I do that thing where I ride my bike to the gym to go to a cycling class. It’s funny cause the ride to the gym feels like this simple breeze, the conduit to get to the next thing, while the faux bike ride feels like the real deal. It’s how I start every Tuesday and Thursday morning: sweating my ass off. And I couldn’t love it more. Something about dripping, and feeling/seeing the moisture just roll off you. It’s an activity that makes me feel not simply alive, but powerful, strong, on purpose. You get on, pedal, and all your motions and effort have a result. You see your FTW (power to weight ratio) go up, as you get stronger. I have become mildly obsessed with that number. Going up .1 is akin to a massive accomplishment. Though no one in my life knows that number or even relates to it, it makes me wildly proud.
This connection with my body is one I cherish. Years back I created a habit of never weighing myself. I base my entire relationship with my body based on how I feel inside of it, and how it makes me feel. We have no calculations, but conversations of comfort, celebration, annoyance, glory, sex, etc. And while body image and conversation is often something that takes place in a solo space, it is my body and my love of pushing it that has brought me some sense of community outside of my friends. Being the archetype introvert, it is far too easy for me to fade into the walls of my apartment and never leave. In fact I get as much satisfaction in sitting alone as I do with others, if not more. I have mastered moving through public spaces “alone,” oft time talking to no one, and unconsciously or consciously avoiding contact. So when I have generated community or some kind of constant contact, it produces an internal experience of warmth. A reminder: others are out there. And it’s pretty awesome.
But, I digress. I have created relationships with a few people in my cycling class, and most days share jokes and chuckles with the instructor. To get us riled up and riding harder he asks that we imagine we are one or three people away from the finish line, and galvanizes us to push through to the end in service of “beating” or “passing” them. Months and months back when I first started going to the class, actually probably over a year ago, he would yell into the microphone something about imagining someone we hate or dislike, suggesting that that would inspire us to ride harder to “beat” them. (Faux races, with pretend people to beat, fake finish lines to get to, on bikes we are imaging are really on roads. It’s all very make-believe). I remember the first time I heard that I was really taken back. Using hate or dislike to inspire us? Doesn’t seem remotely as powerful as strength, love, or ….
Months later when we had established a relationship I brought it up to him: what was with the negativity to produce a positive result? In my experience, the more negative thoughts I have, the more I actually generate and create that in my life. Cycling and going to the class is not just physically stimulating, it is also one of the places in my life that I am 100% reliable to tell myself positive and good things. When it gets hard I chant in my head: I am power. I am success. I am sweat. I am power. I am success. And it makes it easier. When I first began taking the class, I realized how powerful my words to myself were. When I would accidentally look at the clock and see we had 30 minutes I would think oh my god I can’t do this. And then I would start coming up with all the ways I couldn’t. One day it hit me: by telling myself that, it actually made it true. So what’s the power in telling myself the opposite? It’s infinite.
It is amazing how much time we all spend telling ourselves negative things about ourselves, or letting our limiting beliefs dictate our experience. The instructor will often remind people to get out of our heads, “where are you guys? Get out of your heads and come back to the room!” I get what he means, AND it makes me laugh. It is inside my head that I have found extreme POWER. It is the source of my strength. So, I can’t help but wonder, what are we apt to miss if we are dodging our head? What might we all tap into if we collectively tapped in, with purpose? If our head was recognized as a source of not just our mental but physical power, what does that open up for us?
I was inspired to write this piece Tuesday morning, when Malcolm, the instructor, said, “you cant just use the pedals, you have to be mentally tough.” DING DING DING. YASSS. The words struck me, and I had to say them over and over to myself to ensure I remembered when I sat down to write. Mentally tough. Mentally tough. Mentally Tough. What does it mean to be mentally tough? And why isn’t this a conversation we are all having? Sure we talk about growing and expanding our mind, but for it to be Tough?
