The mind is a powerful thing. Not only does it control all of your body's functions, movements and reactions to stimuli, but it allows you to emote, remember and think. Our thoughts are equally as powerful. Plenty of research shows that positive thinking can help people recover from illness, beat disease, live longer, stay healthier, and be happier. It's amazing what your own thoughts can do for you.
On the flipside, negative thinking can make you feel bad, reduce your self-worth, and diminish your chances of reaching your goals. After all, if you don't really believe you're capable of something, you're less likely to try; you create your own self-fulfilling prophecy. It reminds me of the Henry Ford quote:
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're probably right."
I recently read a New York Times story about an intriguing study from Northumbrian University in England. Researchers told elite cyclists that the computer avatar they were racing against was mimicking their own personal best time. The cyclists didn't know it, but the avatar was actually racing 1% faster than they ever had. But because they believed it was "their" speed, they either kept up—or won. However, when cyclists were told that the avatar was going 2%-5% faster than their best time, it was as if they gave up from the beginning—they lost the race even though they performed better when they were deceived about their virtual competitor's speed.
Wow! I guess it's not that surprising. We have all experienced something when we either psyched ourselves out by doubting our ability to succeed (a public presentation, a job interview…perhaps even a fitness program or weight loss goal?). But I hope we have all had an experience where we believed in ourselves and succeeded (completing that first 5K, getting a promotion at work, negotiating a deal, sticking with your meal plan).
I've experienced this very recently when running. I wear my beloved Garmin Forerunner so that I can glance down and see my pace at any moment, but sometimes knowing my speed can be defeating. If it displays a fast pace, I'll think, "I can't keep this up much longer!" (regardless of how I actually feel). Or if it shows a pace faster than I think I can run, I always assume it's inaccurate versus believing that I am actually running at that speed.
Last weekend I ran a nighttime trail race in the dark (complete with headlamps and blinky lights so you could see the other runners). I set an aggressive goal for the race, one that I knew would be challenging, but doable. Although I wore my Garmin, it was too dark for me to see it, so I had no idea how fast I was running the entire time. I had to rely on how hard I felt like I was working. When I finished the race I was shocked to learn that I maintained a pace faster than I had ever ran before, and faster than I even thought I was capable of running at all. I know that had I glanced at my watch and seen this data during the race, I would have slowed myself down, worried I was going to wear myself out. But because I didn't know how fast I was going, I did something I never even thought was possible!
That experience had an amazing affect on me. It has changed attitude about my own abilities and what I once thought was achievable. It's opened my eyes to the fact that I am capable of things I never thought possible, and made me look back and realize the many times I had let my brain get in the way of my body in the past.
We are all capable of achieving amazing things, but we have to believe in ourselves even if no one else does. Or at the very least, stop telling yourself that you "can't" or that you'll fail again "just like you did before." A past failure (at weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, or anything else) doesn't dictate the future this time. If anything, it makes you wiser and stronger for what's ahead. So next time you notice your brain getting in the way of your goals, push that sucker aside and let it know who's in charge.
Have you been letting your brain get in the way of your goals lately? What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?