“Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
This quote, widely credited to Niccolò Machiavelli, was emblazoned over the entryway of a gym that was for many years my home away from home. From the floor of the skylit room, which was filled with racks, barbells, dumbbells, sleds, rings, and other strength-building tools, you could look up at any moment and be reminded of this ethos.
Across the room, another quote: “Nothing happens until something moves,” from Albert Einstein. Paired together, the quotes created a diptych of sorts, a piece of art in an unassuming space, inviting observers to find a common thread as they considered their next step.
With calculated risk, take bold action, the quotes seem to prompt.
Do something. Move yourself.
Sometimes, peering up at these words tempted me down a philosophical rabbit hole of Machiavellian politics or Einstein’s quantum theory. But most of the time, they encouraged me to take a breath, evaluate my intention, and get moving.
They were, for a time, my mantras.
The concept of mantra originates from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and it refers to a word, phrase, or sound repeated to aid in meditation.
In recent years, use of the term has been appropriated by many industries, including fitness. Athletes, exercisers, coaches, and trainers have adopted mantras to aid performance and focus. (For more on fitness mantras, visit ELmag.com/5mantras.)
These two quotes are not the only words or phrases that have offered me inspiration, strength, and focus. I also find the following mantras helpful, and I share them in case they might inspire you, too.
Strong body, strong mind
This phrase is the name of this column for a reason: It sums up my thinking about the mind–body connection and how it’s possible to support both through appropriate training. I see movement as a tool for developing more than the physical. To me, it is a tool for self-care and self-discovery.
When I focus my efforts to be as much about taking care of my brain and my spirit as about taking care of my body, I feel rejuvenated and am able to reap the benefits of consistent training.
Don’t force it
I used to be a push-to-failure type of exerciser. I embraced sayings like “No pain, no gain,” and “Sweat is weakness leaving the body.” I thought this was the only way to get better, to achieve perfection. Now I know that’s not the case.
Failure, and learning to fail better, is important when trying to lead a bold, meaningful, purposeful life. But pursuing failure for failure’s sake and mistaking perfection for strength is an unsustainable way to train and grow.
In learning my body’s limits, I can now find what feels good in my body and work toward better from a place of kindness and gratitude.
Does it test well?
The idea here is that nothing you do has a neutral effect; everything tips the scale, ever so slightly sometimes, toward either better or worse.
Biofeedback testing is a tool I use in my efforts to skew my outcomes toward the better. Asking this question makes me pause — to evaluate my intentions, my current physiological state, and the activity I’m choosing. It recognizes that every day is different and prevents me from pushing forward (or pulling back) thoughtlessly. (Learn more about biofeedback testing at “Biofeedback for Strength Training”.)
I’m proud of you
This is a relatively new addition to my inspo toolbox, in large part because I didn’t feel proud of myself for a long time. Or maybe it’s that I didn’t let myself feel proud, or didn’t know how to. I used to harp on my shortcomings, both real and perceived, and didn’t give myself credit for what I could do well and what I had accomplished.
It’s been a journey to recognize the good in myself. I’ve learned that getting down on myself is a quick path to feeling deflated, whereas acknowledging and celebrating what I’ve done — in and out of the gym — is energizing.
“Momo” is what I call my mom. Invoking her presence is almost instantly comforting. Thinking of her — and how she has supported, sustained, and reassured me my entire life — brings a smile to my face. I once received the recommendation to write a mantra on my forearm before a race so I could look at it throughout my run. I chose my mom.