If you want to know what your thoughts were yesterday, look at your body today. If you want to know what your body will look like tomorrow, look at your thoughts today.
– Native American saying
I have always been fascinated with the intrinsic link between our inner state of being and our physical experience in life. It seems that there are times when all the physical effort in the world isn’t enough to achieve the change we are seeking. But at the same time, sometimes a simple shift in how we think, feel or perceive our selves, each other or our situation, creates a positive ripple across our physical experience that we never could have imagined.
During my time as coach of the Australian Olympic Ski Team, this fascination reached a peak, because I discovered that at the elite level, where 90% of the athletes are within a few degrees of each other physically and technically, the different levels of performance on a given day come down almost exclusively to mental and emotional state of being, self-perception and belief.
Fighting the Internal Battle
As a coach, I found that I could often pick the podium winners for the day at breakfast while they were still in their pajamas, simply by the energy they exuded. Those who were “in the flow” permeated a sense of ease and inner alignment – as though all of the creative forces within them were working in harmony toward the same end. I had experienced this sense of congruence from time to time as an athlete, and now looking on, it seemed like events were being won before they even begun, literally from the inside out.
During this time I realized that while my own athletes were exceptionally well physically prepared, their ambition was being subtly undermined by limits in their self-perception, and their aspirations were being sabotaged by patterns of negative thought, feeling and belief. They wanted more than anything to achieve great results, but they seemed to be fighting an internal battle that was preventing them from reaching their goal.
As most athletes (and their coaches) do, we had made a Holy Grail out of the end result they were seeking (a World Cup podium finish), and because of this, their whole sense of worthiness, self-acceptance and personal identity was contingent on those results. They believed that once they reached the goal they were chasing on the outside, then their inside world of thoughts and feelings would harmonize. Then they could take a deep breath and relax. Then they would feel good enough about themselves to start enjoying life.
What they were about to discover – is that the equation actually works the other way around…
Real Change comes from the Inside Out
Contrary to the initial wishes of the Australian Olympic funding bodies, I made a radical shift in my coaching approach… For a time, I took almost all of my focus away from the technical work and physical results, and began focusing instead on my athletes as human beings – helping them grow as people and expand their sense of Self. We started connecting on deeper levels, being more honest and expressive, exploring the emotional needs beneath their ambition and digging into limiting beliefs and behavior patterns.
On top of this, we began having more fun. Rather than simply stop-watching every run, measuring the protein intake on every meal and marching from event to event like machines, we started playing more snow soccer, listening to more music and enjoying our time together. Amidst our focused commitment to the task at hand, we began taking time to BE… to feel and experience life.
Rather than waiting for the results to give them permission to feel good and enjoy life, I began pushing them to experience all those “post-victory” feelings now. And a not-so-crazy thing happened…
As the athletes began to make shifts and come alive on the inside – they started quite effortlessly getting results on the outside. As they started embracing who they were, beyond the need for external validation, they suddenly found themselves arriving on the podium – Australia’s first at a World Cup level – seemingly without effort or thinking about it.
What I realized more than ever from this experience – something that ancient cultures have long known and quantum physics / neuro-science have been busy rediscovering – was that the consistent energy of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs are the predecessors – not the end result – of our experience.
BEing the Change… a practical approach
There is a philosophy in our society that says, “Once I get X result, then I can feel Y.” Once I win that medal, climb that peak or build that business, then I will feel satisfied, significant, good enough. Once I buy that house and marry that person, then I will feel secure, safe, loved. Once I lose this weight, leave this job, etc., then I will feel free, happy, peaceful.
While our tendency is to justify how we think and feel based on what is happening in our own personal circumstance, it’s powerful to consider that our personal circumstance is always in some way a reflection of the energy we bring into it.
The following is a simple exercise to give us a cellular glimpse into this concept and the power of congruence.
Connecting to the Flow
Consider an area in your life you feel great about, or a specific time when you felt a real sense of flow and alignment in what you were doing. Give yourself a few moments to genuinely recall this time and consider the following:
- What does this experience feel like in your BODY? How do you breathe, stand, move when you are/were in this state of flow?
- What kind of THOUGHTS do you have with regards to this aspect of your life? (positive, clear, focused, certain, vague?)
- What kind of EMOTIONS do you feel coming into and out of this experience? (joy, freedom, peace)
- In this experience or aspect of life, what kind of BELIEFS do you have about yourself and what is possible?
- How do you SPEAK (to yourself and to others) about this aspect of your life?
What kind of actions do/did you take on a daily basis with regards to this area of your life? (dynamic, focused, fluid, open?)
As you build the feeling of this experience in your mind and body, again take note of your breathing, your posture, how you stand, what it feels like to be you in this moment.
Now, consider an area of your life that you would most love to create a profound shift or change in the coming year. Take some time to reflect on how your current thoughts, feelings and beliefs may be contributing to your current experience AND how you imagine you will think and feel once you have created the change. If you could boil it down to a single emotion, what is the end result feeling of the change you are seeking?
Over the coming days, take some time to discover ways that you can generate this feeling in simple ways in your life. Open your mind to new ways of seeing, being and speaking about this area of your life and give yourself a chance to become an energetic beacon of that which you really want to create – and see what happens. You will be amazed.