This past Saturday while teaching Spin I had a bit of an ah-ha moment. For years I’ve guided hundreds of people on rides on an indoor bike; we sweat, and work, and my favorite, we visualize overcoming our obstacles.
I really didn’t love Spin the first few times I attended a class because it was really all about the workout. Add gear, stand up, sit down, yada, yada, yada, snore. Even when I decided to bring Spinning to our studio I did it reluctantly. Even when Rob and I traveled a state away to get my Spin certification, I went with hesitation and a bit of an eye-roll attitude. But then I met Martha. Martha is the master instructor that led us through our certification course. She is a master at bringing the rider into the moment and guiding them through powerful visualization. I entered my class unimpressed and left in tears of joy, and relief. If I could teach the way she just did, I had found something I could love. It’s almost 6 years later and I am enjoying my time teaching Spin more than ever.
Many think teaching a Spin class is easy. Let me assure you it is not. Most instructors spend hours prepping for a class. It sometimes takes years to really find your voice on the bike and it takes a passion to see others succeed and overcome to show up class after class and bring energy and inspiration.
My favorite part of Spin is leading my class through visualization. The challenges we face while on the bike are so similar to the challenges we face in life. Life is an everchanging cycle of hills and valleys, so is Spinning. Where spin and life differ is that in spin you decide the length of the hill, you decide the elevation, you are in control. It’s not unusual for me to throw a hill, maybe even a grueling hill, at my class and just when they assume that we are finished with it, I keep us on it. We keep going. Why? Because in life we rarely have the ability to decide how long a hill, or mountain, will last. When someone we love is sick, we don’t get to decide how long, we must endure. When we suffer a financial set-back we often don’t know when the next relief will come. When we are working on a project, if often goes longer than planned and we will have to remain in the climb. In my class we learn how to overcome when the hill gets longer and steeper than expected. Sometimes we practice recovery ON THE HILL. We learn to breathe, and regroup, and focus all while still climbing. We finish the hill when we reach the top, and not before, and sometimes we do not get to decide how long that will take. And let’s be honest, in life it almost always takes longer than we wish.
So here we are last week, and I say to my class, “See your hill! See the top! We are headed there! Together!” And this may be super-obvious to all of you, it is to me now too, but this hit me like a WHOOOSH! Suddenly, as if I could see little thought bubbles above every head in the room, I could see their hills. I mean that in my mind I could see this. So crazy (the brain on exercise is amazing but that is another post). EVERY HILL WAS DIFFERENT! Some were rocky, some were short, some were mountains with jagged tops, some were somewhere in the middle, but they were all unique and different and personal.
Call me Captain Obvious, I know, but stay with me.
For years I’ve closed my eyes (because I can see better that way), and I visualize a hill as I urge my class to see the hill. In my mind I have always just been on my hill. It never even occurred to me that we were all seeing different hills. I just saw mine and made a crazy assumption without even assuming. It has never been and actual thought…it just never occurred to me consciously. And again, there is another lesson here on how we see the world through our lens, but still it’s not the point I want to make today. I’m trying to stay on topic here.
What hit me was that each of us has the power to change our hills as much as we had the power to create them in our minds in the first place.
Whoa!!! Hold on….keep going.
Look, I’m going to take a side route here from the things in life that truly are hills that we must stay on as long as they are there. There are things that happen TO US in life that we need to strengthen ourselves for. We need to learn and practice mental endurance because those things are part of life and we must stay in the game, we must press on, we must CLIMB.
BUT (I want so bad to change the font of that BUT to about a 1000….so just imagine it for me because I’m fired up here) let me ask you this all-important question…
What “obstacle” or for the sake of staying on our metaphor here, what mountain are you getting up every stinking day and climbing and it’s nothing more than a hill YOU’RE CREATING IN YOUR MIND? It’s there waiting for you when you wake. It’s there when you sleep. It’s there when you go to bed, brush your teeth, breathe, or try to breathe.
