Your Thoughts Don’t Matter
Many people, who work in the realm of personal improvement, including personal trainers and coaches, engage in the practice of labeling thoughts ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ They use techniques like visualization and thought replacement. The goal is to generate ‘positive’ thinking and banish ‘negative’ thoughts.
The problem is they often create anxiety around ‘negative’ thoughts. They insist we must avoid this thinking at all cost. But avoiding negative thoughts is about as easy as avoiding sunshine.
Ironically by trying to avoid ‘negative’ thinking we actually empower it. The true power of our thoughts comes from how we react to them. When we react strongly the thoughts grow in power and duration.
Alvin is at mile ten of a half marathon. He is getting tired and the thought pops into his head, “This is too hard!” This is his first half, so this thought scares the bajebus out of him.
Questions begin to spin through his mind: “What if I don’t make it?” “What will my friends and family think?” “Why can’t I ever finish anything I start?” “What did I get myself into?”
As these thoughts grip Alvin his anxiety grows. His breath becomes shallow and his feet feel heavy. He feels his motivation lag. He starts to feel light-headed; he slows down, and starts to walk. He eventually finishes the race, but is disappointed with his performance.
It would be easy to blame Alvin’s performance on lack of character or strength of will. Perhaps we think he should have willed himself to not think about how hard it was or maybe he should just have trained harder. In either case we are missing the reason why Alvin’s thoughts grew into such a big problem.
Let’s take the same situation, but this time with a different perspective. Chloe is at mile ten of a half marathon. She is getting tired and the thought pops into her head, “This is too hard!” but Chloe has run many half marathons.
She knows this is the hardest part of the race. But she’s been here before and has faith that she’ll make it. She may worry briefly, but ultimately the thought merely vanishes. She finishes the race and achieves a personal best.
A Seasoned Beginner
In both of these examples the thought is the same “This is too hard!” The difference is that Alvin indulges the thought and it grows, while Chloe just let the thought go. Some of this comes from experience, but you don’t have to be a veteran to think like one. It is possible to face each new challenge from the cool Chloe perspective.
Whenever you take on a big challenge at some point, “This is too hard!” will pop into your head. The trick to being like Chloe is not to vanquish these thoughts, but to accept them as they arise.
Seeing Is The First Step To Letting Go
This is where mindfulness comes into play. When we practice mindful fitness our goal is to observe the mind without judgment.
When a thought arises we simply notice the thought, doing our best not to judge. We look to see what body sensations arise with the thought. We might notice our breath gets shallow, or we furrow our brow. Most importantly we don’t try to ‘fix’ the thought. We just let it be.
By observing our thoughts instead of trying to fix them we withhold their power over us. Each time we observe, even a little bit, we begin to grow space around our thoughts. As the space grows, it’s easier to let go of the thoughts without getting all worked up.
Choose 1 – 3 ‘negative’ thought(s) that often arise when you workout or think about working out. Then one at a time repeat each thought in your mind and write down some observations:
- What do I feel in my body as I hold this thought?
- What other thoughts come along with this thought?
- What does my body do when I think these thoughts?
For one week, try and notice when these thoughts or their related sensations arise. Try to observe each thought without judging. If you get caught up anyway that’s ok, but notice that you got caught up.
At the end of the week revisit this list and write down anything else you notice. The hard part of this exercise is to avoid coming up with a strategy to defeat the thoughts. The purpose of this practice is to learn to observe your thoughts without judgment.
You don’t need to be fixed. You already have the tools you need for your transformation. The trick is to trust your own wisdom and to get out of your own way. Mindfulness is the first, second, and final practice that enables your true power to emerge.