Winning is a Side Effect of Positivity
Occasionally, I find myself in a spin class at the gym near my apartment. I always wind up taking the same time slot with the same teacher, so I've gotten pretty used to the flow of her classes. When things are starting to get tough and we are approaching a major "hill", she often shouts, "You're an athlete, here to train!" Amidst the pumping bass of the music and the breathing of the sweaty person next to me, this always makes me laugh because I am definitely not an athlete. All you need to confirm this observation is one testimony from my middle school gym classes; athletics and I have never been buddies. Some would find this statement ironic considering the fact that I danced my entire life (yes, dance is a sport) and currently own a fitness studio, but I'm just not athletically inclined. I have horrible hand-eye coordination, I'm a slow runner by nature, and I can't lift to save my life. Fit, yes. Athlete? Exaggeration.
But, regardless of the facts, that little line thrown out in the middle of spin class always motivates me. I amp up my resistance, increase my speed, and push a little bit harder because it makes me feel like I am capable. My experience as a client and also as a leader of group fitness classes has taught me over and over that positive self-talk and authentic encouragement has more power to shape your performance than almost any other tool.
In my opinion, this goes far beyond fitness and leaks into every aspect of living a healthy lifestyle. I'm not an "overly positive" person. Though most would describe me as passionate, "peppy" is probably not my middle name. Positive affirmations are not about faking a smile and shoving your doubts into a corner; they are about focusing on progress rather than perfection and effort over achievement.
How do you know if you are living a life full of positive self-talk? Take a look at how you face day-to-day challenges. When the alarm clock goes off for work, do you groan and say things like, "It's hump day, half way there," or "I just have to make it until five o'clock,"? If you face every challenge with a "just getting by" attitude, you probably aren't going to excel. If you're shooting for a C, I promise you will not stumble upon an A+.
So, how do you transition from a "just getting by" mindset to one of positive affirmation? It starts with gratitude. When I am really struggling with something, whether it be making it through a Pure Barre exercise or having a conversation that scares me, I will try to put my anxiety on hold to think about the fact that I'm lucky to even have these worries, to have a body that functions, and to have so many wonderful people in my life that will love me despite my failures. Be thankful for the things you do well and how far you've already come, and let those reminders be motivators for your current goals. As we say in Pure Barre, "You're stronger than you think," and I've never seen anyone give up when they hear those words.
Disclaimer: I'm not implying that you should go around spouting fake positivity to everyone you meet. A lack of authenticity can do more damage than keeping your mouth shut, but authentic encouragement to others and positive self-talk will do wonders at re-shaping your own mindset. It may seem like semantics, but give it a try. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy to tell yourself that you will fail, but the opposite is also true.
You're an athlete, here to train. Winning is just a side-effect.
photo via Lara Casey