And if you don’t have any of these, good for you. You’re special (sarcasm). I bet you do though. I do.
Here is where my mind was on a regular basis. This is what I was telling myself. These were my mountains:
Written like I would hear it…
You’re not smart enough (this is my childhood plague).
You’re not fit enough.
You’re too much for people.
You’re too bossy. (I’m an oldest child, this may actually be the most true 😂)
You suck as a boss, wife, mother, daughter…pretty much suck in general.
And God forbid I mess something up in our bank account….OH MY GOD HOW DID ANYONE EVER LET ME START A BUSINESS!!!!!! This could take me down for days. I’m guessing because it played so well into my belief that I wasn’t smart enough. No! It proved it!
What are your mental mountains or hills?
I’ve been doing a lot, and I mean a LOT, of work on these thoughts. These days these thoughts come to mind less and when they do I have built in tools (in my mind) to get them out faster. I even have something that is working like a charm for my middle of the night worry time that had tortured me for years. I’ll tell you about that soon.
But this all leads back to what hit me on the bike last week when I “saw” in my mind, all of the hills of everyone in my class…
We built the hill, we created it, we are its breath and life that keeps it alive in our mind. WE CAN FLATTEN IT!
Yes, trust me, I understand that the first toss of dirt that began the mountain may have been thrown there by someone else. I realize that many of us are carrying around insecurities and fear that began from somewhere, or usually someone, outside of us. But how long have WE been piling dirt onto that mountain long after that situation or person has quit.
I can’t tell you how often I hear literal quotes from women of something a boy said to them in elementary, middle or high school. They can quote what that person said word-for-word. What if that person was a parent, or a grandparent, spouse? Words hurt and they leave wounds. Very often words are thrown at our feet and instead of walking away and leaning into our truth, realizing that people that say hurtful things are usually hurting, instead of all of that, we believe them. Then we spend the next 20, 30, 40 years piling on our own dirt until we’ve built a mountain of untruth and shame and fear and anger.
I spoke with a woman who claimed she was no longer hurt by it but still recanted the day a boy in school looked at her and placed her name in the lyrics of the song, “_________ got a big ‘ol butt.” “Oh, it doesn’t bother me anymore”, she says with tears rolling down her cheeks. He threw the first pile of dirt, she has spent years piling it on.
Believe me sister you CAN do the work of ridding that little shit-head from your mind. But first you have to stop piling the dirt on. You and only you have that power.
Here’s a hill I see a lot. I’ve named this hill the “Hill of Day’s Gone By.”
If you were ever an athlete in high school or college, or if you ever competed in a competition that required athleticism, or possibly worse if you ever competed in a body building or figure competition, this may be your hill. You’ve seen your body at its peak, or at least you think, and it looks nothing like the body you have now. With my clients, because I myself am nearing 50, my clients, typically, are too, that time where our bodies were “ideal” was a LONG time ago. These people are sitting at the bottom of a very big, often unrealistic, mountain unable to even begin the climb because they either, one, fear they will never get back there, or two, know the actual work it took to get there and just don’t want to do it anymore.
The amount of times Rob and I hear high-school, glory days stories would pay for our kid’s college if we charged five bucks to listen. Rob will often just throw it back in their laps, “That doesn’t count now buddy. What did you do today?” Rob’s grueling, time-consuming, muscle taxing Ironman training has made him extremely intolerant of BS from men who like to talk a big talk about their football days. Rob was a swimmer, football player and ran track. He’s seen his share of victories and his parents saved every newspaper article to prove it. Yet he knows, that was yesterday’s victory. He got the praise, the awards, and yep, I’ve seen the pictures, the body, that keeping up with three sports would reward you with. But two kids later, we too went through our period of time that we let ourselves go. He was fully sporting the dad-bod. But now he gets up at 3:45 am Monday through Friday to get stuff done. He is literally running, biking and swimming miles (yes swimming miles) every day, every week, so that he can reach the finish of the Ironman competition and claim today’s victory.
