I admit it, my favorite thing to watch on broadcast TV since I was a little girl is the Olympics—Summer or Winter, I love them both. Additionally, it doesn’t matter what sport it is. Yes, of course, I am a sucker for ice skating and gymnastics, especially rhythmic gymnastics, but I’m also just as amazed by basketball, hockey, water polo, the sharp shooting events, track and field, and every other event.
I remember laying in my parents’ bed while my mom folded laundry nearby, watching the 1984 Olympics. Mary Lou Retton was going for the gold medal, and I remember being in complete awe of her talent. I thought to myself, I want to be that good at something one day. At that time, my dad was one of the world’s top professional rodeo cowboys, and I had been exposed to, for the entirety of my life, what it takes to be a professional athlete. At the age of four, I had already comprehended the amount of both physical and mental effort it would take for any athlete, in any sport, to be the best.
As the years went on, and I began a serious quest to become a professional dancer, I learned just how many mental and physical sacrifices it would take for me to achieve this goal. Of course, there were bleeding toes and almost constantly sore muscles, but there was also the loneliness of being away from my family at such a young age (14) and the mental strain of so much responsibility. It took all I had—both mentally and physically—to achieve my dancing goals.
What I have learned growing up in a family of professional athletes is that there is no way to separate the mind from the body. If a person wants to succeed at anything physical, it will take the strength of the mind, as well, and vice versa. In the state of our current world, it seems we are almost constantly dealing with extreme emotional situations. May I suggest, if we want to be prepared for all we will encounter emotionally that we begin looking at ourselves as athletes?
There are several ways in which we can begin training ourselves to be emotional athletes. Glennon Doyle says it best, “We can do hard things.” This is such a simple, yet profound statement. I believe one of the reasons for emotional weakness is due to people’s inability to put themselves in challenging situations and stick to it.
We have a fear of pain, so we shy away from it at all costs. However, just like diamonds, we gain our strength under time and pressure. The quicker we can put ourselves in a challenging situation and follow through with it, the quicker we can gain mental and physical fortitude. This leads to self-worth and confidence. I am not referring to putting yourself in a financial or relational hard spot, rather I am talking about truly challenging yourself to do something you thought you never could. When was the last time you quit drinking for 30 days? What about three months, or a year? Many people have a hard time just sitting alone with themselves. When was the last time you went out to eat or on a vacation all alone? To truly just be with yourself without anyone else to distract you. What do you think you could learn about yourself by doing something you never thought you could do? Have you committed to working out five days per week but settled for three? Our confidence and self-worth are built and lost in the honoring, or not, of the commitments we make. If it is important to have emotional strength, we must possess both self-worth and self-confidence. Seek out challenging opportunities and conquer them for no reason other than to build emotional strength.
Unlike a medieval soldier going off to war, when it comes to emotional strength, I view this more as a disrobing of armor. As we go about our lives and people hurt us through both small and large wounds, one by one, we add pieces of armor to our body. At some point, this armor feels suffocating, and we are either easily triggered or so confined we can’t feel anything at all.
Two extremely effective tactics I have used to help myself and my clients heal trauma wounds and remove the emotional armor from the body are breathwork and cold plunges. Both methods, when done on a consistent basis, can be effective in excavating past traumas and helping the body move through them and heal. Wim Hof, an athlete known for his extreme ability to withstand freezing temperatures, is an incredible resource, and I encourage everyone to add these practices into their weekly routines. If you are like me, the daily cold shower will also satisfy the “we can do hard things” mantra. However, the zest for life that rushes through my veins when I am done makes it all worthwhile.
As we train ourselves for emotional strength and fortitude, there may be nothing more important than getting to know ourselves on the very deepest of levels. Take time to sit in the stillness of the morning or night with a clear head and remember the stories that hurt you. Let them hurt again, and ask yourself, why does this hurt? What is it that moves me? As you go about your day and you notice things starting to irritate you or annoy you, just step back from it and, again, ask yourself, why? The healing is the remembering. When we connect the dots of our past, we can build the bridge to our brightest future.
As emotional athletes, we must create a life of healthy rituals that build self-confidence and help us understand ourselves at the deepest of levels, so we can walk through our lives as present and emotionally available beings. When we fervently work towards these concepts on a daily basis, we craft a life where we are able to stand tall in our boots, aligned and confident in exactly who we are and with quiet resolve. This is how we become emotional Olympians.