Episode 87 | Olympian Kate Grace | Flex Your Motivation Muscle
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The topic on today’s NEW podcast episode…. mental strength.
Listen here… Podcast with my daughter, Olympian Kate Grace!
Some of the most frequently asked questions I get are…
“How do I stay motivated?”
“How do I get the most out of my workouts?”
Factors that can throw you off our game are…
- Time constraints
I’ve said it many times, but the key to peak performance, whether you’re a weekend warrior, just beginning to exercise, or even if you’re an Olympic athlete is maintaining a consistent rhythm.
Today’s Art of Living guest is my daughter, Kate Grace. I was lucky enough to have her here in Park City for a few weeks because she was altitude training with the Nike team.
Kate is a professional track and field athlete. You might remember, she was on the show a few years ago after her breakthrough performance at the Rio Olympics. She ran the 800 meters and made it to the finals!
This year was supposed to be the Tokyo Olympics, until the pandemic interfered with the plan. The Olympics have now been postponed until next year, which means athletes are having to use all their tools to do all they can to adapt, pivot, stay motivated and mentally tough… even when their timeline has been upended.
In this episode, we discuss….
- Biggest lessons I have learned from my daughter, in terms of how she trains her mind as well as her body
- Techniques to push through plateaus in training
- Methods to stay focused and consistent
Whether you have your sights set on the Olympics, a marathon, a 5k, or getting out of bed and getting your morning walk in, we all can benefit from tips and tricks on how to flex your motivation muscle, turn off the negative self talk and to borrow a line from Kate’s sponsor… Just do it.
Get ready for a lot of laughs!
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Follow Along With The Transcript
[KATHY SMITH]: Hi. I’m Kathy Smith. Welcome to On Health: The Art of Living where each week I bring you the latest research on how to live a healthier more vibrant life.
Today’s topic is mental strength. Now, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Kathy, how do I stay motivated? How do I get the most out of my workouts?” Well, factors that throw us off are the obvious. We get bored. There are injuries. There’s stress. There are time constraints. And that list can go on and on and on.
I’ve said it many times, though, that the key to peak performance – whether you’re a weekend warrior, you’re just beginning to exercise, or even if you’re an Olympic athlete – is maintaining a consistent rhythm. Consistency is the key. So, today’s guest is somebody very special for a lot of reasons. First of all, she’s my daughter, Kate Grace. And I’ve been lucky enough to have her in Park City for the last few weeks, because she’s altitude training with the Nike team.
Kate is a professional track and field athlete. And you might remember, she was on the show a few years ago after her breakthrough performance at the Rio Olympics. She ran the 800 meters and made it to the finals, which we were all there cheering her on, which is very exciting.
Then, this year was supposed to be the Tokyo Olympics, but the pandemic came along and interfered with the plan. So, the Olympics have now been postponed until next year, which means athletes are having to use all their tools to do all they can to adapt, to pivot, to stay motivated and mentally tough even when their timeline has been up ended.
So, today, I’ll have to tell you the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my daughter. It has to do with how she trains her mind as well as her body so she can push through the plateaus in training. She can push through the setbacks like the Olympic cancelation and stay focused and consistent over so many years. So whether you have your sights on the Olympics, a marathon, a 5K, or you just need to get out of bed in the morning and get moving and go for your walk, we can all benefit from the tips and tricks on how to flex your motivational muscle, turn off that negative self-talk that says you can’t do it or you’re not good enough. And to borrow a line from Kate’s sponsor, “Just get out and just do it.”
So, Kate, welcome to the show.
[KATE GRACE]: Hi, Mom. Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.
[KATHY SMITH]: I know. Isn’t this fun?
[KATE GRACE]: Yeah.
[KATHY SMITH]: It’s fun because we’ve been through this journey, and I’ve seen you from the time as far as you being professional, and before that school, and then high school, and then elementary school.
But the thing that I find most fascinating about this whole process for you is not that you can run faster than the speed of light and you can do a mile– whenever people find out you do a mile in 420-something, their jaw drops. That’s all impressive, but what is more impressive to me is this thing that we talk about – this mental strength. And I’m looking forward to discussing it today, because even though people think it’s all about heading to the Olympics– every single person I talk to– to get out of bed, keep exercising, keep it going. So, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about how would you define mental strength?
[KATE GRACE]: What I’ve learned over the years is you could have all the knowledge in the world, all the resources, now, with Nike, incredible coaches and training partners. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t get out and keep doing the workouts. Or if you have one bad workout and then you just stop. Or if you’re not focused enough in the workout or after the fact, if you don’t feel good, if you’re feeling negative about yourself, having negative self-talk.
