By Becky Furuta
The background of my mind is always churning. It whispers a thousand thoughts without my taking any notice unless the notion is particularly powerful : The flash of annoyance at the car that cut me off on my morning commute or the tender appreciation of a child’s hand resting on my own at the supper table. A million little flickers that swirl around in my brain like mosquitoes on a summer night, buzzing ideas and considerations and silent observations.
We are no greater than the mosquitos in our respective minds.
Our thoughts become who we are and how we behave in the world. We act based upon our internal beliefs about ourselves. A fundamental difference between the janitor and the CEO is that the CEO never expected to end up cleaning offices, and the janitor never anticipated owning the company.
Our thoughts package our bodies in tiny little boxes with distinct labels, drawn up from experience and environment and neurochemistry and hopes and dreams and setbacks. And within all of that are the estimated 60,000 thoughts we think each day, and the 60,000 opportunities to build ourselves up or tear ourselves down. No matter what tone of the voices in your head decide to take, they talk incessantly. We should listen.
As an athlete, you are always limited by what you tell yourself is possible. If you tell yourself that the hill is too steep and that you are too fat to climb it, you will walk your bike to the top. If you tell yourself that the conditions are too bad, the wind is too severe, the snow too blinding, you will get in the team car and call it a day. If you tell yourself that you are destined to lose, you will lose….or, worse, you’ll never bother to start.
Women, in particular, spend a lot of time dismantling themselves. We ruminate about how our bodies look as opposed to the functionality of what those bodies can accomplish. The voices often begin by saying, My body is too…
Imagine if that script were changed, and the voices began by saying, My body can…?
Functionality is personally meaningful. My body can embrace a friend in need of comfort. My body can sing and dance until well past midnight. My body can express love, heal from sickness, do a handstand and win a bike race.
What are the mosquitoes buzzing about in the toughest moments? Are they pushing you on, telling you that you can do it? Or is it the nagging tone of child’s tantrum, saying that it is “too hard” and “not fair,” and you want to quit.
Pay attention to your thoughts. We hear our own narration so frequently that we become entirely disconnected from the stories we are telling ourselves. You don’t need to develop unrealistically positive statements, but it’s often worth fact-checking your own stories.
Even if the negative thoughts are accurate, is it really that bad? It’s tempting to imagine that a tiny misstep will end in utter catastrophe, but that’s generally not the case. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never be able to win a race,” you could just as easily tell yourself, “I’ve worked really hard and, if I keep at it, I will continue to see improvements.”
Ask yourself if you’re ‘problem-solving’ or ‘brooding.’ Thinking critically about things is helpful, whereas ruminating about past mistakes can be destructive. Replaying a failure over and over again is a bit like tying an anchor to your leg and diving into the ocean – you will only drag yourself down. Don’t let your thoughts beat you up.
The recipe for success in sport and in life is much the same. If you want to win, you have to be present, turn off auto-pilot, and consciously put yourself back in the driver’s seat. You can’t move past a losing mindset if you don’t even know it is there. Think about all the little thoughts that become you. Managing your internal dialogue is part of rewriting the beliefs you hold about who you are and what you can accomplish.