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How Mindset Training Changed My Relationship With Myself

I’m happier, more resilient and calmer than I’ve ever been

Nikhita Mahtani

This past holiday season, I was invited to my friend’s family Christmas party, and I hadn’t seen his parents for several years. After the party, he told me that his parents had commented that I’d gained weight—which I had, due to a new exercise routine that incorporated heavy weights, and therefore, more muscle and a bulkier appearance. While I didn’t look much bigger, I knew that if I’d heard a comment about my weight before, it would have really triggered me, given my former obsession with being "skinny." However, after my ACL surgery in 2021, I was forced to switch my approach.

ACL surgery involves a nine-month approach of bed rest, crutches, and physical therapy before you get any strength back in your knee at all. Truly, I had no quad muscles left, and I wanted to quit the grueling process every single day. With physical therapy, I was so limited with what I could do that I quickly gained weight, especially since one physical therapy session knocked me out for several days. When I finally graduated from physical therapy to adding in more strength workouts, I was introduced to an NYC-based fitness studio called AARMY that offered boot camp and spin sessions but also focused on something I’d never heard of before—mindset coaching.

What Is Mindset Training? 

Essentially, mindset training (or mindset coaching) is a form of sports psychology that’s based on mental conditioning. Research from The Journal of Neurochemistry has shown that our brains are malleable and we can easily build new habits and form beliefs through practices such as repetition, affirmations, visualizations, and meditation. The co-founder of AARMY, Akin Akman, trained to be a professional tennis player at the prestigious training facility IMG Academy, where they adopt mindset coaching classes in order to develop an athlete’s mindset. So, he wanted to use elements of that in his own coaching sessions.

Here’s how it works: At IMG Academy, Akman participated in mindset coaching classes where students would discuss elements of the thought processes while working on particularly difficult moves, or dealing with emotional issues such as losing a match or lack of motivation. The difference at AARMY is that Akman uses positive affirmations and rewires belief systems during each session while you’re in the process of a difficult move. “The way we train the mind at AARMY is embedded into the physical practice,” explains Akman. “As your physical skills go on autopilot, so does your mindset.” Since your sympathetic nervous system, also known as your fight or flight response, is on autopilot during exercise, listening to these affirmations during stressful circumstances can affect your subconscious thought patterns and rewire your belief systems when you’re not aware of it. 

Think of it this way: If one of your fitness goals is to hold a plank for three minutes, but while you’re holding it, you tell yourself you can’t go on for much longer, you’re likely to drop it much earlier than if you were feeding your mind more positive thoughts. But unless you train your mind to think that way, it won’t happen by default—especially when you’re struggling. With repetition and consistent coaching, thinking more positively can become a habit and, as a result, you can reach your goal of staying motivated. 

What Is the Purpose of Mindset Training? 

And mindset training extends to every aspect of your life, insists Akman. “You’re building habits, both physical and mental,” he says. “Essentially the movement, music, and atmosphere is all state-shifting, so that you can recondition or claim and reimagine who you actually are and what you can actually do.” It’s the mind that needs to be trained in order for the body to follow—whether you're pushing yourself to failure with a heavy weight, dealing with a difficult day at work, or working through an argument with a partner. 

Researchers from Scientific Research Publishing Inc. performed a study on student athletes and found that those who went through mindset coaching displayed more mental toughness and could deal with stress effectively, which translated to better performance both on the field and in their day-to-day life. This is because now, these new thought patterns are wired for any stressful situation: Your old thought patterns, statements like "this is too hard" or "I’m not capable," are rewritten and the new ones run on autopilot instead. "I can do the hard things" or "I’m stronger than I think I am" become your new narrative. 

Does Mindset Coaching Actually Work? 

A huge change that I personally have noticed through this training is a sense of resilience, and an innate belief system that I’m able to tackle anything that comes my way. Last year, I was unexpectedly laid off from my dream job, and I just know that if it had happened in the past, I would have crumbled into a ball for weeks. While I definitely took the rest of the day to cry (you gotta feel those feelings) I spent the next day problem-solving, finalizing new freelance contracts and securing interviews. As a result, my income was secure for the rest of the year, and that is entirely due to the mindset coaching I received.

I also don’t really care about being "skinny" anymore, especially since a big part of my physical therapy was making sure both my quads had the same strength percentages. I was told when I “graduated” from physical therapy that 85 percent was a great number, and that I should be happy if my injured knee had this strength number in comparison to my non-surgery leg. However, through all the workouts and pushing myself to failure (AARMY focuses on athlete training in every sense of the word, including physical exertion), it’s now at 101 percent. The confidence in the newfound physical and mental strength I’ve developed has entirely changed how I view myself. I’m happier, more resilient and calmer than I’ve ever been. I owe that entirely to mindset coaching.

Nikhita Mahtani is a freelance writer based in New York. Her work has been featured in publications including GP, InStyle and Allure magazine.

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