[KATHY SMITH]: Even when you don’t perform well, like when you’re in a race or something and you don’t perform well.
[KATE GRACE]: Exactly. So, in a way, we see that mental training is training. It’s an integral part of it. You have to have that side just like you have to have your strength or your endurance. For me, it really hit home after 2016, to be honest. I was on top of the world. I felt like I was so mentally strong. I moved to Portland and I joined Bowerman Team, which is a Nike-sponsored club. It was the opportunity of a lifetime – gold medalists, world record holders, or American record holders. And I was struggling.
I wasn’t as motivated to my workouts. I didn’t feel like I really had any kind of passion in races. And that was a little bit of a red flag. So, I actually reached out to mental performance coach, Brian Ziegler – who I will link in the show notes – and I kind of reminded myself that just like any other aspect of training, you have to train this side. You can’t just set it and forget it. You can’t just be, “Oh, I was mentally strong once. I’m just going to forget about this.”
We’re always dealing with new hurdles. We’re dealing with new hurdles this year with the pandemic. And it always behooves us to have more tools in our toolbox, to be adaptable, to be able to be consistent, to self-motivate, to be focused, to have quality practice. And the more that we have that, then we’re just more able to rise to the challenge and get all the work and get the best out of the work.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay. So, you mentioned motivation. I think the hardest thing for everybody, whichever level you’re at, is how do you stay motivated every day, every week, every year, on and on and on.
And one of the things I talk about all the time is finding the power of why. Why are you doing it? So, when I help people workout, I have them write down, why do you want to work out. And usually, it starts with, “I need to lose a little weight,” or, “I want a little firmer behind,” or tummy or something like that. But that is all external, and it’s very short term.
And so, then I say, “What don’t you write down what else?”
“Well, my doctor said my cholesterol levels are too high,” or “I find that I don’t have any sex drive anymore,” or, “I have no energy in the afternoon.”
And I say, “Why else?”
“Well, my skin’s gotten a little sallow.” They keep going. “I don’t feel good about myself.”
And pretty soon, you have this long list of why you are getting out and moving your body. And it really has nothing to do with thinner thighs or a tighter tummy. It has to do about your brain function and about your entire life. And that’s what I call the Power of Why.
But I know that you have a lot of interesting things to say about this idea. How do you get the inside reward? What do you call it?
[KATE GRACE]: The intrinsic motivation or the internal motivation. Exactly. They do say that having a strong “why” statement or having your values align with your actions is the surest way to be consistent.
But I was joking with this, to be honest, when the Olympics got canceled, because he kept telling me, “We’re going to track our motivations. What’s your internal motivation today? What’s your intrinsic motivation?” That could be for the fun of it, for the love of it, just the pure enjoyment of being outside.
[KATHY SMITH]: Let me get that straight. It’s not like, “I’m going out to run today, so I can take off another second off my time.”
“I’m going out to run today because there’s fresh air and I’m being with my teammates.”
[KATE GRACE]: Exactly. But actually, “Am I only externally motivated?” Because to be honest, I was training for the Olympics. I wanted to do well there. And so, it was hard for me. So, I was like, “Now, that this is taken away, do I have other motivations?”
And I learned this thing called the Justification Effect. We see it when people are paid a lot of money. Even if you start something internally motivated – you love your job, you love running – as soon as you have a really big external motivator like a gold medal or a million dollars, people, then, actually show that they can become less internally motivated. So, they almost forget why they originally started.
The answer to that is kind of this idea of where your focus goes, grows. So if you put your focus on those internal motivations – you remember why you did these – you can still have the external ones. They can still be important. But you’re still focusing. You can be journaling about them, remembering the internal whys. That will enable you to push through those times when the external rewards aren’t there.
[KATHY SMITH]: So true. Now, I get paid for helping people exercise, but I would do it for free. Because I love what I did. I love what I do. And so, being paid or not paid is not a factor. It’s nice to get paid obviously. But that’s not what’s getting me up every day to do what I do. So, that’s really, really important.
I want to switch gears a little bit and go into this aspect of self-love. We talked a little bit about it in the opening of the show, but I know that we all get into this Itty-Bitty Shitty Committee type of mentality like, “I’m not good enough. I’m not skinny enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m not fast enough. I’m never going to be as good as the person next to me.” That sort of thing. And when that takes over with anybody in life, in any field, it really holds you back. But I assume that as an elite athlete, it’s got to be something that you must have to deal with.
