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One Secret Trick for Getting a Lean Body Without Trying So Hard

Never overlook the outsize importance of the right mindset, say experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

Whether your body goals include gaining lean muscle mass and burning fat, getting big and ripped, or simply losing weight, one of the worst things you can possibly do is to maintain a negative mindset throughout your process. After all, if your ultimate goal is to "fix" yourself—and you obsessively focus on the negatives while losing sight of the larger, positive goal—you're hobbling your chances of success.

"This type of thinking can be destructive," Kevin Campbell, M.D., a cardiologist based in Raleigh, North Carolina, explained to U.S. News & World Report. "Rather than focusing on the good that can come of weight loss—such as better health, a longer life, more enjoyment in everyday activities and the prevention of diabetes and heart disease—these folks focus on negative thoughts. Ultimately, a negative mindset leads to failure."

But what should you think about if you're looking to see results at the gym—especially if your goal is to achieve a lean and toned physique? Read on for some suggestions, courtesy of some leading fitness professionals. And for some more ways to employ mind over matter, don't miss The Secret Tricks for Convincing Yourself to Exercise, Say Experts.

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Think About Nothing—Seriously

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At best it sounds counterintuitive, at worst it sounds crazy, but top trainers will tell you that there's merit in setting aside time to think about absolutely nothing for long periods. "The art of doing nothing doesn't have to be some sort of fancy meditation technique," says celebrity trainer Joey Thurman, CES, CPT, FNS. "I'm simply talking about taking 10 minutes to turn off everything, put your phone down, and close your eyes and simply be."

Wait—how does this help you reach your body goals? Well, according to Thurman, "it can have a tremendous effect on your mood, stress levels, and, yes, your body."

Not only will it help you relax and recharge, but it can be a healthy endeavor in and of itself. "Being able to go into a more relaxive parasympathetic state can truly help with your journey," he says. "If you pair this with some diaphragmatic breathing exercises you have a double whammy! This is also cyclical, if you can de-stress more, this will lead to a better night sleep, more hormonal regulation, and increased fat burning!" And for some great exercise advice, don't miss the Secret Side Effects of Lifting Weights for the First Time, Says Science.

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Bonus: It May Make You Happier, As Well

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According to a study published this year in the journal Emotion, having freely-moving thoughts—or simply daydreaming—is strongly associated with greater happiness. Further studies have showed how this type of thinking is linked with enhanced creativity. And for more great healthy living advice, don't miss the Unexpected Side Effects of Working Out in the Morning, Say Experts.

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Also: You Should Ditch the All-or-Nothing Mentality

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Another great mindset trick for reaching your goals is to ditch the idea that your plan is all-or-nothing. "The all or nothing approach does not serve you," Stephanie Mansour, personal trainer and CEO of Step It Up with Steph, explained to NBC News. "Very successful people tend to say 'I'm all in or I'm all out.' When we look at our health in that way it really sets us up to feel like we're failing if were not hitting every single thing."

As we've reported, it's impossible to 100% stick to any fitness plan for any meaningful period of time. And when we say "meaningful," we're talking about anywhere from 66 to 254 days. According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, that's how long it takes for a new healthy habit to become permanent.

Remember: You need to be thinking bigger than any one day or any one workout, and you shouldn't beat yourself up for any missteps along the way. "If one day, you have an unhealthy lunch or don't make it to the gym, that's OK," Stephen Graef, Ph.D., a psychologist and founder of Mindurance, explained to U.S. News & World Report. "Try eating healthy at your next meal and getting to the gym tomorrow. When we are hard on ourselves, it more often leads to failure."

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Be More Mindful—and Relax

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We can't stress it enough: Not only does mindfulness massively boost your health—it lowers your stress, protects your heart, and helps you make smarter decisions every day—but it also actually helps your performance as an athlete in the gym. According to a study of football players published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, those who consistently performed mindfulness and relaxation exercises saw the most benefit in their physical performance.

"The more they did [relaxation exercises], the less stressful their workouts felt and the happier they felt afterward," writes Shape. "Not only that, but they felt happier about their lives overall, showing the importance of mental rest and control for not just HIIT workouts, but for general and overall well-being."

The researchers concluded: "Just as physical exercise must be performed with regularity to train the body for performance success, mental exercises must be practiced with regularity to benefit the athlete's attention and well-being."

So if your goal is getting a lean body—which will require strength training, lots of long walks, a proper diet, and proper rest—consider adding a new item to your checklist that it make it a lot less difficult: Relax your mind, and go easy on yourself. For some great ways to get fit and lean, don't miss our Full Collection of Great Workouts.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more
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