Mental Muscles: Stretch, Flex, Repeat

Guest Author: Jenny Donnelly


I'm going to roll the clock back, perhaps a little too far, and describe one of the top ten defining moments of my life.

Can you think of a time as a kid when you tasted victory for the first time? Not just any old generic blue ribbon victory, but the kind where you had won the approval of your peers who at first doubted your abilities? The following story is silly, but it will prove my point. 

The year was 1992, and I was head cheerleader of my little town high school. Casually watching a televised national cheerleading competition, I was entertained by these top league teams who did inconceivable acts. At one point, I saw a pyramid that was beyond impressive and I thought to myself, "We can do that."  It was a three-person high matrix of awesomeness. It was a stretch, but I really believed my squad could do this. Difficult to describe, imagine a tight "mountain" of people clumped and stacked together, which suddenly expands like an accordion across the stage. Several girls were in the perfect center splits hanging in mid-air to connect one person to another across the stage. (I would love to see what your mind has sketched up.) I decided right then and there, we were doing this. 

It was 5:30am and I was about to burst with excitement. I described in detail the pyramid we'd be performing. A gym floor of hunched over tired teenagers revealed a silent response. At first, they just glanced at one another, eyebrows pressed together, and then their laughter broke the atmosphere. These were "yeah, right" giggles. It's possible there were some believers in the bunch, but no one spoke up. From my vantage point, I had seventeen doubting peers who were, quite frankly, about to be proven wrong. I would drag them to victory against their will. 

Twenty-four years later, as cheesy as this childhood memory is, it has stuck with me. I've since learned that the process that it takes to carry any dream across the finish line has several similarities and really boils down to our mental toughness. And that's the point of this article:

To carry out any dream, it's going to take mental muscle. 

First, every dream begins with what you see in your mind's eye. When I got the response of doubt from my peers, I had already seen it in my mind. I could see the end from the beginning. Second, I was outnumbered. However, I remember the resolute spirit I had. Normally, I would adjust my idea to fit their comfort level. Not this time. I had to prove to them that we had more to give and we had untapped potential. My decision was unwavering. And third, we did end up putting this exact pyramid in our routine and executing it perfectly in front of the most critical people on the planet: the student body.

I'm dusting off my glory days trophy here, but when that pyramid exploded outward into that accordion, the entire audience jumped to their feet and began cheering louder than life! I still remember their voices echoing through the auditorium. We had all done what we thought only "the elite" could do. Once separated by doubt and insecurity, we were now united in belief. We went on to win first place in our regional competition and qualify for nationals. We had tapped into greatness we didn't know we had. You also have more greatness to uproot within you and that's what working a dream will do in you. 

What are you building?

And maybe the better question is, who are you building?  If you're over twenty-two years old, I'm assuming it's not a cheerleading pyramid, but more likely a marriage, a family, a business, a church, an institution, a career, a non-profit, or maybe a new invention. Although we have different talents and capacities, we're all called to build and lead something. 

I truly believe the victory comes down to our mental toughness and our willingness to stretch our comfort zones in order to trigger more mental strength.

The tougher the terrain, the tougher I have to be. How would you say your "mental fitness" is right now? The reality is that our thoughts dictate our every action. The fantastic news is that our mental fortitude can be developed, just like muscle tissue, with intentional training. You've probably heard the saying, "Don't wish it were easier. Wish you were better." 

There are seven rather predictable steps you're sure to encounter on your dream journey.

The goal is to weather these "D's" well and allow them to lay down more mental muscle fibers. 

1. Discern.

Before you even get started, you need to make sure this dream is the right fit for you.

If you've ever seen me play basketball with my kids in the driveway, you would easily discern that professional basketball is not my highest calling in life. Even with thousands of hours of practice, I'll never be taller than I am right now at five feet five inches, and it's just obvious that this is not in my wheelhouse of talent. You have to ask yourself if you are going after a dream that is yours.  You may see someone pursuing a dream that inspires something similar to come alive on the inside of you. I remember watching a mom with a sweet little newborn and thinking, "one day that's going to be me." It was something I knew was authentically "me" and I wasn't trying to be someone else. 

It's going to take some soul searching. "Is this me? Is this something I can't not do?" A personal note here is that I rely 100% on my beliefs regarding my faith. I have come to learn in my life that if God hasn't ignited a flashing green light of "this is for you" in my heart and my mind, I'm not going to do it because my efforts are in vain. I only want to do what God has prepared before me.

Pioneering a dream isn't about jumping out into any territory that looks enticing. It has to be your territory, meant for you.

