By: Alexandria Spencer, CF-L1
My name is Alexandria Spencer. Most people call me Dria! I’m known around the gym as the “bodybuilder girl,” the one that does hard workouts or just plain Dria. I grew up in Louisville, Ohio. I am currently a senior at Malone University studying Exercise Science. Beyond Intelligent Fitness, I am a crossfit coach at two crossfit gyms, a youth leader at my church, college and school campus ministry coordinator, and on top of that, I am training to compete crossfit on a professional level. I am writing to you tips or ways to ingrain a happier more positive mindset and ways set up a more positive lifestyle through my life story.
Doubt and struggle can bring out so many toxic and harmful negative thoughts. The crazy thing is, our brains are basically hardwired to cling more to negative thoughts or actions. In an article published by Psychology Today, they mention a study done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D. that shows the electrical activity we produce when we are introduced to particular pictures have either a positive, negative, or neutral initial feeling when looking at them. University after university saw the same result: the picture of something that has a negative feeling linked with it, such as a distorted face or dead animal, produced the most electrical activity rather than a positive picture of food or a car. What this means is we (our brains) are more likely to react to negative news.
When I was about 8 years old, I picked up this mentality of wanting to be the best at anything I did and focusing only on that thing. Licensed psychologist and counselors call it obsession, but I call it passion. Many olympians and successful people have been diagnosed with “obsessive compulsive disorder,” but I don’t see anyone trying to fix them. While preparing for Cheerleading Worlds and a junior olympic volleyball championship, I was faced with an injury that took my identity, or so I thought. During what us cheerleaders call a “full,” I landed with a straight leg while still twisting and popped my ACL. “I will never recover, It’s so far away. I’ll never play again.” Toxic words poured out of me. Praying the pain away didn’t seem to work. God seemed to have a different plan for me rather than an easy way out. And every time I woke up in the middle of the night from pain, I realized the pain wasn’t going anywhere unless I did something about it. The moment my pain medicine wore off from surgery, I was on my feet. My mind had been made up, giving up was no longer an option. As a high schooler who didn’t look up ways to do things, but did things out of creativity, I found my own tactics to try and motivate myself. My first attempt to combat the thoughts of “it seems so far, it’ll take too long” was:
- I wrote what I wanted to be in just one month, then three months, then six months on a piece of paper then put it in a place I could see it everyday.
- I kept a journal that I wrote all of my feelings in. This was an outlet for me as well as a way to fully express my thoughts on paper rather than taking it out on someone close to me in a negative way. I also looked back at what I wrote as I moved forward in my journey. July 21, 2012 I wrote, “I miss volleyball so much. I fight everyday to get better and I am making so much progression. The pain I feel mentally pushes me to want to get better everyday. One day I will make it somewhere and looking back won’t be an option.”
I could’ve chosen to take my situation and do nothing but believe the lies that my ability to recover wouldn’t happen. That’s what my comfortable mind wanted to do. But as our fearless leader says, “I end up doing something uncomfortable each day that really pushes me to grow.” (Danielle Wirick). I did exactly just that. This concept of doing things that makes you uncomfortable is an art and something that needs developed. Just like being positive. You have to condition yourself to be positive with tiny daily decisions. The things you look at in life and think, “Oh gosh, I don’t want to do that” or maybe “I don’t want to have that conversation.” Whether that means making the bed each morning or having to do something as simple as saying sorry to someone. This leaves two questions to ask yourself, “Why does this task or thing bother me so much?” and “How can I restructure my life to make this task either better or make it go away?” Dig really deep, pull those hard feelings out and fill your bag with challenges that you aim to overcome instead of filling your bag with the mentality that “It’ll be fine, this is just who I am.” Which leads me to the next part of my story.
Just as I thought all this crazy fight and positivity paid off, ten days after I was cleared to play sports, I tore my ACL again. I painfully tried to play volleyball for the following four months, but was wheeled out of almost every game in a wheelchair. I had another surgery that took away my senior season of both volleyball and competitive cheerleading. There was no chance of playing in college. Once again, I found myself in a familiar spot on my parents couch, in pain, full of pity. I had nothing but myself and my thoughts. For three solid days, I sat, did my little exercises, and fought the thoughts, “What’s the point?”
For the prior six months, I had a goal. Now, I didn’t know what on earth I was headed towards. At the age of 17, no therapist, just my own built mindset:
- I wrote on my mirror each day what I could do to be a better person.
- Example: Wake up and tell my parents that I love them.
- Do one exercise that I absolutely hate
- Example: I would go in the gym and do sprints on the bike until I couldn’t move my legs with no music in my ears. Just my owns negative thoughts that I had to fight.
I chose to fight to continue to be better physically and mentally, as though I was chasing something or running a race that had no end. It wasn’t for anyone else but myself. It was a race to better myself using fitness and my recovery time. I encourage you to run the best race of your life everyday, and never give up. You get tired, you stop to catch your breath, and smell the roses in your situation, then keep going.
The last and most recent part of my life that I have used my positive mindset in is my journey to be a professional athlete. I have been training to make it to Crossfit regionals and then to the Crossfit Games. Goals that don’t scare you are goals that are not big enough. And goals that not only scare you, but scare the people around you, are just right. “How could I ever be good enough to ever do this? Look at those girls, they are so much stronger and bigger than me” or “Dria, this is crazy. You have to be so strong and those athletes workout all day, and have money to get there.” Doubt has been my biggest struggle. People think I’m crazy when I verbally say that I am not good enough, I don’t lift enough, and I’m not as muscular or as big as those girls. They don’t realize what I struggle with inside. As we all struggle with these thoughts in some capacity, they may actually be true. I’m not good enough to be a Games athlete right now, but I can do everything that I can control to change that. Life is so much better when you are living for yourself, doing exactly what you want regardless of what it takes, and doing the things in life that stink but pull out the crap.
Three of the current things that I do to keep my mind positive and keep my life always moving in a positive direction are:
- Get rid of anything that produces negative thoughts.
- Example: Delete instagram, social media, etc. for an amount of time to get rid of the things I compare myself to.
- Sort through the people in my life to get rid of the ones who put wood on my fire of life and move away from the ones who dim my flame.
- Example: Stop going out with people who pressure me to make unhealthy decisions
- Never ever complain about a workout even if I don’t want to do it. It is an opportunity to grow.
After all of this being said, my hardship has come again when the Crossfit Games released that they have changed the system. Friday, August 24th, Crossfit released that they no longer will be holding regionals, thus making the gap to get to the games very small. I am forced to make the decision to give up my dreams. I am forced again to reroute my life and use every lesson that I learned from this journey to another one in life. Having positivity, hope, dreams, and love has developed something much greater than being a professional athlete. I thought that being a professional athlete was the greatest thing in life but I found out that there is much more to life when you’re in love with what you do.
Every ounce of effort that I put into my athletic career ended up giving me a life that I can wake up and feel happy in. I had faith that I could be better than what I was. This positivity over the years has not only affected my fitness, but it has so shaped my life that I can say I am absolutely in love with it. I used fitness to begin my journey of being a better person. It was where I could practice little hardships to prepare for bigger ones in life.
Friends, the positive result doesn’t come from what you can do alone, it’s what you can do with others. Challenges aren’t something to be feared. A positive life leads to a life where you could lose everything, but still know who you are. Be positive, be kind, love what you do, and work hard everywhere you go. That’s how you get the best results in the gym. Each day in the gym is an opportunity to find yourself. Don’t ever aim to stay the same. Keep striving and keep bettering your life.