By now, we’ve all gotten it through our heads that physical exercise is important. Even champion couch potatoes can no longer deny the evidence that vigorous activity improves agility, stamina, fitness and overall well-being, from youth well into old age. If however, despite all the evidence, you still insist upon sitting on your duff day after day, your muscles will weaken, your body will sag and your energy will dissipate. There is no way you can escape yourself.
Yes, we all know about the importance of physical exercise. But how many people are aware of the importance of working out their psychological muscles that can also become soft and flabby. Psychological muscles? What’s that? It’s the muscles that provide you with a strong sense of self.
But how do you work them out? There’s no gym for psychological muscles, is there? Well no, but who says you need to go to a gym to work out. If you want strong psychological muscles that build confidence and competence to face life’s toughest challenges, you must frequently choose to take action. Each time you face your fears and do it anyway, each time you complete a task you’d rather shy away from, each time you summon up the courage to do what’s difficult, you develop a stronger sense of self.
Here are two examples of people working out their psychological muscles:
Nick had never imagined acting in a play. “I don’t have a dramatic bone in my body,” he told me. “The thought of performing before an audience has always terrified me.” But his friend had asked him to take on a small role in a community theater production that she was directing. His initial response: “I can’t do this. I’ll forget my lines. I’ll freeze up with everyone watching.” Nick’s modus operandi was to say “no” to whatever made him fearful or simply uncomfortable. But Nick was determined to exercise his psychological muscles. And he knew that this was an opportunity for him to do so. When he reviewed the script, he realized that the part in the play was truly small – only two lines in two scenes. “What do I mean, I can’t do it?” Nick admonished himself. “I need to be bolder in my response to challenges. Why not start here?”
Camille regarded herself as the last person in the world who would ever fly a plane. Her husband Peter, a businessman and licensed pilot, flew his own plane on business excursions with Camille often accompanying him. After Peter’s heart surgery, he had been worried about flying with his wife. If he were ever to become incapacitated while piloting the plane, the flight would end disastrously for both of them. For this reason, Peter requested that Camille enroll in a flight training program. He assured her that she wouldn’t need to become an accomplished pilot – only skilled enough to take over the plane and land it, if necessary.
Camille found this whole scenario alarming. How could she ever learn to pilot a plane? She even found driving on highways stressful. For many months, Camille wrestled with her emotions. Could she master her fears and expand her skills as a hedge against preventing a possible future tragedy? Eventually Camille said “yes.” “It’s not that I didn’t find it scary,” she confessed. “It sure was. But not knowing how to fly became even more frightening. So I had to muster up the courage to challenge myself beyond what I ever thought I was capable of.” The bonus to this challenge: strengthening her psychological muscles in one arena made Camille feel more confident in other areas of her life.
Now what about you? Acting in a local theater production or learning to fly a plane may not be your way to work out your psychological muscles. But surely, there’s something you need to do to make yourself feel more competent and confident. Stretch your sense of who you are and what you’re capable of and watch those psychological muscles grow!