Before I start my first post, I would like to say how honoured I am to be contributing to this amazing site that celebrates the physical diversity of athleticism and encourages people of all shapes and sizes to give credit to their athletic lifestyles and abilities. I am looking forward to covering a great range of topics during these guest posts, starting with a series discussing the mental aspects of training and pushing our mental limits. This first part in our Mental Fitness special is a beginner’s guide to pushing through those mental barriers we so often encounter in day-to-day training and how to establish some key points to recall when things get tough.
We’ve all been there. Training away, boxing, running, swimming, walking, whatever it is we’re doing, thinking how great it feels, then all of a sudden - BAM - things start to hurt. Our little voice suddenly stops talking about how much fun its having and starts yelling (amongst other choice expletives, if you’re me) “this is SO not fun anymore! What are you DOING to us?! This HURTS and I want to go home NOW!” Before you know it you’ve stopped whatever you’re doing and making your way home as instructed, unable to escape that sneaking sense that yet again, you’ve given up when things got tough.
I can quite confidently say, in retrospect, that I have always performed at an elite level of giving-up-when-things-hurt. Which is probably why, until now, I have never really stuck with any particular fitness regime or sport for a sustained period of time. The initial periods of limit-pushing were always new, fun, and Facebook-status worthy. Then the dreaded plateau would occur and the concept of another ‘push’ on established limits just didn’t really appeal to me, or probably even occur to me, for that matter.
So what changed?
A couple of years ago I was getting ready for a walk on the track in my neighbourhood. I had been experiencing moments in previous sessions where I was getting very emotional when things got tough - like throw your hat off and sit in the gutter sobbing emotional. On analysis, when I was at my peak physical exertion, I was getting really angry. Angry that I had to work so hard to lose weight, questioning why I was cursed with this weight ‘battle’, and whether I had the energy to fight it for the rest of my life. I made a decision that I needed to change my training focus from a ‘battle’ to ‘dream chasing.’ Training needed to become about fulfilling my fitness dream of being a runner, and not about losing weight. My training needed to be motivated by love as opposed to being dominated by fear and anger. I had a chat with myself:
Leah, because I love you, I will not let you down. Today we are going to run and we’re not stopping until you get home. Today is the day where we don’t give up no matter how much it hurts. From now on we don’t give up because this is your dream and you deserve success. I love you, and I will not let you down.
I ran 6.2km that day, pushing my daughter in the jogging trailer in howling crosswinds, and no matter how many times I wanted to stop, I just kept plodding, repeating to myself ‘I love you and I will not let you down.’ It was in no way easy, and our post-run celebration was a long bath that I feared I couldn’t get out of. Fast forward just over 2 years and this is still the mantra I have when things get tough in training and racing. It is truly amazing what you can achieve when you stop approaching training from a position of fear and change to a position of love.
How can you achieve this in your own training?
Try this exercise I give my own clients. When each new client starts with me I get them to write a letter to themselves which discusses the core reasons for their decision to start training, and what they want to achieve. The only two guiding points for this letter is that it must include the phrases ‘I love you‘, and ‘I will not let you down.’ Store the letter in a place where you can refer to it at times when motivation is lacking or if you are questioning your success. Some people place it in their pillow sleeves and reaffirm themselves of their promises before they go to sleep. When things get tough during your training sessions, draw on these core reasons you have written down. Get back in touch with what all of this hard work really means to you. Tell yourself ‘I will not let you down.’ Remind yourself that you are worthy of this effort, and you are worthy of success.
Its as equally important to be honest about what it is about training that we really fear. Yes, fear of injury and physical discomfort are noteworthy, but in reality, a good training program will be engineered to avoid injury. Without knowing it, in life, as in fitness, sometimes the greatest thing we fear is our own potential and success. The minute you stop fearing your own personal power and success, you become capable of the effort it takes to achieve it, and limits get pushed. When you realise what you are capable of mentally and physically, you no longer fear the discomfort of hard work and again, limits get pushed. Welcome to the world of fearless fitness - it sure is a beautiful place.
In my next post we will further explore countering negative thoughts using a Mindfulness approach as opposed to other more established methods. I would love to hear your experiences of how you smashed your mental barriers in training, and any questions that you may have about this post. Let’s get talking!
Leah is the Founder of Body Positive Athletes, a community who celebrates the physical diversity of athleticism and fitness. A sponsored endurance athlete and mum, this Aussie is classed as a global thought-leader in the area of Body Positive Fitness and in promoting the notion that the term ‘athletic’ defines a lifestyle and not a body type.