What Triathlon has Taught Me (and can teach you) About Life

Training and racing

Aug 05

Women can truly be our own worst enemies at times.

How many times, on hearing about an event or adventure, have you thought to yourself “I would love to do that”?

But just as quickly follows the (almost instinctive) thought – “I can’t”.

Or “there is no way I could possibly do that”.

Or “what would [insert person’s name] think?”.

We all have these preconceived notions about what we are – or are not – capable of.

The reactive “I can’t” type of thoughts (which seem to come to mind without any conscious thought) are a perfect example. Rarely founded in fact, these thoughts limit our experiences and hamper our lives because we hold ourselves back from even ‘attempting’ new adventures.

These preconceptions we have about our capabilities in the sporting arena are often found in other aspects of our lives too.

Whether it is a difficult conversation with a loved one, client or manager or the prospect of a promotion at work that we doubt we deserve, there is a part of us where our subconscious thoughts live that often kicks into action and whispers ‘I can’t” into our ear.

But interestingly it has been my sporting adventures – and triathlons in particular – that have taught me the importance of challenging these perceptions about what I think I am – or more specifically – am not capable of.

Of course, we all have physical limitations – whether superwomen or not, we are human after all – so there are some things that will always be beyond our (physical) capabilities.

But it is the mental and emotional limitations we place on ourselves that hold us back far more than our (actual) physical ones.

Challenging my preconceptions (by signing up for a race that scares me) has taught me that I am capable of far more than I imagine. My actual (physical) limitations have been very different, and far greater than, what I thought they were.

And this applies in life as much as it does to triathlons. Knowing that I am capable of far more than I imagine in sport has given me the confidence to do things which are important but uncomfortable in my personal life like walking away from unhappy relationships or leaving a well paying job as a lawyer to follow my passion & start a personal training business.

I have seen this ‘growth’ in other women too. Not only do they become more confident athletes when they challenge their preconceived physical limitations, but more confident women as well.

It can be very daunting to take a massive leap towards attempting something you don’t think you are capable of achieving. So here are some tips & strategies you can use to help you along the way –

Fake it ('Til you make it)

Some people procrastinate & don’t start anything new because they wait until they are “fit enough” or “confident enough”.

But “enough” arrives & confidence only comes through taking action. So the reality is that adopting this approach means you are likely to stagnate & not grow as triathlete or as a woman.

So don’t wait. Adopt the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach.

Choose – and it is a choice – to act & speak confidently (even if it isn’t reflected on the inside) & the confidence you pretend to have will soon infuse itself into your soul.

Get a mantra or affirmation

A mantra or affirmation is a statement which describes the change you would like to see or the action you would like to take in the present tense, ie. as though it had already occurred and you are now the person you want to become.

For example, “I am a strong and skilled triathlete”. Like with the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach, repeating it to yourself (especially when the doubts start to creep in) can help to reinforce it so that one day you will say it and actually mean it.

Visualisations 

What does success look like to you?

Picture in your mind what that looks like.

See yourself lining up on the start line of an event smiling, quietly standing there taking it all in feeling confident and calm, knowing that you are ready for what lies ahead and that it is going to be a fun day.

Picture the finish line, the sound of the announcer calling your name as you cross the finish line. Hear in your mind the sound of the cheers coming from your friends and family. Picture how satisfied, proud and happy you will feel.

Use a similar exercise for all of your goals. If it’s a promotion you want, picture the interview running smoothly as you confidently answer the questions and engage with the interviewers. If you’re scared of public speaking, picture yourself standing on stage, brimming with confidence and with an air of calm, engaging everyone in the room.

These images are your best weapon against self-doubt; return to them when self-doubt starts to creep in.

Let go of what others might think

This can be really crippling for many women.

I still distinctly remember a time years ago when I wanted to learn to mountain bike but dismissed it as I knew that my partner at the time wouldn’t support my decision.

Of course, the very first thing I did after that relationship ended was to buy a mountain bike 🙂 

The key to tackling this fear is to worry about only those things that are within your control – your reactions, internal dialogue, preparation for an event and your mindset.

Any energy you spend worrying about what others might think is wasted; you can’t influence or control it. It is easier said than done of course. But it does get easier with practice.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

I love the quote “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. That really captures the idea that you only start to experience new things and grow as a triathlete and woman once you get uncomfortable.

Nerves are a natural human emotion. We all experience nervousness. Just don’t let it cripple you or hold you back from attempting something you know you want (or need) to do. Use the mantras & visualisation techniques when nerves threaten to derail you.

One way to start the process of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is to……

Sign up for an activity that scares you

Something which triggers the “I can’t” or “I couldn’t possibly…” thought process.

Whether it is a race, taking up dance lessons, learning a new language or setting up your own business, choose an activity the thought of which makes your stomach turn and causes the butterflies in your stomach to take flight.

I dare you to spend some time today thinking about what assumptions you have about what you are, and are not, capable of achieving. And then find ways to challenge those assumptions.

I have discovered I am capable of far more than I think I am.

And I know that you are too

First published in the Australian Triathlete – Pink Edition