[KATE GRACE]: Yeah. We like to say that happy athletes perform better, which is just to say that if you’re performing from this place of peace and joy, you can just grow from there. If you have a strong foundation, you aren’t lacking anything. If you have a strong foundation, you can build higher.
But how are we going to be happy? It’s the most simple question but also the most difficult.
[KATHY SMITH]: It’s easier said than done.
[KATE GRACE]: Exactly. In terms of focusing on how to focus on self-esteem, I think, for me, it really hit home. I think we talked about this before. In 2013 and 2014, we would do this thing where we would do fashion shows. So, we would go and have athletes with the models at the fashion shows.
[KATHY SMITH]: I remember New York City.
[KATE GRACE]: You were there. I hated it. For months before hand, I was so down on myself. I was like, “This is going to be horrible.” I’m comparing myself to the models. And, “I’m going to look to muscly.” I’m not in my element, right? It was the worst mental state.
And I remember going there and, then, I remember after the fact, I was getting ready for the after party with one of my best friends, a person that I love most in the world. And I could just see her and she was just sallow. It was so clear that she didn’t want to get dressed. She didn’t want to go out because she felt like she needed to lose 10 pounds, and like it wasn’t worth her time to go out, because she didn’t feel good about herself.
It literally broke my heart. And it was an awakening moment for me, because that’s me. I was this person. I’m where she wants to be. She maybe she weighs a little bit more than I do. She thinks she’ll be happy where I am. I’m super upset right now, because I’m comparing myself to the models, and I think, “I’m not that good. I’m not worthy. I shouldn’t be out. I’m going to hide myself or whatever.”
I just realized this cycle, this insidious cycle. If you’re always looking to be the prettiest person or the fittest person, you’re never going to win. And even if you are an athlete, and you actually are looking to be the fittest person, it can’t come from this place of lack. It has to come from the place of worthiness and gratefulness. I think of that in terms of how to do it.
[KATHY SMITH]: Let me just ask you because I remember the finals of the Rio Olympics. There you are on the starting line, and there is Caster Semenya, who’s number one in the world. You’re in your lanes and stuff like that. But how does it feel to be on that starting line and you’re ready and it gets dead silent? I remember whether we were in London or Rio, like in London, it’s like you hear 60,000 people. And you hear, “Shhh!” And everybody goes silent. Then, boom, the gun goes off.
But you’re next to all of these number one – number one from Canada, number one from South Africa or from Africa or whatever. How do you stay, “Okay, I can compete in this zone right here?” How does that happen?
[KATE GRACE]: Practice. That’s literally part of it. Because I think part of it is– even from the time I was in high school, I remember you taking me and doing breathing exercises before. It’s all kind of the same. This is the thing, again, with the mental training is that a high school meet is no scarier than an Olympic meet in that it is real to you. The fear is real. And so, you can take these tactics, and you can practice these tactics of getting out there and believing in yourself.
I also use affirmations. So, I have a funny one. If I start thinking too much about other people, like my competitors or I’m on a run and I’m hurting, I’m like, “She’s different. I bet she’s feeling good right now.” I’ll say, “I am me and I love mis a mi.”
[KATHY SMITH]: I am me and I love mis a mi.
[KATE GRACE]: Yeah. It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of irreverent. It’s kind of like, “Do you know what? It’s true.” I think I’m great and maybe I’m not going to be as fast as her every single day, but I have a good story, and I believe I can improve. And in a way, because it’s kind of funny, it kind of gets you out of that negative self-talk.
[KATHY SMITH]: That spiral where you’ve got to stop it. Well, getting to the thing– you’ve mentioned something I just want to get back to. Because you said, “Practice for the moment.” I know that we talked about this thing called discomfort – discomfort training – and that this idea that you train for that moment, you go into uncomfortable zones to train, because you’re going to be uncomfortable. Can you tell us a little about that?
[KATE GRACE]: Yes, exactly. That’s it. I think it’s the idea of getting comfortable being uncomfortable. And there are so many things in life in which we have to go through this period where it might not be easy. It’s easier to just to lie in bed. But we do want these goals. So, how are we going to get ourselves to this point where we’re stepping out of our comfort zone?
