow thoughts to come and go 

Take a moment  

Hear what your body is saying (not your mind crying about the pain) 


The point is to take control of your mind and use it for powerful thoughts that work for you. 

5) Remind Yourself: AGBU 

Always Get Back Up. 


No matter what happens, get back up.

Life is not always going to play fair or nice. Neither is the gym. Sometimes you’re going to get hit so hard by life that your teeth will rattle and you’ll taste the blood in your mouth. That’s okay. Why? Because you’re still alive. You’re still here. You’re living and breathing and you still have a chance.

There’s a reason we all love the movie “Rocky” so much – because no matter what happens, no matter how hard he’s hit, he gets back up. Always get back up. 

 Note: This article was originally published on 5/14/2015. All rights reserved by Lisbeth Darsh.

Lisbeth Mindset

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