Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Being grateful is the most powerful action we can take. It is one of the only things we can do, on our own, that can shift our mindset instantaneously for the better.
Being grateful might sound silly and cliché to you, but I truly believe it has changed my life - and there is a large amount of research which says it could help you, too! Practicing gratitude should be purposeful. Not a quick “yep, I’m glad I have a roof over my head and clean drinking water”… but a meaningful analysis of something you have in your life or something you are experiencing in the present moment that you are truly thankful for.
Personal examples during IM training:
Issue: Not enjoying myself on a cold, windy, early morning bike ride. Gratitude: Thinking of how lucky I am to have access to bike routes that run along the coastline or taking a moment to appreciate a beautiful sunrise or view along the route.
Issue: Feeling nervous and underprepared leading into Ironman training taper. Gratitude: Reflecting over the massive improvements in my overall fitness level and how lucky I am to have my current level of health and fitness.
Issue: Feeling tired and struggling to finish off a difficult training run. Gratitude: Recognising that there are disadvantaged and disabled people would simply love the opportunity to be able to run.
I tapped into the power of gratitude during the Ironman race by using something I learned from a book called ‘The Resilience Project’. Without going into too much detail, the author of the book (an Australian school teacher) describes his experience as a volunteer teacher at a disadvantaged school in India. The children he teaches live in mud-flats, sleep on the ground, do not own school clothes or shoes and live off a simple serve of rice for lunch each day. During his first days at the school, one of the kids gave him a tour of their school grounds. With great enthusiasm and pride, the student proceeded to show the teacher all of the amazing facilities and fun play equipment they had access to. This involved one small, overcrowded class room with no tables or chairs, a single old broken swing, a rusted see-saw that didn’t work and some toy kites made out of string and plastic bags.
Due to the lisp the student had (most are missing front teeth), he would express his gratitude by saying… ‘Sir, look at DIS’! How lucky are we to have DIS!’. Reading this chapter resulted in one of the most profound mindset shifts for me. I continually find myself saying to myself and even out loud sometimes, “Ricky, how good is DIS”. Saying that simple sentence takes me straight to a better place, where the pain of a workout eases or the discomfort of a situation subsides. I have also found that this simple practice often leads to a more positive way of thinking for the remainder of the day. Instead of remembering the crappy ride in the cold I did this morning, I would take with me the beautiful sunrise I was able to experience instead.
It turned out that I didn’t need to write DIS on my hand for the Ironman, because at every turn throughout the day, it was impossible not to be grateful. The water temperature in the swim was lovely, the view on ride was nothing short of breath-taking and the encouragement by the Cairns locals on the run leg was like nothing I had ever experienced. On top of this, I passed people competing with disabilities, missing limbs and even one man who had a motorneuron disease which meant he completed the whole marathon on crutches. No joke. How can you not be grateful after seeing that?
It's funny to reflect over my own experience, because I guarantee you the majority of athletes who completed it alongside me would be telling you a completely different story. I say this mainly because of the bike leg. We had the some of the worst headwinds in the event’s 10 year history and nearly 70% of the ride was going straight into it.
As I entered T2 (transition after the ride and before the run), the first thing I noticed was how tired, frustrated and annoyed my fellow competitors were. The only thing people were talking about was how bad the wind was. They were telling each other how they had no chance of beating their PB’s and how it had blown up their whole race plan. These guys were already defeated. We all experienced the same headwind, however I felt like I had cycled along a whole different route. Now I’m not saying I didn’t notice the headwind, because at stages it genuinely felt like I was going backwards and trust me, it sucked… but I made a conscious effort to focus on the endless number of things I could be grateful for during that ride. I was able to almost completely block out the terrible headwind from my thought process. The wind was out of my control, so why waste the energy required to be angry about it? The amount of beauty I experienced during that ride massively outweighed the wind factor. I just simply chose to focus on what I was grateful for and as a result, I started the marathon with a huge advantage over the competition.
I challenge you to practice gratitude whenever you are having a crappy day, negative thoughts or struggling to get through a difficult task. I’m not telling you to just ‘think positively’… I’m challenging you to find something you are truly thankful for in that particular moment. I guarantee you will be in a better place for it.
My suggested authors: Hugh Van Cuylenburg (Resilience Project), Shawn Achor