I’d like you to try something—Close your eyes and imagine you’re all alone, standing in front of a mirror looking at your naked body. What’s going through your mind? What are the stories you tell yourself when no one else is there to listen? Chances are you’ve been carrying around negative echoes from your childhood and adolescence. And even though the teasing, taunts, and bullying has long receded, over the years this reverberant soundtrack has become deeply ingrained as it accompanies you throughout your life.
As an elite athlete, I’m hyper attuned to my body and what it’s trying to tell me. One of the privileges of being a high-profile athlete is that I have the opportunity to speak to many organizations, school groups, and fitness classes. I’m often asked what motivates me to sacrifice so much in order to train at the level I do. Inevitably, I mention that running has always been my faithful companion. There were indeed times in which I felt I was running away from personal trauma and later, my subsequent battles with addiction, but more recently, it feels as though I am running towards what scares me most, a type of ‘knowing surrender’, predicated on the belief that no matter what kind of day I’m having, I always find a better ‘me’ waiting on the other end of a workout.
There is something transcendent about running, in that by placing one foot in front of the other and by making contact with the ground below our feet, we engage in a subtle dance of connecting and disengaging. And for me, it is within the rhythmic cadence of these footfalls that I begin to silence the negativity and self-doubt that has lingered and accompanied me for as long as I can remember.
We are a society obsessed with ‘beauty’, and as someone actively engaged in sport, I am all too aware that increasingly, more and more people are drawn to running as a means to lose weight, become fitter, and in essence—look more ‘beautiful’. The thing about beauty is that it is transient, so sooner or later it hollows and dulls. As a community leader and as someone who has found inspiration in running, I am passionate about encouraging others to awaken their joy through sport. I’m also keenly aware that despite how enthusiastic people are to the idea of embracing a new fitness regimen, their enthusiasm often wanes, and all they are left with is further disappointment and negative self-talk. In light of this, I thought I’d share with you three strategies to ensure your passion for wellness becomes a life-long companion.
“What are you doing when you feel most beautiful?”—Jacqueline Novogratz
I’m entranced by the haunting nature of this question, and by how it speaks to what I believe to be a new lens from which to look upon how we approach sport and fitness in general. Instead of taking up running, crossfit, or even yoga, as a means to look fit and beautiful, consider how this activity makes you ‘feel’ rather than how it makes you ‘look’. Does it bring you joy, or do you leave your workout feeling depleted and inadequate?
“The people you surround yourself with influence your behaviors, so choose friends who have healthy habits.”—Dan Buettner
Whatever you do, don’t dismiss the importance of ‘community’ as an essential factor in fostering a sustained wellness program. I know from my own experience, that running can feel rather isolating at times, so being engaged with other athletes through social media allows me to feel connected to something greater than myself. And more importantly, it is through this broader connection that we begin to nurture empathy, and that in turn allows us the distance we need to ‘right size’ our own successes and disappointments.
“Perfection is not pretty, it is not exciting, and it limits us in every area of our life. It is only in our mistakes that we truly gain glimpses of our potential.”—Petra Kolber
Who doesn’t want to be ‘perfect’! The best mom, the best employee, and the best athlete… The problem with being obsessed with perfection is that it sets us up for a lifetime of feeling deflated and disengaged. When we think about the most inspiring people we know, chances are we were drawn to them not by their status or because of their perfectly polished image, but rather, it is their story of overcoming that engages us. We are drawn into their ability to wade through adversity—it inspires us, and it empowers us. So, the next time you’re fighting negative self-talk, consider whether you have allowed that toxin known as ‘perfection’ to creep back into your story.
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”—Pema Chödrön
Somewhere along the way you are going to face the decision whether to continue your commitment to your wellness program, or to allow complacency and inactivity to take root. It’s at this point that I invite you to allow your curiosity to speak much louder than your fear and your boredom. It makes no difference whether you are an elite athlete or a relative newcomer to your sport or fitness program; in both cases, you are facing the same struggle—making a decision to navigate the discomfort of a new threshold, knowing that personal growth always lies just beyond your comfort zone.