It's part of your life assignment and it's going to positively impact the lives of others. 

2. Dream It.

The rest of the process is going to be built on this one, so if you find yourself stuck down further on the list, come back here.

To dream means to envision. Vision is simply seeing something in your mind before it ever takes place in reality. People often get stuck asking themselves, "How is this going to happen?"

When the "why" is clear, the "how" will show up and unfold over time.

Why does this dream matter and what do you see? 

You and I have two realms of vision: your natural eye (which you're using right now to read these words) and your mind's eye (what your imagination can see.) Lean in on this one:

You are not going to be able make your best decisions relying only on the circumstances you see happening around you, positive or negative.

The only way to build a dream is to roll out the blueprints of what you see in the future and let those prints dictate your decisions you make today. 

For instance, if I am building a family and want my kids to turn out to be incredible adults, I better have that very end in mind. Let's say I ask one of my kids for the third time to finish their chores and they choose to ignore me. Reacting to what I see in the natural will make me ask the wrong questions, "What's wrong with you? How could you be so ungrateful? Why aren't you listening to me?" On the contrary, if I use my higher form of vision and choose to see my child ten years from now, knowing their character is groomed over time, I'll make statements that reflect what I see in the future and are life-giving. "You are a Donnelly. You're part of a team. Donnelly's are grateful and we're hard workers. You are going to behave like a Donnelly today. If you choose to act otherwise, I'll be forced to take away some privileges. What is your best decision?" 

Although it's tempting to just react with frustrated feelings (which I have done when my mom leadership muscles went flimsy), the second response is wiser and is rooted in vision, pointing out the future, not the present. It's playing life from the offensive team, living a leadership-oriented life.

Leadership puts ownership in the heart of the people around us and empowers them to rise to the true greatness that lies within them.

You will need to respond and speak from what you've set in your mind for the future. 

3. Decide.

You're going to have to have the will to succeed.

Wishy-washy "this is too hard" type of weak thinking has to die. When we started our business back in 1999, I was originally at a conference being exposed to the big picture for the first time. I got so excited thinking about what building a successful business could bring to my quality of life, future children, and the people's lives I would be able to impact around me. I will never forget walking through the lobby of the hotel and suddenly I had this inner confrontation. "Are you really going to do this?" I felt a wave of nerves roll through my body and all of a sudden I realized that excitement without a solid commitment would just leave me feeling disappointed. I felt like I was being asked my hand in marriage; it was that intense! No one was demanding this question of me. It was just like I ask my kids, "What's your best decision?" I felt as if I crossed over an invisible line that day from day-dreaming to doing. I made a firm decision:

I would pour my whole self in to this and not allow one single excuse to steal my destiny. 


4. Doubt the Doubters.

You know what builds muscle, right? Resistance, weight, opposition. It's the same for our mental fitness.

No one likes rejection, but you're going to need to let go of any illusion you may have that everyone will see what you see, care that you accomplish it, or even like you.

A vision revealed tends to part the waters.

People often respond to your vision with motivation or intimidation. You can't worry or control which side of the fence that person chooses. Just don't let them drag you over to the "Negative Nellies" who believe that every glass is half empty, that just about everything good is impossible, and everything bad is at our fingertips. 

Stay away from entertaining conversations with negative people and refuse to get into a debate.

They've already made up their minds to see life from a victim's mindset. Their mental fitness looks a lot like a mushy unused muscle, just hanging onto the bone and flapping around without purpose. No tone. No resolve. No toughness. Just mush.

If they've made up their mind to be negative, then you had better go into every conversation having your mind made up too.

In all reality, it's never someone else's doubt that squashes the dream.

They can only plant seeds of doubt. For that doubt to take hold in us and grow into a quitter's harvest, we have to put that doubt seed in favorable conditions for growth.

The soil for negativity is best created in the seedbed of mental fecal matter.

That's right, friends, poopy thoughts are the soil for doubt to thrive into a full-on state of unbelief.

What kind of thoughts do you allow yourself to entertain?

Do you reject negative thoughts that pop up randomly in your mind? Have you developed a habit of intentionally turning your back on discouragement? Discouragement will come. It's how you respond to it that matters. If you refuse to let your mind run wild in the garbage dump of thoughts, you can avoid harvesting these seeds. Stir up encouragement in yourself. Never wait for someone else to do that for you. You are the most influential encourager or critic you will ever face. The great news is that you are 100% in control of which role you play in your own ear. 

