It’s the season when we start purposefully thinking about all the things we’re thankful for. You might have family gatherings for the holidays and spend a few minutes before a meal being thankful for the food on your table or thankful for the family and friends you’re surrounded by. You might have school projects where you write down all the things you’re grateful for or make cards for family members telling them how much you appreciate them and what they do for you.
Want to practice gratitude?
While it’s great to spend this time of year deliberately focused on all the blessings in your life, did you know that being thankful ALL YEAR round can actually benefit you as a gymnast? It might sound far-fetched but science has actually proven that gratitude can help you increase your well-being and that it does things like reduce your blood pressure, increase your energy, and help you sleep better. Not only that, gratitude can improve your resilience, optimism, and self-esteem. It can also help you relax more. All of these things are positive traits that will not only help you increase the quality of your life, but increase your performance in gymnastics as well.
Still don’t believe us?
Here are 3 ways practicing gratitude can help your gymnastics:
1. Gratitude increases your quality of sleep which can enhance your gymnastics performance.
A special part of your brain called the hypothalamus is activated when you practice gratitude. This part is responsible for things such as sleep, growth, and metabolism – all things necessary to becoming a good athlete. The more gratitude you feel, the more your hypothalamus is activated which means better side effects for your body. Science has shown that gratitude increases the quality of your sleep, decreases the time it takes you to fall asleep, and lengthens the duration of your sleep. Getting good quality sleep is key to becoming a top-performing gymnast (Ali Raisman can attest to that!) and can help enhance your recovery and performance as a gymnast. Getting better sleep can also help you recover faster after hard practices, help to boost your mood, and give you more energy. All of these things can help you train and perform at a higher level in gymnastics.
2. Gratitude increases your self-esteem which will make you a better gymnast.
When you’re practicing gratitude you’re less likely to compare yourself to other gymnasts. Instead you’re focusing on what’s going well around you. When you take your focus off others and put it on the things that are going well, you begin to feel better about yourself which will boost your confidence. Increased confidence leads to higher self-esteem. Also, when you become grateful for your competition at a meet, you can begin to see your competitors as necessary players in helping you become a better gymnast. Without the competition you might not try as hard or be as motivated to succeed. Likewise, you’ve probably noticed that when you’re surrounded by better gymnasts in practice you want to do better. It’s this mental shift that can help you feel more confident and less likely to compare yourself to the other gymnasts around you but to see them as valuable tools in shaping your gymnastics. Therefore being grateful can lead to many positive outcomes including improved self-esteem.
3. Gratitude increases your resilience which is a necessary trait in gymnastics.
We all know how important resilience is to succeeding in gymnastics. Gymnastics is a tough sport that requires hard work, sacrifice, and getting up after being knocked down (both literally and figuratively). Research has proven that a regular gratitude practice can increase resilience and positive attitude. In fact, an attitude of gratitude can build up a psychological immune system of sorts that can act as a cushion when we fall. Grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether everyday stressors or major life stressors. When athletes practice gratitude they can become more resilient to the stress that occurs during competitions and handle adversity better.
So how do you go about practicing gratitude?
Gratitude has the most effects if done consistently. But it’s pretty simple to start. Begin by noticing all the things you’re grateful for in that moment of your life. While saying those things in your head is one way to do this exercise, there is power in putting pen to paper and writing the words down.
Gratitude Journal: One of the best ways to keep track of your gratitude is to keep a Gratitude Journal. You can get a blank notebook or journal and label each page with the date. Then below the date write in at least 5 things you’re grateful for that day. This could be as simple as the warm blankets you are sleeping under or as deep and thoughtful as the ability to walk or use your body! This is personal and specific to what you’re feeling that day and it doesn’t have to be specific to gymnastics. Just make sure you don’t use the same things over and over each day. Try to really think about the things that you appreciate about your body and mind, the people in your life who you’re happy to have in it, or the experiences you’re grateful for. Do this everyday for the rest of forever! It’s a great habit to have as an adult too, regardless of whether you’re still an athlete or not.
Gratitude Text/Email Chain with your Teammates/Family: If you’re an older gymnast, another way to hold yourself accountable for daily gratitude is to start a group gratitude text with your friends. Each day you can text your teammates with the 5 things you’re grateful for and have everyone respond back with their gratitude for the day. Another option is to send a daily email to your family members (siblings, parents, grandparents) and have them reply back with their gratitude for the day. It might feel funny to send other people your gratitude thoughts for the day but the ripple effect it creates will be massive. Plus, you’ll have a built in accountability tribe to help you be consistent with your gratitude.
Send a Thank You Letter to your Coach, Teammate, or Family Member: Writing a thank you letter to someone in your life who you appreciate not only feels good to you but to the person receiving your letter. A specific hormone in your brain called dopamine gets released when you do things that feel good. The more you do that thing, the more dopamine gets released which causes you to want to do that feel-good thing again. Showing appreciation for others and writing and sending thank you letters can have a positive effect on your life.
Create a Team Gratitude Log: Talk to your coach about creating a big board of gratitude at your gym. Each day when you come to the gym you can write down one thing you’re grateful for that day. After all of your teammates have written in their gratitude you’ll have a board of gratitude that will make everyone feel good! Repeat this each practice and watch your board grow bigger and bigger.
These are just a few ways you can start a regular practice of gratitude. The sooner you get started, the better. Gratitude is by far one of the most powerful tools for enhancing your life.
How to start using Gratitude in Gymnastics Now
Let’s say you’re just getting started with a daily gratitude practice but you want to use it to your advantage in gymnastics. How can you do that? Well, as a gymnast it’s not uncommon to go through phases of self-doubt or fear. You might feel down about your abilities or get stuck in a rut. You might be having a mental block or feeling frustrated about not getting a skill that you’ve been working so hard to get. Did you know that one of the best ways to move beyond these feelings is to practice gratitude in that moment?
For example, imagine that you’re in a mental space of frustration. Your coach won’t let you leave until you’ve completed 5 cartwheels on beam without falling and you can’t seem to get through even one! You’re tired, upset, and just want to stop but you know it’s important to do what your coach is asking you to do. In that moment, one of the best things you can do is to stop for a minute, take in some deep breaths, and think of things that you’re grateful for.
- “How wonderful is it that I get to come to gym to practice and do something that I really love to do!”
- “How awesome is it that my muscles are strong and help me do some really tough skills!”
- “How awesome is it that I get to spend time with teammates that I have fun with!”
- “How awesome is it that practice is almost over!!!”
These are all thoughts you can reflect on in that moment to help you reframe your thoughts and get off the feeling of frustration. By doing this, you’ll actually start to notice your muscles relax, your anxiety feel less, and you’ll feel happier. Presto change-o! This simple act of thinking deliberate thoughts of gratitude has now made your body and mind feel better about your situation. Without a doubt you’ll have an easier time completing those 5 cartwheels on beam and even if you keep falling it won’t feel as big of a deal so you’ll keep at it until you complete the task.
This mental exercise of gratitude is one you can keep in your toolbox of mental skills to help you in gymnastics. This won’t be the last time that you experience frustration in gymnastics but you can use your positive experience with this gratitude exercise as a reminder that even simple acts can have significant results.
In many ways, gratitude is a powerful and yet completely underused tool for helping sports performance. Scientists have proven the direct effects of gratitude on health, happiness, and positive attitude. Not only can a daily practice of gratitude help you sleep better it can also help you develop more self-esteem and resiliency, all traits necessary to becoming a better gymnast. This holiday season remember to express gratitude and to let this gratitude practice spill over into gymnastics.