The idiom Mind Over Matter continues trending upward in categories ranging from the more digestible ones like entrepreneurship, sports, and self-growth all the way to some more… esoteric studies (such as: spirituality, and spirituality’s cousin, witchy rituals for manifestation).
In today’s article, we will explore the legitimacy of the mind-over-matter philosophy as it pertains to physical fitness (in other words, mind over muscle, because that’s what really matters [get it…matter?).
During our little memetic exploration, I will draw upon scientific studies, anecdotes of bodybuilding legends, and a bit of personal experience to help you develop a deeper understanding of this mind-over-muscle philosophy. As a result, you can effectively decide whether you: (A) think it’s a bunch of fluff, or (B) agree with me (i.e. come to the correct conclusion).
Additionally, I’ll provide a few simple tips for how to use your mind to triumph over what truly matters…you know, like, sculpting a vainglorious physique.
Philosophy of Manifestation (For Muscle Mass) or Manifest Muscle Mass: A Mindfully Meat Headed Philosophy
For those who don’t know, the philosophy of mind over matter can be simply explained as the ability to control a physical condition, problem, etc. by using the mind.
In regards to mind over muscle, this means that our minds(et) dictate our muscle growth. In other words, the way we think about our physical progress (whether it be performance, fat loss, or building based) determines our development. Not just in the grand scheme of things, but in every workout as well.
Our mind will tell us we’ve failed long before our muscles do. It’s why I rarely count reps, and on the times I do, I shoot for stupidly lofty goals. I’d rather (subconsciously) tell my muscles to perform 30 reps and get 22 than use the same weight and think of a rep range between 10-15, only to get 14. You’d be surprised how often this works.
The Grand Scheme
If we are constantly stressing, asking if what we’re doing is working, complaining about shortcomings, and so forth, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot…
Years ago, I stressed regularly about various muscle groups. I would condescend myself, say things like, “my damn biceps attachment is too high,” or “my shoulders just won’t grow,” and of course, my training partners at the time parroted similar critiques back to me.
I didn’t see how detrimental this could be. It seemed harmless. Hell, even writing it out, it still sounds harmless.
But there’s this thing called the reticular activating system (RAS) in our brains.
Located at the base of the brain where it connects with the spinal cord, the reticular activating system influences cognition. It’s also basically a filter for the roughly eight million bits of information (subconsciously) flowing through our brain.
In other words, it eliminates the white noise. When a message gets past the RAS filter it enters the cerebrum where it’s then converted into conscious thoughts, emotions or even both.
“Even though the cerebrum is the center of thought, it will not respond to a message unless the RAS allows it. The RAS is like Google. There are millions of websites out there, but you filter out the ones you are not interested in by simply typing a keyword.” -Ruben Gonzalez, author of The Courage to Succeed.
So, what messages get through? Pretty much just the ones that are currently important to you. For example, if you’re focused on training to build bodacious booties and lucious lats then your RAS will filter in the thoughts that’ll make your workout a success, such as the tools, motivation, and exercises you’ll need to develop the desired muscle.
On the dark side, if we’re constantly focusing on our own self-perceived lack, then it’s thoughts like that the RAS lets through. In other words, as much as I hate to say it, those folks attending The Secret type seminars might be onto something. Even if the incense and chanting is uncomfortable, and sometimes mildly disturbing.
Words of Wisdom, From Legends of Old
Below is a list of quotes from legendary bodybuilders, all of which basically say the same thing. That your mind determines your muscle growth (and fat loss). Really, an entire article could be written just using their words. But that sounds boring (for me and you), so…
- “The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100%.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
- “My mind power gave me this body.” – Serge Nubret
- “One cannot actualize his goals until he visualizes them clearly in the mind’s eye.” – Mike Mentzer
- “You must believe in yourself enough to be the person now, that you want others to remember you for later.” – Greg Plitt
- “Motivate the mind, the body will follow.” – Larry Scott
- “Ain’t nuttin’ but a peanut.” – Ronnie Coleman
Simple Practices to Manifest Muscle, and Fat Loss
In the following section, I’ll provide a few simple practices and beliefs you can experiment with to accelerate your way, and utilize for motivation and drive.
Adopt Stupid Arrogance
To provide a deeper understanding of the section heading Adopt Stupid Arrogance, let’s turn to anime.
In the series, Soul Eater, there’s a fun, sometimes obnoxious, blue-haired shadow weapon meister by the name of Black☆Star. As one of the top students in the academy, his aim is to surpass even the gods in terms of power and martial prowess.
During his training throughout the series, he is often portrayed as arrogant, super self assured, and determined to be (like my boy Ash Ketchum) the best. To give a glimpse of just how arrogant he is, here’s him making it obvious…
- “Compared to a man as big as me you realize how small you are, don’t you? I understand how you feel. Even I can be frightened by my own greatness. So I find it difficult to stand in front of mirrors.” – Black☆Star
What’s interesting about his character arc could be that he truly cares for his friends and all that jazz, but what’s important is that over time his character grows and becomes absurdly strong. It’s mentioned in the anime that Black Star’s tendency to be his biggest hype man plays a role in his evolution into a warrior god.
