By Tara Marie Segundo, M.A.
Life is a mental game. Even physical endeavors, like getting lean and fit, begin in the mind. Every behavior is preceded by a thought and a decision to carry through on that thought. Champions are first champions in their own minds, and only then can their greatness come to fruition in a physical sense.
Never underestimate the mental training required to succeed in life. As a personal fitness trainer, I often spend more time working on a client's mental fitness than I do his or her physical fitness. Until we are mentally prepared to succeed, good results will be impermanent, and frustration will persist.
Realize it all begins with your thoughts.
Training your mind includes closely monitoring your thoughts, as your thoughts determine how you feel. Your feelings influence your choices, and your choices influence your behavior. Behavior has consequences, both good and bad, and these consequences determine your life experience. In order to be successful, you must not only be aware of your thoughts but also understand that how you experience life is a direct result of these thoughts.
Be aware of "automatic thoughts."
Thoughts aren't generated by what happens in our lives, but rather what we tell ourselves about what happens in our lives. Examine your thoughts, especially your "automatic" ones. What runs through your mind when you're not aware that you're thinking? What you tell yourself becomes your truth. An awareness of the constant monologue that exists in your mind is the key to moving forward in life, as much of this idle chatter is neither accurate nor self-edifying.
Challenge negative thinking.
If you strongly believe something, either good or bad, you'll choose behaviors, situations, and people to prove your theory is true. This is all unconscious, and it's important to challenge negative thinking. The key to doing so is to weigh the validity of any given negative thought or belief. For instance, if you believe that your career will never progress because you didn't go to college, challenge this idea. Do a Google search of successful entrepreneurs who never graduated from college. You'll find that success is often less about a college degree and more about guts, persistence, determination, and a great idea.
Retrain your thinking.
You can retrain your thinking by becoming aware of your thoughts and generating "replacement thoughts" to counter the negative ones. Catch yourself thinking negatively and consciously choose a positive thought, instead. You need not be inauthentic or disingenuous, but most of us reflexively err to the negative. You can train yourself to err to the positive in any given situation. For example, when you look in the mirror, rather than focus on all of your flaws, acknowledge what you want to change but focus on what you like about your appearance. It will take time for this to feel natural, but with practice you can retrain your thinking such that your "default" pattern is one that propels you forward in life rather than holds you back.
Adopt an "I will" attitude.
Prepare yourself mentally for success with an "I will" attitude rather than an "I'll try" attitude. For example, saying "I'll try" to exercise today is really saying, "I'll exercise if everything else gets done, and if nothing better comes up." Saying "I'll try" is a way of avoiding a commitment to doing so. Unexpected things happen and our best intentions are sometimes derailed, but the mindset that you bring to your self-care is of prime importance. If you have an "I'll try" attitude when it comes to your health, work, or personal relationships, you're essentially putting yourself at the bottom of the list. Instead, put yourself at the top of the list with an "I will" attitude--which means that you're committing to yourself and your plans.
Check in with your thoughts throughout the day.
It's imperative to consistently check in with your thoughts and determine if they're helping or hurting you. We all have negative "tapes" playing in our mind and if left unchecked, they can sour our mood, leave us feeling ungrateful for what we have, or create resentment in our relationships. Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings, and know that, at any point, you can make a choice to change how you're framing your experiences.
Put a positive spin on your reality.
Much of what happens in life is out of our control. Nevertheless, we do have complete control over how we spin our reality. Given any situation, you can focus on either the negative or the positive aspects of it. For example, I worked with a client who weighed over 500 pounds when we began. He needed to lose 250 pounds to reach a healthy body mass index, and this was understandably overwhelming for him. On one occasion, he lost 10 pounds between weigh-ins. He was devastated, as he had lost "only 10 pounds." I was ecstatic, as he had lost "an entire 10 pounds." Given the same information, we had extremely different reactions. Given a set of circumstances, you get to decide how you spin the story.
Each morning when you awaken is a chance for a new start. Decide to be better, do better, and live better than you did yesterday. Greatness begins with a quiet decision to pursue excellence, every day.
Tara Marie Segundo, M.A., is a New York City-based fitness expert, personal trainer, motivational strategist, and radio talk show host with nearly 30 years experience in the fitness industry. She holds a Master's Degree from Columbia University in Applied Physiology and focuses on helping clients break free from destructive patterns so they can reach their physical and mental peak and lead healthy, happy lives. Visit her at www.TaraMarie.com and read her blog on Red Room.