The funny thing about life is that the small simple little things usually end up being the biggest contributors to a situation. So for example, one small key has the power to start an entire car…cheesy, I know. Even cheesier when you keep reading and realize what I’m linking a car key to. My point is that something you don’t consider to be a big deal, can in truth change everything. Especially in a place like the gym, on the field, or on the track. Working out hurts. It is SO uncomfortable! When you’re on that run and after about half a mile you get that really out-of-breath-heavy-leg feeling…none of you want to admit it, including myself, but we allll know we tell ourselves to stop running. And a lot of the times we do usually end up stopping, walking fast and then starting again. So what’s that small thing that creates the entire disruption or progression of your workout? What’s that thing that we never think about, that impacts how good of an athlete we are? How fit we are? How much we can handle? How strong we are? Those big deal things are all because of one tiny thing. And it’s called your mind.
Who cares about your mind? No one sees it. It doesn’t attract people like tan biceps and toned legs do. So what?! Well I’ll let you in on a tiny secret…again. Your mind is the reason you can put up with so much in the gym. It’s the reason why you have a strong body, and why you can be so inspired and motivated. Without mental strength, it’s quite difficult to display outer strength. In order to progress, meet your fitness goals and be able to be intense with what you do, you need to develop mental strength as well.
So how do you develop your mental strength? How do you train yourself to ignore discomfort and keep pushing through your workout? Let me just tell you all that there have been a couple times in my fitness development when I didn’t have mental strength. I’ll start out with the less embarrassing example first. In the past when I’ve promised myself I won’t eat dessert for say, two weeks…I’ve fallen victim to giving in and eating as much as I can. A friend brought over cookies, I stared at them for awhile…I cracked. You can say that I wasn’t mentally strong enough to walk away from the cookies and forget about them. But a better example is when I started track in 10th grade. I was at my third track meet…and you would think after three track meets I would be pretty clear on what I was supposed to do…run hard and fast and beat everyone when the gun went off. I was signed up to run the 200m race, halfway around the track. Yay! I ran the 100m. I lost…basically when I say that, what I’m saying is that 7 people crossed the finish line before me. So, I didn’t want to run the 200 next. I was terrified…scared to lose, scared to feel out of breath, scared to feel uncomfortable. I told my coach I felt sick and argued until I was allowed to sit out. I should’ve been happy right?! I didn’t have to be uncomfortable and push myself…I got the easy way out. The worst part is that I didn’t really regret it at the time either, until awhile later in my career when I looked back and realized how weak I was being. That’s just frankly embarrassing in itself.
I wanted to be like the great athletes I looked up to, who were intense and trained hard. The only thing stopping me was my mind. It was lazy and strong in the wrong way…when I worked out and it told me to stop, I would. Finally one day I thought about it, and decided that the only way to get to where I wanted to be was to ignore my thoughts while working out, push past them and shut them down. I didn’t know how else to do it. I started off slowly…I would be running on the track, and immediately my mind would send me signals to stop. I had to dig for strength and run a little longer each time before stopping. Finally after practicing over and over again and pushing a little more each time, I got to a point when my mind would scream at me to stop working out, but I was able to balance good thoughts with the negative while training, and therefore keep going. While my mind would be yelling “THIS HURTS!” the other half would kick in and scream, “JUST SHUT UP AND GO. YOU’LL BE HAPPY WHEN IT’S DONE.”
The mind goes through different stages while developing mental strength. First, we have to ignore all of the negative nonsense highlighting our pain and discomfort. Next, we need to start building the ability to train hard, while our mind is telling us to stop and do the opposite. And finally, we need to develop the ability to balance all of the negative thoughts we might have while working out, with the good ones that push us, and keep us going.
Now you don’t need to go all Jillian Michaels on yourself and kick your intensity level up to a 10…but you do need to have the ability to keep yourself going. Realize that our minds are incredibly powerful, and cause us to take action. Don’t dangle from the pull up bar and not finish your pull ups because your forearms hurt. Toughen up and push yourself through the pain. Picture your end goal, and how good you know you’ll feel when you’re done. Those tan biceps and toned legs are in truth the result of having a “toned mind”.
The funny thing about life is that the small simple things usually end up being the biggest contributors to a situation. Yes, one small key has the power to start an entire car. One small decision, like following through with a race you’ve been signed up to run, has the power to make you a strong, tough person. Something that you don’t consider to be a big deal, can in truth change everything. Change your mind, build mental strength, and you will change as well.