So, if your hill is the “Hill of Day’s Gone By” you’re most likely in one of two places:
You’re still sitting on the top. Your victory is years ago. Life moved on and so did your waistline but mentally you’re still living in the past. It’s time to get off the hill and start a new one. Here’s the beauty, while you’re at it use the momentum of coming off the hill to push yourself up the next one. You know you can do it. You know you’ll have muscle memory at some point. But don’t sit at the top of a 30 or 40-year-old hill fooling yourself into thinking that there is anyone there but you. Go grab yourself a victory today. You’ll feel so good.
Here is the other option for Hill of Day’s Gone By, you’re at that bottom of the hill and not wanting to start because it’s a long way up. You don’t want to do the work all over again, this time maybe with a body that is a few years older, and has a few more aches here and there. If those in the last scenario were being honest with themselves, I bet this is really one of the greatest reasons they sit at the top of the hill and stay there…they don’t want to admit they are really at the bottom. Here is the greatest power you have at your disposal; admit you’re at the bottom of the hill and start. All you have to do is something, anything. Start again.
This next self-made hill may be my favorite. I love a coaching session when this one arises.
The hill of perfection:
“Jen, I’m just a perfectionist.” Really?! At what? Because if you’re a perfectionist there should be something you’re actually PERFECT at. If you’re a perfectionist, I mean this is THE identity you’ve given yourself, then let’s see the proof. What exactly are you perfect at? And if you are truly perfect at something, anything, then you my friend should be raking in the dough at whatever it is your so damn perfect at. That makes you an expert. But you know, and I know, and everyone else knows you’re not really perfect. In fact, you don’t believe you’re perfect at anything. Your perfectionism is just a front for non-activity. It’s a stall…it’s all smoke and mirrors for what it really is, procrastination. Perfectionism is most often the mask that procrastination wears to hide its identity.
So here you sit at the bottom of the hill called perfection, procrastinating. Why? Fear? Fear of success? Fear of failure? Fear of your pants falling off in class? What? What’s the fear? You have to name it. You have to call it to the freaking matt. You have to get it out of hiding and shed light on it. Fear hates light. Drag it out to the light.
All of these hills have one thing in common. And I’ll warn you, if you have built one of these hills you’re not going to like this. Here it is; if we could take all of these hills and give them all one, all-encompassing title, if we were to pile all of these hills into one mountain and give that mountain a name, we’d call it Mt. BS.
All of this is just one level of BS or another. It’s all lies we tell ourselves, and here is something that may surprise you. Sometimes we lie to ourselves because we haven’t yet built up the mental strength to fight. Sometimes we lie to ourselves to give ourselves an excuse to stay where we are…yes even if we are miserable where we are.
The lies may have started as dirt someone else threw on our hill, someone else spoke to us, or even believed about us. But their words, or their beliefs, do NOT make it true and it does not get to decide that it’s our TRUTH. You do. You my friend have 100% control of the size of that mountain. You do. Period.
Here is what I saw last week as I saw all the hills. We each have our own hills. The size is proportionate to our perception of the struggle, time spent on the hill, mental toughness, and a million other factors. But there is yet one fact; we, and only we, are the one with the ability to flatten that hill. And that is why I love visualization in my class, with my clients, and for myself. It can be accomplished in an instant. And by that I mean that mountain can be flat in an instant. Done. The work of keeping the hill small or flat will take time and practice and we’ll get the opportunity to practice over and over. But one day, one day you’ll have a moment like I had. You’ll have the moment when you “stand up inside yourself” and your own mind comes to battle for you. And that is a glorious day that is when it all becomes worth it.
See the hill. Now see it melting into the sea. You have that power. And you’ve had it all along.
Jen Mulford is an entrepreneur, speaker, author and champion for personal freedom.