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Fitness | KATHY SMITH

You Have to Set Your Mind on Triumph

September 14, 1998|KATHY SMITH

For years I've begun every morning the same way. As soon as I realize I'm awake--which is sometimes even before my eyes open--I start to focus on my breathing, taking long, deep breaths, listening to the sound of air rushing through my nostrils. Maybe I'll mull over a list of things for which I'm thankful, or relive the best parts of yesterday, or anticipate what's exciting on today's agenda.

I do this as a way of warding off the world's all-consuming chatter. Yes, chatter. There's no other word for it. Talk radio, 24-hour news stations, the Internet--chatter everywhere. And chatter about what? Usually just chatter itself. It's enough to drive you crazy, or at least make you cynical, if not downright negative.

Truth is, even without the electronic media, our brains manufacture more than enough natural chatter to go around. You know what I mean--those little voices telling us to do this or not do that or eat this or not eat that. In my experience, most of the time they sound like they're coming out of the possessed little girl in "The Exorcist." If we don't learn to control them, they'll undermine us, zap our energy and steal our confidence.

For example: On vacation recently in Ketchum, Idaho, I signed up for a hike / race of Bald Mountain, elevation 9,260 feet. The trail climbed 3,500 vertical feet in about six miles, which is quite a climb, especially for someone who lives at sea level. At 6 on the morning of the event, my husband woke me from a sound sleep and whispered that it was time to go. I didn't want to open my eyes yet, nor leave my warm bed, nor face the mountain. So I remained there for a few extra minutes, eyes closed, visualizing myself at the top of the mountain, crossing the finish line.

Even so, when I at last started hiking, the negative chatter turned into a roar: "I'm so winded"; "I won't be able to keep up"; "I won't make it to the top"; "What happens if people pass me and they recognize that I'm Kathy Smith and they tell everyone they know?" It was an endless barrage of foolish, negative thoughts. And because they were beating me, I was beating myself.

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We all do things like that. We allow the chatter to control us. We listen to the chatter as though it were reality. We turn the chatter into our boss. And our enemy.

Let's say we intend to exercise before work, but the chatter tells us that we're too tired. Or we plan on going to the gym, but the chatter talks us out of it by conjuring up visions of people who are in such great shape that they make us feel inferior.

When chatter is the enemy, it has to be defeated.

There's only one way I know how: Change your mind-set.

That's what successful people do, whether they're successful in business or fitness. While they, too, are subject to the undermining influences of negative chatter, they adopt the proper attitude to react to their circumstances. They know that how and what they picture in their mind will create the mood they're in and the kind of behaviors that follow. They've learned that the quality of their lives is determined not by what happens to them, but rather by what they do about what happens.

For instance, being able to work out effectively will depend on what sort of mood you're in and how you picture that workout in your mind. If you've been dreading going to the gym because you fear feeling inferior, you'll produce a certain type of mind-set that inevitably blocks you from going.

But if, on the other hand, you're looking forward to meeting your friend there and catching up on the day's events, or you can't wait to take that new yoga class, you'll produce a completely different kind of mind-set, one that's conducive to going.

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Both positive and negative mind-sets produce cyclical behaviors. When you have a great workout, you begin to feel more physically vibrant, which spreads to other areas of your life. But when you continually find excuses not to work out, you'll always find another reason not to.

I try to keep the attitude that I'm in charge of what I think and how I interpret events, so I pay close attention to the chatter in my mind. The moment it starts bad-mouthing me or the world, I respond by shifting my mind-set. As I did on Bald Mountain.

Just when it seemed that the chatter would win, I began to just appreciate the beauty of the day and my surroundings, and to be thankful for the opportunity to be in this spectacular setting. That instantly relaxed me, and allowed me to stop competing against myself. From that moment on, my thoughts no longer dragged me down and I was able to step lightly up the mountain.

Did I win? You bet. But not by coming in first.

Copyright 1998 by Kathy Smith

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Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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