Hands down, the biggest obstacle in my life sits right between my ears. The discouraging inner monologue and negative spiral my mind can go down at times is incredible (in a bad way, to be clear). Oftentimes, I dwell on the things I haven’t accomplished yet. I let mom guilt overwhelm me as I attempt to be present for my child but fret over a lack of productivity for my career. I feel it creep up again when I frantically play catch up on work during my son’s naps and days at school, not wanting the solitude and “me time” to end, yet simultaneously glancing at the clock every hour wondering when I can pick him up and snuggle him close again. Gosh, I need him just as much as he needs me.
I know I’m not alone in being hard on myself because I’ve heard my clients and friends open up in similar ways; pouring out frustrations that are born primarily from internal strife. A lot of people who come to me for personal training frequently fall into discouraging self-talk. At first, they don’t admit it. But as our relationship and trust grow, they share their insecurities and reveal the ways they get trapped in their minds while pursuing things like exercise and professional goals. The fact that these people are accomplished CEOs, lawyers, celebrities and government officials shows me that this propensity to feel insecure is a common human experience. But just because something is common doesn’t mean it should be normal. I like to think that we DESERVE to feel empowered to overcome obstacles and negative thinking.
It can be scary to tackle our goals with confidence. It’s easiest to talk ourselves into all the reasons why things WON’T work out the way we dream. I’ve been there. I have recently shifted from the manuscript-writing phase of a book to the pursuing-publishing phase. The two couldn’t be more different. While I savor the feeling of sitting at my desk and writing for hours, I don’t necessarily feel exalted at the prospects of getting turned down by potentially a LOT of literary agents. Time will tell…I’ve only just started. EEeekk! If I allowed discouraging thoughts to run my decisions then I would freeze before ever moving forward.
How do we conquer such deflating feelings? How do we ensure we’re in charge of our own minds, in a positive way?
Whether you’re tackling a new professional endeavor or stepping into the gym during a vulnerable time for your body or mind, there are effective ways to coach yourself through the process. Here are some strategies you can try…
1) Get Out of Your Head
Women seem especially prone to comparing themselves against one another. I’ve done it, too. It’s such an awful trap to fall into. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can “win” doing this. When we compare our lows to other people’s highs (a.k.a. the world of social media) we feel that we are perpetually failing. We badger ourselves over our perceived inability to be as successful as the woman we know who is dominating her executive position at a fast-growing company. We feel deflated when we have children that are a mess (and who are showing us who’s the real boss) when we see images of moms with a whole brood of little ones who are pristine, groomed and on good behavior. We feel silly for being proud of ourselves for lacing up our sneakers on a Saturday morning for a brisk walk when we are confronted by women boasting photos of their sculpted bodies after hours of hitting the weights.
I’m already feeling a little depressed after writing that last paragraph. Yuck! The thing is, we have to stop with comparisons. We have to hold ourselves back from them because they get us nowhere. A pastor I know said “Just play your own position. Know your own role.” In other words, know your “lane” in life and own it. Be proud of what YOU bring to the table and remember that you can’t be or do everything at once. The world is blessed with people of diverse talents for a reason; it’s how we keep the whole thing moving.
Recognize Negative Thought Patterns
One of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves is to openly acknowledge negative thought patterns. These are repetitive and unproductive thoughts that leave us stressed and/or depleted. They don’t serve any purpose, yet they can fill our minds and bodies with disease. If we start to recognize these negative thought patterns then we can choose how we react to them. For example, one of my clients used to say “I’m sorry” any time I corrected her form during a workout. There was no need for her to apologize – my entire job was to help guide her towards better success and health! Yet every time “I’m sorry” escaped from her lips without her thinking. We talked it out over time and finally managed to keep her from going down a negative path in her mind. Instead of allowing thoughts of failure and inferiority to dominate any time she received constructive feedback, she took it in stride. She kept her head high and didn’t divert her gaze with a defeated sigh. It was a huge win for us in our training relationship. Thereafter, both her body language and communication exuded better confidence.
A good place to start improving your mental process is writing down your most obvious and common negative thoughts. Next, list out several positive reactions or thoughts you can counter them with. The reason this is important is because negative thoughts are like quicksand; the more we struggle in them, the faster we sink. We need something hopeful to turn to.