We have conversations about being mentally equipped, and making sure you are feeding your brain so it can get strong; think, for example, of the phrase “this is brain food.” What we are referring to is the notion that our brain needs to be “fed” to function or be at its best. We all know this to be true with the reading we do, and the equations our brains love: jigsaw puzzles, math problems, riddles, etc. We can feel when our brains are working, and while it might be tiring or frustrating at the time, we walk away feeling accomplished and satisfied. So there is clearly a dialogue about taking things in to build up our brains, to make it strong in its intellect, decisiveness, and its ability to solve, take in information, put ideas back out etc. But what about exercising your brain so it’s tough? How do we feed it to be prepared for defense? And I’m not talking about the external defenses or “problems” it may face. How do we stretch our brains so they can fight against themselves?
In a world where humans are constantly telling themselves to be afraid, that they shouldn’t, why they can’t and what makes it “impossible”, it’s imperative that we strengthen our brains not simply for their output, but that we may defeat our limiting beliefs. Mental toughness, as I see it, is what will catapult us to be unstoppable, to be forces to be reckoned with, to be Leaders. Because when we are capable of successfully muting the disempowering voices in our head, the ones outside of it become irrelevant. We actually get to decide what we believe in, and THAT is one of the most powerful lessons I ever learned. And ironically, it is something my father taught me years ago, before I realized it was going to be the foundation of my career, passion, writing, and life.
So what do you believe? And does this support or get in the way of what you want? How many of us are walking around telling ourselves disempowering things about ourselves? The world? Each other? Who we are in our heads, is going to be who we are out in the world. Are you willing to strengthen your mental prowess so you can powerfully show up for yourself, AND the planet??
Tough is defined as being “strong enough to withstand adverse conditions; involving considerable difficulty or hardship, requiring great determination or effort.” It takes concentration, focus, and shifts in attitude to generate your thoughts in a positive manner. We are so apt to go to the negative, to tell ourselves why we cant, why its hard, or why we shouldn’t. To be mentally tough means you have to be resilient, you have to be willing to tune out how it usually goes, and force yourself to choose a different narrative. And the pay off?! Holy shit. I can’t tell you how many times I have physically pushed myself beyond where I ever thought I could go BECAUSE of my mental dialogue. I have reached an entire new level of my physical strength on account of my mind chatter. It’s down right magical. Except it’s not magic at all, if magic is akin to mystery and miracle. It’s rather simple: what you tell yourself, is directly related to how you act, and what you are capable of. Mental toughness is a muscle we all need to be flexing. Imagine if you knew you could do anything?
What would the world be like, who would we all BE, if we defeated our negative and limiting beliefs? What would you create if your mind couldn’t take it away from you?? Imagine that every time your brain said you can’t, you knew exactly what to say, so you COULD. What if your self doubt was eradicated by the prowess of your mental toughness??
This isn’t to say put down the “brain food” and just go for mental defense. Instead, let’s get really clear on how we speak to ourselves, and be conscious enough to choose if it’s what we are committed to. I imagine many people walk around, work, and chat without much thought for how they are thinking. But consider that if your thoughts and self talk dictate your experience, it’s paramount that we take the time to slow down and build a relationship with our thought patterns that serves us. Do we not owe ourselves this? Each other?
I am fascinated by the brain, and how we think. Partly because it’s so damn simple, AND because it’s beautifully intricate, layered, dynamic. We are these amazing beings whose reality is a choice. Many will want to fight me on this, and by all means. But consider that how we choose to interact with everything around us, determines how we experience it. Mental toughness is in the same container and conversation as Choice, Ownership, Responsibility, etc. When we put in the effort, and are at cause, on purpose with our thoughts, and what we choose to believe, we become flexible. This resilience is not merely inside of us, but as my own experience in the gym suggests, it affects our physical abilities. The brain is where it all happens. What do you want yours to do for you? And are you willing to practice? Are you willing to put down your negativity and limiting beliefs, in service of creating everything you want?
Mental toughness? Sounds pretty badass to me…