5. Do it.

So you've discerned your assignment, you've envisioned the dream, you've made a firm decision, and you're ignoring the doubt. With the control panel successfully set to all the right parameters, were still just sitting on the runway. This dream has nowhere to go if we don't take some action, and do it quick. 

I have found when I start complicating the process or feeling like my reasons have slipped into excuses and now I'm feeling confused on what to do next, the answer that comes to me most often is that ever famous Nike brand slogan,

"Just Do It."

After you've passed through the other steps, there is nowhere else to go except forward. When those gals were sitting on the ground giggling at me, I didn't spend two seconds talking more about it. I starting arranging their positions immediately, "Stand up. You stand here. You stand here. And you are going to climb here..."

You're going to have to take the bull by the horns.

Your spouse can't do it for you, your friend can't do it for you, your mentor can't do it for you, and anyone else for that matter. You're going to have to put that foot attached to your body out in front and take a step... Then another step... And another. This is about you right here. No more excuses, no more mental mush, just good old-fashion action is the only remedy to cure the start-up blues. 

6. Dig Deep.

Just when you think, "I'm wiped. I have nothing left to give," guess what? You're going to have reach down inside and grab some more strength... strength you've probably never tapped into.

What's you're programmed quitting point?

There's a point we have all programmed ourselves to quit. You're going to have to push that line and see what you're made of. Go ahead, surprise yourself. Next time you power down at your normal pain threshold, purposefully power up instead and see what happens. You'll be surprised at how much untapped greatness is just screaming in there, "pick me, pick me!" 

7. Develop Yourself.

There will be pot holes and other obstacles that arise. You can throw an emotional fit, or you can realize they are all designed to increase your character and effectiveness as a leader.

The sooner you understand that adversity is a set up for growth, the faster you'll see results. Be a problem solver and don't cower at "people problems." People are the reason you're doing this, so embrace your reason.

Develop and grow yourself through confrontational and honest conversations.

Humility is key here. People really want to skip this step as if it's optional or part of the dessert menu. And really, this is the part where mama says, "Eat your vegetables." Not the most flavorful part of the journey, but packed with the most potential for nutritional growth. 

If there is a problem, I promise there is a solution.

You may have to ask for help, read some books for wisdom, observe someone who is succeeding at the very same thing, and approach this process as a humble learner.

Refuse to have to know everything.

Include others in solving the problem. Be willing to make mistakes and refuse to have to be seen as perfect. Perfection is an illusion, anyway. Put yourself in "adventure mode" and embrace the ride! 

There is so much to say on this subject of pioneering and realizing a dream, but what I've laid out here should give you some traction. I'll leave you with this:

This dream will demand more of you than maybe you first anticipated... More time, more energy, more learning, more resources, more faith and definitely, more patience.

Can I suggest that,

outside of changing others lives for the better, the very point of our dream is to change us?

What if the whole reason for this journey is to put a lactic acid burn in your mental muscles that produce a higher level of mental fitness... An upgrade in mental toughness?

Maybe your next endeavor will require Olympic level mental strength and endurance and this current journey is your training ground for the next bigger assignment. Embrace the training.

Frontrunners, remember you are at the front.

People are relying on you to grit this out. Fix your mind on what your dream will do for others. Generously give your time and energy to others rather than demanding quick results. Give, for the sake of giving, not getting. A focus of "giving" frees up your joy, while "getting" layers on the stress and delays the process. And lastly,

quitting is a habit and so is perseverance.

Flex your mental perseverance muscles and see this dream of yours through to the finish. It will be worth it! 

Jenny Square.jpg

About Jenny

Jenny Donnelly resides in Portland, Oregon and is married to her best friend Bob. Together, they are raising five children, building a home business, co-pastoring The Collective Church, and speaking to a variety of audiences around the nation regarding winning in life. Her passion is to see people's lives transformed in every way: physically, financially, socially, mentally, and spiritually.


Instagram: @jennyldonnelly

Are you wanting to take the first step into your business or dream, but feeling like you're lacking "Mental Muscle"?

Are there areas of your life where you're actively chasing your dream, but hitting a wall over and over still?

It can be frustrating to know there's a problem, but not know how to dig it up so that you can move forward.  Maybe you need a little help overcoming internal obstacles, dismantling fear, and learning from experienced entrepreneurs from all different industries.

Consider my book, STEP 0: Featuring an exclusive Masterclass by Jenny Donnelly on "Building a Culture of Leadership From the Ground Up, Getting Others to Buy into Your Vision, & Managing Success".