Another way we need to get out of our heads is by getting rid of discontent. In order to move forward in a healthy and happy life, we can’t focus incessantly on what we don’t have or what we want more of. This way of thinking causes people to feel that their lives aren’t good enough. You can see how this is a negative thing, right?!?!
It seems painfully obvious that this kind of thinking leads up down a bad path, yet we do it anyway. ALL. THE. TIME. Often, we focus our energy on what we don’t have or what we crave to have without even thinking. To be questing after a status or promotion seems purposeful in life, maybe even positive and healthy! The challenge is where our mindset is rooted. If happiness hinges on your “not-there-yet,” “some-day-I-hope-to” aspirations, then there isn’t enough joy available in the present to fulfill you. Turn your focus to gratitude. What do you have right now that you’re grateful for? Who are you and why is that enough to sustain you here, today?
2) Gain Confidence
Act the Part
As we shed negative thinking and pursue our goals with the right intentions, we can gain confidence in simple ways. Acting confident (even if you don’t feel it at first) and expressing yourself with upright posture will impress upon those around you that you’re a force to be reckoned with. It can also affect your brain chemistry. Tall, confident posture can stimulate the release of hormones that keep you feeling good. Hence, if you act confident then you just might become confident.
Accept that Obstacles Happen
Obstacles happen. They do. In my fitness career I’ve had many; one major accident that made my body feel like it belonged to a 90-year old, numerous setbacks with fitness startup companies, managers telling me to pick a niche focus in fitness even though my passions encompass a lot of areas (apparently that’s not very conducive to creating a “brand”), and more. In writing, I had a professional offer me feedback on my first manuscript that made me take pause for the next decade. A whole decade while I waited for that “aha” moment when I could revisit the book with fresh, mature eyes.
We can look at obstacles as unfair or frustrating if we believe they shouldn’t happen, but obstacles are a part of life’s growing pains. We should anticipate them so that we can bounce back from the inevitable way they will trip us up. We don’t have to give them power to make us insecure.
When you’re having trouble staying confident because of setbacks, try to find meaning in the tough times. This sounds full of cheese, I know. For example, getting hit by a car years ago helped me become a well-rounded fitness professional because I became more capable of addressing people’s old injuries and back pains. In the moment it wasn’t always evident that I was growing in a positive way from the pain, but in time it became crystal clear. In fact, over the course of my life I have grown and learned the most through hardships, not good times.
Random Aside… This is similar to trees when you bring them home from the nursery. Removing them from a supported environment causes them stress. They might look weak and lean over after you plant them. But in response to the stress of having to support themselves, the roots shoot out and create a broad base. This allows the tree to slowly right itself and shoot up towards the sky. Similarly, we can thrive if we respond to stress by growing our roots deep, making it harder for the next big storm to tip us over in its wind.
3) Tackle Your Goals
Break Things into Small Tasks
Procrastinators and perfectionists alike can benefit from taking broad, longer-term goals and breaking them down into simple, actionable steps. For example, if I’m training someone to run a marathon we can’t focus immediately on the long runs. We have to start with the short and intermediate runs to build up stamina and train the muscles for the stress to come. We can’t think for too long about the total mileage that will be logged over the course of the training program or we may never begin. It’s intimidating to go from running a couple times a week for fun to logging 30-50 miles per week! My runners simply need to trust that each run will have a cumulative effect as we head in the direction of the race.
Per Psychology Today‘s recommendation, we can use the STOP Method to effectively move past emotions of fear, shame and self-doubt when we’re tackling our goals. STOP stands for:
Take a Step Back
By taking a moment to calm our emotions, we can look at our feelings from a different perspective. For example, if someone else had a similar emotional reaction, what would it look like to you? What would advice would you give them?
Mindfulness is a way of approaching our life, goals and relationships with better appreciation, service and enjoyment. Mindfulness allows us to better discern what’s worth our time and effort. As we make better, more confident and healthful decisions, we become productive in the ways that matter and fulfill our authentic selves. When our goals are aligned with what we truly care about, there’s no stopping us.
Yours in health and wellness,