And I think the thing is, is when you realize that the training is training your mind as well as your body. So, when you’re doing a hard workout – you’re doing something that you’re not as comfortable with – you’re also telling your mind, “I can do these things. I can do hard things. I can try and fail.” And by slowly showing yourself that, it’s almost like you’re doing acclimatization training, so you’re getting more used to this feeling of stepping outside, realizing you don’t die. It’s okay. And it’s kind of fun to push your limits and see what happens.
For the discomfort training specifically, it’s this idea that you actually want to get into that place, because, again, it’s making it more comfortable. So, when you feel this feeling of your heartrate rising and you’re getting nervous, you can say a little mantra. And you just try to breathe into your space.
I also do it, to be honest, when I’m just feeling in a weird situation like on planes.
[KATHY SMITH]: Going performing. On stage. Again, when you go on stage or when you’re going on camera, or whatever, that second before, I know, for me, it’s going into inhale, two, three, four. Exhale.
[KATE GRACE]: Exactly. I learned it from you. And the little mantra from him is, “I’m a discomfort master. Everything that I need to succeed is within me, and it is here to stay.” Which, again, you can use any mantra you want. But I like that one. It’s just very calming. They say think of someone you love. Think of a song that you love or place that is a very happy memory. And you just practice being in the place of discomfort but almost finding your peace there.
And again, I’ll do that before performing, on planes, if I’m getting my blood drawn, which I really hate, I’ll do that. Because this is an opportunity to practice being in a place I don’t like to be and being okay with it.
[KATHY SMITH]: Then, being in a place you don’t like to be, that reminds me of this idea of breathing and this concept of mindfulness that you talk a lot about. I really want to jump into this because I think it’s a big thing for exercisers. But how do you stay focused, and how do you get mindful in your practice? A lot of times, we think about mindfulness as you’re a meditator, and you’re going to sit down and close your eyes and breathe for a minute.
But the trick with exercise and I’m sure what you’re going to talk about with performance is how you stay mindful in your practices? And how does that help your performance?
[KATE GRACE]: I just remember growing up when you used to have us meditate. And I kind of remember on some vacation, you said, “Just try it for a minute.” And I closed my eyes for 10 seconds.
I was like, “I did it. It’s fine. It’s done.” But I realized you were on to something.
[KATHY SMITH]: I always knew you were going to be the greatest, because you were definitely stubborn.
[KATE GRACE]: But, again, I think what really hit it home for me this year is I realized that in four-minute segments– my races are four minutes long– that I was losing focus. It was like how is it possible that I can’t be focused for this short period of time? Or that I need my phone every time I go out for a walk or for a run. I was like, “What if I just try not? What if I just try being in myself?”
It’s kind of what you do with walking, with walking and breathing, using the workout as a meditation. So, I’ll go for a run and I might do a body scan, where I’ll try to feel the areas in my body. Or I’ll try to listen to all the different sounds that are coming on either side. Not forever. Not the best of it. But it’s just, again, it’s a practice.
[KATHY SMITH]: Even the snippets. Thirty seconds, a minute. You see by constant practicing, year in and year out that all of a sudden, you go into the gym– I see this in the gym all the time. Somebody’s in the gym. And they’re on the treadmill or they’re doing whatever, and they’re reading their book or they’re even doing their weights and they’re saying, “So, what did you have for dinner last night? What are you going to make tonight?” As opposed to at least one workout a week where you’re there and it’s like “bicep”.
And really, when you get into it, it’s fascinating. I know you know this. It’s like, “Oh, I feel the fibers. I feel it going up here. Oh, if I bowed my elbow right here, it goes all the way to the chest.” And your body just enlivens because you start to feel every single part of it. And I would imagine– because I am watching the Michael Jordan, The Last Dance, on HBO. I’m on segment four right now. Not HBO, but Netflix.
Being in the zone, being present, and that idea of being present like even in this conversation right now, to be present and not be worried about anything else that’s happening but being here in the moment. And I would imagine, to your point, that 800 meters– so for everybody at home, 800 meter is twice around the track, which she ran in Rio. Now, she’s running 1500s, which is basically four times around the track.
The 800 meter is a two-minute race. The other is about a four minute something race. And the fact that you have to stay in what some people call the pain zone or whatever for a long period of time, and you have to stay focused. Are there any other tips for that?
[KATE GRACE]: Absolutely. That’s exactly it. And I think that’s the thing, because what you’re doing in the gym translates to outside of the gym. Even being right here, if you’re doing some kind of work, or even just with your family, how are you going to be in the moment and present? I learned the quality practice thing from you, watching you at the gym, seeing how you can get so much more out of your reps if you’re just in it in the moment. Not that everyone has to be.
