The Athletic Mind, Part 2: Training Yourself to Be a Positive Thinker
In my last article we discussed “The Athletic Mind.” We looked at the power that positive perspectives have in regards to motivation, and also how to keep yourself realistically optimistic. I did leave you hanging though - I didn’t tell you how you begin to renew the mind. How does a pessimistic or catastrophic thinker become a positive go-getter?
I’m going to share a little personal story with you. On the day of my college graduation at age thirty (yes, I went back when I was older and was determined to get my degree) I received a gift watch. On it was engraved, Romans 12:2:
“Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of the mind"
Why? Because for many years after my return to the United States from a long and trying time living in Warsaw, Poland, I recited this verse every single day. I had to. I came home feeling very negative about life and the things of this world.
But instead of dwelling in the events overseas or life in general, I decided to be proactive and to change my mindset. I would get up early and I would walk or run. I would count my blessings, one by one. After some time, I began to renew my mind. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I became not only a more positive thinker but also, more importantly, a very grateful person. At that time in my life I had days where blessings to count were few and far between (or so I thought), yet by continual and faithful practice, I began to see things differently. My mind was changing and in turn, it changed my heart, my passion, and my drive to succeed.
This is not to say that this is the only way for everyone, but I wanted you to know that this is not only a scientific piece or some self-help crap of some sorts, but a personal piece I want to share with you as a fellow athlete and as a coach. I am here to tell you firsthand that anyone can renew his or her mind.
Here are some helpful ways to change your perspective. Whether you are an athlete or not, you might just find these tips are applicable to you as well.
Count Your Blessings - One by One
Transforming the athletic mind means proactively listing positives. You might not be in the mood to do that after a failed effort, but feelings don’t matter here. Crummy performance on the platform or a poor sprint time, it doesn’t matter. Yes, it stinks but you must count your blessings anyway.
Let me clarify here, though, and tell you that this is not the same thing as making excuses. There is a big difference between saying, “Well. It’s okay. It was hot out there on the track and my legs were sore from yesterday,” and realistically and positively saying “Hey, you know what? Despite the heat and my workout yesterday, that was still a better time than last year - and I ran that one in the winter!”
Track Your Way Through
Write things down and record them. Feelings are not the same as results. For example, feeling like you had a crappy lift and seeing that it was a fifteen-pound personal best are very different things. But in order to know that, you have to record it. You have to know where you were previously to realistically see where you are now. From those two things (not “feelings”) you can set realistic goals for where you want to end up.
I am a fan of Garmin watches and scales, log books, and goals. Many people aren’t, and more and more these days people are relying on feelings more than reality and results. Let me dare you here. I dare you to take an honest look today at where you really are and I promise you that a month from now (as long as you are putting in real work) you will thank me. One of two things will happen: you will see where you are slacking or you will see where you have improved. Both can and should be great pushes forward toward success. “Feeling” fat or like you had a poor workout will look different to you when you see what you did or what you weighed the last time you tracked yourself - on paper. It might just renew your mind.
So here we are. Now that we have a log of where we are or have been, we know where we either need to improve or what specifically has or has not been working. Based on these things we can move forward the right way and with a concrete plan. To do that you must get after it. You can write down a life plan, training plan, meal plan, or business plan over and over again, but the execution of that plan is quite another thing altogether. That is the real test. Plain and simple. You have to really want to change and you need to understand that success, improvement, change, and new mindsets do not come overnight. This is not a one-night transformation but a renewal and by renewal I mean a continual and constant state.
“Oh forgive me Bill, I forgot about your left arm.”
“Say, look here, sir, “ Bill Peck retorted, “I’m big enough and ugly enough to play one-handed golf.”
“But have you ever tried it?”
“No, sir,” Bill Peck replied seriously, “but-it shall be done!”
(From The Go-Getter by Peter B. Kyne)
We know where we have come from and where we are now. Let’s go forward. And let’s not just go forward, but let’s get to where we want to go efficiently and with the right mindset. We must train the mind systematically to keep going. We will have bad days and discouraging days. It is inevitable, but how we recover is vital to our success so let’s train the mind as we train the body. When one is failing or close to giving up, the other will take over. Systematic training involves mindfulness and awareness.
Being mindful means asking yourself: “Where am I right now at this particular moment?” and “What real gains have I made?” Reframing this view of yourself and your training is important especially if you have had a long history of defeat or negative events. We can eliminate emotional feelings and thoughts by being mindful and seeing things just as they are. Be careful not to be overly thrilled with progress but also do not be overly depressed by a lack of “progress.”
Being aware is also key. “Failure” is a thought about the experience and not the experience itself. Again, how you recover is the key to succeeding the next time. The bad situation (even though you might not have lived up to your own or someone else’s expectations) is not to be labeled “failure” forever but instead should be called a learning experience. You are not the failure. Awareness will help lead you away from the emotions and sensations you have tied to disappointment (and yourself) and instead towards acceptance of what actually happened. There is far more turmoil and suffering with emotion than from a realistic perspective.
Note: Being mindful and aware are not bulldozers through resistance. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to systematically practice this mindset and in that way you can begin to chip away at the issue starting with the edges. Keep your hope and vision alive - especially during some of the greatest pain and trials
The body is stronger than the mind, but the mind is the motor.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.