To say that Olympic gymnast Simone Biles is a natural talent wouldn't give her enough credit. Whether you've read her book, saw the biopic on Lifetime, or watched her all-around, team, vault, and floor wins at the Rio 2016 Games, you know that she is a powerhouse, a record setter, the greatest of all time. Simone was the fifth female gymnast in the world and the first in the US to win four gold medals at a single Olympics. In 2018, after a 14-month break, she continued to set records, becoming the first female gymnast to win four all-around titles at the World Gymnastics Championships. Oh, and did I mention that she has a skill named after her?
Simone, who recently announced that Tokyo 2020 could be her last Olympics, was born with undeniable physical strength. Her gymnastics is so dynamic and her scores are so big (aka, her level of difficulty is high), that if she falls in competition, she still manages to come out on top. From a young age, Simone could do moves that her peers struggled with. But she also had something else: joy. As Simone detailed in her book, the pressures of elite gymnastics chipped away at that joy; as a former gymnast, I know the burden of this perfection-obsessed sport can wear down your spirit. There was a time where Simone, slated to be the best in the world, couldn't get out of her own way. That's where, in 2013, mental training expert Robert Andrews, MA, director of The Institute of Sports Performance, came into the picture.
Simone Biles's Mental Transformation: From Great to GOAT
Robert has over two decades of experience working with elite and college athletes in the US and other countries to overcome the psychological impact of injuries, mental blocks, and self-doubt. He spent four years acting as sports psychology consultant for the men's USA gymnastics team. Aside from Simone, he's also worked with her Olympic teammate Laurie Hernandez. Robert told POPSUGAR that when he met Simone in 2013, he had to point out one quintessential thing about her performance to help break through her mental frustrations: she wasn't having fun anymore. She turned a corner when she got back to that joy. "She started really bringing her personality into her gymnastics again, and if you watch Simone compete, you see and you feel her personality," Robert said. "And she became, as some say, the best we've ever had."
When struggling athletes come to see him, Robert asks them to identify why they started their sport in the first place. "'Well, I tried these other sports, but I was just really good at it, and it was fun,' is what they always say,'" he explained. He then asks them to identify when it stopped being fun, at which point they "try to go back in time and reconnect with that part of themselves."
How to Apply This Mental Transformation to Your Life
Robert, without hesitation, said that this can "absolutely" apply to anyone going through a rough patch in their own fitness journey. How exactly can you do that? Despite the fact that monitoring numbers — scores in gymnastics, calories burned, time spent at your target heart rate — can help us reach our maximum potential, Robert said that metrics can get us too "in our heads" about fitness. When you start focusing on how you feel (like Simone showcasing her personality in her routines) instead of analyzing your every move, that's when it can become fun again.
Robert used himself as an example. In the past, he participated in Bike MS 150, run by the National MS Society, where he rode from Houston to Austin, TX, in support of multiple sclerosis research. "I remember when I started training, I was measuring my cadence, how fast I rode, and my average miles per hour," he said. Eventually, it was too much, and he decided to turn off his devices. "I knew I was going to ride 30 miles or 50 miles or 60 miles that day. I just rode, and I rode on feel. I didn't worry about how much energy I was burning up or my cadence or any of that. I just rode, and it made it so much more enjoyable because I wasn't worried about precision and analytics."
Tips For Enjoying Workouts Again
Correcting someone's mental approach to their sport or activity is like "installing an internal GPS system to help them recognize when they get off track mentally or emotionally," Robert said. You can actively work on changing your approach to fitness. No matter who you are — a CrossFitter, a runner, a dance video fanatic — if you're feeling lost or finding it hard to stay motivated, make a conscious effort to assess what's bringing you down. Step one: ask yourself why you started doing what you're doing. Step two: figure out when you stopped enjoying it. Step three: find the joy and passion again. (Seems like something Marie Kondo would say, huh?)
Some simple advice from us? Listen to songs while exercising that make you feel invincible. Try different classes or at-home workouts, and focus on small wins. If nothing sticks, recruit a gym buddy or mentor. Join an online community. Fitness should come with challenges, sure, but it should also be fulfilling. If you are unhappy with where you're at, nothing, not even all the muscles in the world, can make you feel truly fulfilled. That's all mental. That's all you.