How To Become A Self-Love Olympian
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
How To Become A Self-Love OlympianNeed a Confidence Boost?
Imagination can be so powerful. Top athletes have learned to appreciate how ‘mental practice’ can boost their performance. I did a corporate talk recently and I spoke after Sally Gunnell, who won the Olympic gold medal in the 400-metre hurdles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. She explained that about 70 per cent of winning gold was mental. After failing to win the world championship gold in 1991, she’d hired a sports psychologist. Soon she was visualizing every day. She did loooots of visualization. She practised running and hurdling in her mind.
Importantly, she did a lot of practice on how she’d respond when something went against the plan – when someone overtook her, for instance, or when she had the thought that she wasn’t going to win, or when she felt tired. These are the kinds of things that many people forget to do with visualization, but they are just as important as seeing yourself being the best you can be.
As I explain in my book, I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love, using visualization to improve life performance is exactly the same as using visualization to improve sports performance. You can use it to become an Olympic self-worth champion. I had to use it myself some years ago in a difficult situation.
‘You Can F**k Your Decimals!’
This was actually the first thing that was said to me when I started the first class in my new job as maths lecturer. While writing my first book I accepted two chemistry teaching jobs. One of them was at James Watt College of Further & Higher Education. After a few months, I was asked to teach a basic maths class at a training centre outside the college. It was part of an engineering apprenticeship programme, a regional initiative to provide education and skills to young boys, some of whom came from troubled backgrounds.
I arrived at the centre and entered the class. The noise was deafening. The room was filled with 16-year-old boys, some of whom had been expelled from school, some of whom were in
regular trouble with the police, and most of whom had no desire whatsoever to learn maths.
I tried to introduce myself, but I was barely heard above the din. I clapped my hands a few times to get attention. One or two boys looked at me, offering me a glimmer of hope. I couldn’t think of anything else to do except start the class. So I did. My first words were: ‘We’re going to cover decimals this afternoon.’ That’s when I obtained the advice about what I could do with my decimals, calmly offered by a menacing boy at the front. They say you can smell fear!
The next hour or so was a disaster. I stuttered and stammered, apologized when someone didn’t understand me, and got through about 5 per cent of what I’d intended. I wanted to run out of the class. In the end, I kind of did. I ended the class 45 minutes early and told the boys that as they’d done so well in their very first class, I was giving them extra time off.
I got into my car, drove out of the town, found the nearest quiet place, pulled over and burst into tears. I was terrified at the thought of going back into the class the following week. The next day, I went straight to find Fiona, the department head, to tell her I wasn’t teaching that class again. If she had a problem with it then I’d be resigning my post as a lecturer.
Fiona wasn’t in that day. So I explained what had happened to a colleague, Ian Anton. He burst out laughing. ‘We’ve all had that class,’ he explained. He told me that just about every schoolteacher in the world had had a class like that.
If that was what being a teacher was all about then I wasn’t going to be in the profession for very long. I wanted an easier job.
Ian said I could quit the class if I wanted to, but he challenged me to use my own teachings to get through this difficult time. He knew I was writing a self-help book, and here I was, needing the help. The irony! As Fiona would be in on Monday, he suggested I spend the weekend working on my own self-development and see how I felt about the class afterwards. If I still felt the same, then Fiona would be able to find a replacement. But if I felt different, it would help me a lot as a teacher if I continued with the class.
I spent a lot of time visualizing that weekend. I saw myself standing and walking around the class with confidence. I imagined myself speaking with confidence – each word slow, measured, clear and projected with ease. I also did it for real. I stood in power poses and walked with power around my bedroom, pretending I was teaching decimals, ratios and proportions with the utmost
clarity and confidence.
By Monday, I did feel a lot more confident. Still afraid, but more confident. And something Ian had said had got into my head, about it being best for my long-term growth if I saw it through to the end. I could turn the whole thing into a self-help lesson for myself. Somehow that made it easier to face.
By the time I arrived at the class on the Thursday I had done so much visualizing, power posing, power walking and power talking, that I automatically moved into that style. There was still a lot of noise and misbehaviour, but I handled it better.
I’m not sure how it came about, but one of the boys asked me a question about my life. I told them I had a PhD in chemistry and had previously worked as a scientist developing drugs. Then I gave them a quick five-minute lesson on what real drugs were – the medicinal kind. I explained that roots and leaves found in rainforests seemed to help people with illnesses like cancer and that the chemical was extracted and given to chemists like me, who then made several of versions of it, tweaking a few atoms here and there, to see if any of them worked better than the root or leaf itself. I gave them a few examples on the blackboard of the kind of alterations we made and why we made them, and explained that one of these would eventually become the white pill that you get from the doctor.
They were amazed. One asked me if I knew about space travel. His dad had told him that Star Trek would be reality one day. So I explained that ‘warp technology’ was actually when you pulled two pieces of space together so the distance wasn’t a trillion miles, but just a few yards. I held up a piece of paper, poked a pen through two ends and pulled the paper together so the pen was a bridge. I told them it was called an Einstein-Rosen bridge, after the two professors who figured it out.
I was stunned by how fascinating they found it. ‘This is mad shit,’ said one boy enthusiastically. They all wanted more. So I made a deal with them: I’d give them 20 minutes of mad shit each time if they gave me their attention for the rest of the lesson.
That’s how it went for the next 10 weeks. As well as decimals, ratios and proportions, we covered organic chemistry, quantum entanglement, neuroscience, the placebo effect and many other topics. We even devoted a session to aliens.
It worked. By the end of the course, everyone in the class got an ‘A’. I fondly remember handing a marked test paper back to a large tough-looking boy with a deep, gruff voice. As he saw the ‘A’ in large red writing at the top, he whispered, ‘You’ve given me the wrong paper.’
He’d simply made the assumption that he couldn’t possibly get an A. He believed he was not good enough. I assured him it was his paper and that he should be proud of himself. He’d earned his ‘A’. His eyes immediately welled up with tears. He quickly looked away, embarrassed.
I walked on, tapped his shoulder and said, ‘Well done, son!’ I hope that helped him feel that he was good enough. I learned just last year that one of those boys had gone on to university and graduated with a first-class honours degree in engineering.
Magic can sometimes happen when we face our difficulties instead of trying to avoid them. Visualizing and power posing helped me to face this challenge. They rewired my brain sufficiently in the week leading up to the second lesson. I kept the practice up for a few more weeks after that too. It showed me clearly that by changing our brain, and therefore how we respond to life’s events, we find new possibilities opening up that quite simply didn’t exist for us before.