I work out hard when I’m at the gym, I’m focused and intentional. Often people will ask me what I’m training for, sometimes I have a particular race or event I can mention, but really, I’m always there training for life. Yes, I’m training my body to keep up with my active kids, but most importantly I’m training my mind.
When life gets hard, I know I’m ready, because I do hard things every day. When I feel like I can’t keep going, I know that I can, because I push past my desire to stop every day. When I’m in a painful moment I know it will pass because I experience the ebb and flow of discomfort and rejuvenation every day.
Many people show up to the gym or a new exercise class with hopes that their body will change, that they will meet physical health goals or get physically trained to complete a new challenge. What we gain in regard to our mental health, confidence, self-esteem, and self-concept, are the often-unexpected gains that train us for the challenges of everyday life. The truth is consistency and progress in strenuous exercise takes mental training as much as it takes physical training.
From the moment we walk into the gym or exercise class we are learning the process of mentally preparing ourselves for hard things. In that moment when we’re getting ready to workout, we have a choice about what we focus on. We can choose to focus on the effort, the discomfort we might feel, the moments that will be hard OR we can choose to focus on the feelings of satisfaction, success, and pride we will experience when we have gotten through the hard work. This realization of choice in thought and the creation of a thinking habit that focuses on the end result, helps us take on a grueling day at work, get into a big project around the house, or even initiate a difficult conversation with a loved one. A consistent exercise routine allows us to practice and lock in this forward-looking thinking habit, that gets us to engage in the challenging things we know are beneficial in the long run.
Everyone in the gym or exercise class is having some kind of internal conversation, especially when the workout gets hard. This is another choice point and becoming aware of it serves us in so many ways because what we say to ourselves always determines our outcomes. If I’m pushing a new back squat record or new distance out on a run, my success will be determined by what I tell myself. There is a negative voice that can easily take over, it can say “you can’t do that, you're not in shape for that, you're going to fail this attempt”....or we can choose the voice of encouragement, this voice sounds like “you got this!, Let's go! Your strong!”. Choosing the latter is going to provide us with the energy and confidence to get it done. Repeating this process of recognizing negative self-talk, replacing it with positive self-talk and then experiencing success creates a habit of confident, intentional thinking that benefits us in everything we do.
Life will throw us all small and big challenges. We will all experience our own traumas, losses and grief. How we think about ourselves, how we describe ourselves, who we believe we are...determines if we crumble and lose ourselves in these experiences or if we recover, move forward and grow from these experiences. Working out shows us that we are tough, that we can survive discomfort. It shows us that we can overcome challenges. When we describe ourselves as someone who is resilient, someone who can get through hard moments, someone who is STRONG...These self-concepts that we connect to in the gym, change how we think about ourselves in all areas of life. We get through the divorce, the assault, the serious illness, the job loss, more successfully when we see ourselves as a strong, positive person who can do hard things and reap the benefit of growth and expansion on the other side.
I genuinely believe that a regular exercise routine; a routine of pushing myself to do things that are hard, scary, and uncomfortable, then seeing what I am capable of, experiencing the feelings of elation, success, pride and strength that comes on the other side, has been a key factor in getting through the hardest experiences of my life. Having already experienced myself as strong, resilient, and capable has allowed me to face life challenges knowing that I will not only survive, but I will thrive. Life has thrown some big challenges my way, there have been losses, grief, trauma, and uncertainty...but I have gotten through it, more than that, I have GROWN through it all because I trained for it. Life will continue to present challenges in my life, but I know it will be ok, I know I can handle it because I’m training for it every day.