[KATHY SMITH]: There’s time to listen to music and chat. And there’s time for both.
[KATE GRACE]: Exactly. One thing that I do is I think that just literally just having a goal for the day or having a goal for the session helps. Because sometimes the session is, “This is going to be I’m going all in. This is going to be a really hard session. I want max effort.” And then, if I know going in there, then I can really put my focus toward that.
On the other hand, it could be a recovery session, and to be honest, I feel like people don’t have that as a goal enough. It’s like, “Today’s a recovery. I actually want to be socializing.” Because socialization actually helps bring out those good hormones or decrease cortisol. So, I want to be talking to someone the whole time. We’re going to go super easy.
[KATHY SMITH]: Yeah. Everybody thinks that you go ball some walls or something.
[KATE GRACE]: Exactly. I think that’s the biggest thing that people don’t understand with elite athletes is that it’s fun. Eighty percent of the time, we’re talking. We’re laughing. We’re joking with people. Maybe not 80%, but a good amount is very conversational. And I think that’s another thing where people with any exercise routine, they can get into hiccups. Because if you think it’s supposed to be a grind every day, you’re not going to do it. You won’t continue.
But if most of the time, it’s enjoyable and you’re having fun, you’re doing it with a friend, there’s even more likelihood that you’re going to keep coming back. Then, once or twice a week, do a really hard session.
[KATHY SMITH]: Go for it.
[KATE GRACE]: Yeah.
[KATHY SMITH]: I know we have to wrap up here in just a couple of minutes. But I’ll see you tonight. I know you like this concept of quality over quantity. I don’t know if we touched on that. But is there anything else you want to say about that?
[KATE GRACE]: Yeah. I think the quality over quantity is kind of what you were saying in terms of this idea of having a focus for the session, of how much more you can get out of anything: of your strength, work, of your endurance. In a way, doing an extra two hours a week doesn’t matter if you’re doing it haphazardly. We’re saying it’s mindless repeats over mindful repetition. So, it’s like you’re doing it mindfully versus the mindless–
[KATHY SMITH]: Yeah. So, for most of us, your workouts can be much shorter if you’re more mindful. Just like, get it on. I did something here today that was a ten-minute that kicked because I was really focused on it.
[KATE GRACE]: I think the only other thing is – because people always ask about it – is how to get through this idea of plateaus or how to have this grit or toughness. And I think a lot of people deal with– I know for me, I have set PRs every year. So, at some event, I am having a personal best. But I also go through long stretches where I don’t PR like in the 800 for example.
It was three years before the Rio Olympics, which I hadn’t run faster. I hadn’t run a personal best. And it’s really common in fact – more common than you realize in athletes – to kind of have this up and down and how to ride that out.
[KATHY SMITH]: But when you’re having a plateau, it’s not giving up. There’s a belief that there’s going to be success at the end of it if you just do the work.
[KATE GRACE]: And I think also, just focusing more on this idea of this mastery mindset or this idea of the path as the goal. It kind of harkens back to the idea of the internal motivation. If your motivation is just you want to become a master at this craft, think of yourself as an artist. “I want to learn the craft.” Then, it becomes this exciting element of education and knowledge versus always getting down on yourself if you’re not reaching your goal immediately.
And the paradox of it is that the more that you focus on the path, the more likely the goal will come to you.
[KATHY SMITH]: Exactly. So well said. So, what’s for dinner tonight?
[KATE GRACE]: I think you’re making dinner tonight. Our favorite dinner. Burritos and taco night.
[KATHY SMITH]: It’s burritos and taco night. Kate, I could talk all day. You know that, but I have to say my big take away is that flexing your motivational muscle and developing mental strength is just as important as developing your physical strength.
Each of us support one another in doing this. When we do, it helps us stay on track. And to Kate’s point, when you start to work on your mental strength you stay on track, they go hand in hand. And then, you get the best results.
And remember, thinking about mental strength is different than practicing it every day. If you put those daily habits into action– and that’s the big thing. If you put it into action, they’re going to compound your workouts, which means make it better and enable you to get the most out of your routine, reach your goals, be more fulfilled and happier while you’re doing it. That’s the important part.
On that note, I have to bid you ado.
[KATE GRACE]: Thank you for having me.
[KATHY SMITH]: Thank you so much for coming on the show. I love you.
[KATE GRACE]: It was so much fun. I love you too.