Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Whitman Wrote It. Do You Believe It?

This past weekend I witnessed some astounding athletic feats during two 12-hour endurance events. On Saturday, October 25, I marked laps for 35 individual racers and 15 teams who were biking for 12 hours. On Sunday I watched 35 individuals and 15 teams running for another 12-hour challenge. Some racers even signed up for both events! The objective for each race was to see how many laps could be completed in the allotted amount of time. Amongst these racers were a number of local youth, ages 10 to 17! All of the racers were remarkable in their perseverance and positivity.

It is a common assumption that physical ability is the foundation for successful endurance racing. From my personal experience as a racer and an observer, physical ability is very little of the whole picture. Yes, physical strength and stamina are key elements of endurance racing. BUT mental tenacity is the cornerstone of success, starting with a single question: "What are my limits?"

This, of course is a "trick question" (have to throw in a few tricks - we are approaching Halloween, after all!). Chances are the answer(s) to this question is in your head. And that is where your limitations exist - in your head. They are the result of interpersonal communication or self-talk. So here is a second question: "What do you say to yourself on a daily basis?"

As I was pacing my friend through the first of the final 2 laps (13 miles) of the 12-hour running race, (her goal was to complete 50 miles or 8 laps), she commented that she did not think she could complete the eighth lap. This comment was insightful; (1) she was in the future rather than in the present; (2) she was limiting herself with her thoughts. In the moment that she uttered those words we were running at a pace that suggested ample time to finish an eighth lap. She was heading towards her goal with time to spare! But rather than giving herself credit for her efforts, she chose to focus on her perceived limitations. She turned "I am" into "I can't." After helping her redirect her thoughts more positively, she was able to focus on the present, recognize her accomplishments (40 miles of trail running!) and open the spectrum of possibility. I can't" became "I am" and "I can." These are powerful thoughts that shaped her reality, bringing her to the finish line with a smile on her face and a new understanding of her limitless potential. I was honored to be the voice outside of her head helping to recognize and change the voice inside of her head.

Self-talk, also called "intrapersonal communication," is a key component in how we view ourselves and, thus, perceive our limitations. Upon reflection, I began wondering if "I can't" was perhaps a stock response. When we find ourselves in challenging, uncomfortable or difficult circumstances, what is our response to our Self? Is it "I can't?" Or perhaps it is "I'm not good enough." When making a mistake, does "Geez, that was stupid" surface? How often to we underestimate our potential with belittling or negative self-talk? And how long have we been engaging in this type of inner dialogue?

What we say to ourselves on a daily basis is a template for our mindset, our perceived limitations and our self-worth. Self-talk is an indication of self-love.

It is difficult to catch ourselves in the act of self-degradation. It is almost an auto-pilot response; a default setting that creates a negative mental state. This negativity becomes our "normal" and can be so pervasive that we sabotage our potential for physical, mental and emotional abundance. So what can we do about it? Be present. Observe your thoughts. Understand what you are telling your Self ABOUT your Self.

One activity I find helpful is to first recognize what I am thinking about myself and then turn it inside out. I ask myself if what I am saying internally would be a compassionate and understanding response to someone externally - a friend or a family member. Often times I find that it is not. Would I have told my running friend that, indeed, she cannot meet her goal? That she is not good enough? Or that she was "stupid" for trying? No. Absolutely not. I offered only the utmost support and encouragement to my friend during her attempt. And success followed. Offering the utmost support, encouragement and compassion inwardly will also lead to success. Personal success.

Once you've begun realizing your self-talk, take the time to congratulate yourself on the times that you are compassionate and pleased with yourself. Recognize the self-talk that is positive, motivating and energizing. Notice how a smile creeps onto your face in these moments. This is our response to love! Then, begin recognizing any irrational or distorted thoughts. These thoughts do not serve. They do not honor, they are not loving towards. They can be released from the mind. Let them go - you do not need them! In fact, replace them with more productive ones. Rather than "I can't" give yourself credit for what you are currently doing. Recognize the worth of your current actions. Replace "I'm not good enough" with "I am enough." Re-evaluate a mistake with "I am learning" or "I am trying" rather than "I am stupid." You will find that reshaping your thoughts will reshape your life and release limiting views.

There are many authors and teachers offering similar observations about self-talk and techniques for positive mental shifts. Byron Katie offers "The Work: Learning to Love What Is" which is a step-by-step guide to recognizing and changing negative mental patterns (http://www.thework.com/index.php). Louise Hay offers interesting perspectives on how our thoughts affect our ability to live healthy and fulfilling lives in her book "You Can Heal Your Life" (http://www.louisehay.com/about-louise/). Another interesting investigation of self-talk aired recently on NPR (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/10/07/353292408/why-saying-is-believing-the-science-of-self-talk) These are just a few resources helping me recognize and release the limitations I've placed on myself through my thoughts. Ultimately, I've learned that my limitations are all in my head. And so are yours!

Walt Whitman was right in 1855. I am large. I contain multitudes.

(Special thanks to Dr. Kristen Gullicks McIntyre whose Facebook post inspired my thoughts on this blog)

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