So, not saying you should be super loud mouthed and I’m definitely not suggesting anyone start being an arrogant prat to fellow gymgoers, but…
Next time you’re checking yourself out in the mirror, go ahead and tell your reflection she’s the s***. Even if you don’t believe it (perhaps especially if you don’t believe it), tell her that affirmation anyway: Because even if you aren’t at your final form, that final form is within you. Growing. Surging. Evolving. She just needs you to nurture her. To tell her she’s allowed to shine — or supernova.
Seek & Sponge From Science
Adopt a student mindset. Become insatiably curious. Seek knowledge wherever possible, be it YouTube channels (like ours, which you can find here), blogs, scientific journals, or even the rare high-quality informative Instagram influencers’ posts. It doesn’t really matter the medium for ingesting intelligence. What matters is that you do it. Study the craft, soak up knowledge, and apply those studies to your fitness practice.
Accept that you don’t know everything, and you will learn one hundred times more than if you close your mind to new information.
Paradoxically, Trust Yourself Over Everything
I know. I just said to accept that you know nothing. But there’s a flip side to that coin. If you are constantly questioning what you’ve learned during your hours of practice (in the gym and kitchen), this can impair action. Likewise, it can serve as an impediment to your progress.
Here’s an example. One of my favorite YouTubers named Jerry Ward once used the following anecdote (I’ll try not to butcher it): “If broscience and science are personified, and find themselves walking through the path of bodybuilding, eventually they will always come across a canyon. A sort of gap in knowledge. Science stops, utterly paralyzed by their confoundment, then they hit the books. On the other hand, Broscience just builds a bridge. Sure, it’s rickety, and maybe not perfect, but at least they keep going. And eventually, Science catches up.”
What this means (or at least my interpretation of it), is that just because some dude wearing a lab coat says you need to perform X amount of sets for X amount of reps, or you need X amount of recovery and yada yada yada — whatever — doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always right. Hell, I’ve had guys try telling me that studies have shown intensity techniques like drop sets don’t yield any greater results than straight sets. But those strict lab rats never grow.
Anecdote Time: Years ago, I had a ‘nutritionist’ try lecturing me on how I’d never build any muscle mass if I trained fasted. In fact, she told me I was straight up wasting my time, and on a path to emaciation.
I kept doing it anyway.
Partially because I’m just stubborn, but more so because I noticed my workouts were consistently better when I’d train on an empty stomach. I felt more focused, more energized, and oftentimes even had better pumps. I had no idea why this was, and at the time couldn’t find any research to back me up, but I did it anyway. Because I felt like it worked, and trusted my instincts.
Then, years later, science discovered all sorts of cool shit to validate my genius (he said, snarkily).
I won’t get into all the technical stuff, but basically hormones largely responsible for muscle growth and fat loss are elevated during fasted periods, ketones come to aid in a way that’s muscle sparing, and some really interesting shit occurs within the brain that greatly amplifies focus.
Would I have eventually figured all this out? Absolutely. But because I’d listened to my instincts from the get go, it put me years ahead of those who were too scared to disobey their ncbi doctrines and stray from the safe (but boring) path of science. Note: that nutritionist now trains fasted. So…fifty points awarded to Slytherin.
Trust Your Process
We’ve all heard the saying, Trust the process. To many, this can be a positive little mantra, but it doesn’t work in my brain. Reason is because I’m picky when it comes to word selection, and I overthink just about everything. As a result, when I read “trust the process” my brain automatically jumps to uselessly oscillating between questions, primarily…
“What is The process? Whose process is it? Did they make it free for 24 hours? Is it one person’s process or a corporation’s process? Are they getting royalties off this? Did they once find themselves asking similar questions, for example: Which Process is The True Process? Did that reflection really allow them to have a vision in the forest after taking some mushrooms thus inspiring this process ultima, for which they could build an entire religion around said process, or did they plagiarize it off a sci-fi writer and with a few clever marketing schemes and good copywriting manage to dupe some masses?”
It’s that “The” in there that really throws me off, as it suggests there’s some legendary tome that will answer all my fitness questions, thus propelling me on my way towards aesthetic greatness (i.e. muscle masstery.)
Except, there isn’t any single process that applies effectively to everyone. We’re all different. Unique little snowflakes with different genetic makeups, muscle attachments, excitatory thresholds, childhood traumas, metabolisms, etc. So adhering to the belief that the one process can be trusted by all just doesn’t work (for me).
That being said, I suggest editing the mantra. Don’t trust the process. Trust your process.
Your personal process might change, evolve, adapt, transcend over time, but so long as you trust that you’re gaining new tools to sculpt your David (or Diana?) and train with faith (that those mighty gainz shall come) then you’re on the right track.