Malaysia’s top gymnast on how she keeps mentally strong when the competition gets tough.
NATIONAL GYMNAST FARAH ANN ABDUL HANI may have won multiple gold medals at the SEA Games, but getting to where she is now involved plenty of patience, hard work and heartbreak. Ahead of her appearance at the upcoming SEA Games in KL, we asked Farah on how she builds the mental strength required to push through and improve herself. Keep changing goals It’s important to constantly change your goals as you develop, and gymnastics is one sport where I’m always learning new skills. Even the goals I set for myself a few years ago have changed: then, it was just to get to the SEA games; now, my target is to qualify for the Olympics. In setting goals for yourself, don’t just look at the big goals of maintaining your health or exercising – maintain smaller ones so that you can track your progress and see how far you’ve come from where you started. It’s more motivating this way because you can see the progress you’ve made. It’s all right to feel crappy It takes a lot out of you when you go out there after hours of training, only to lose. But I allow myself to be upset – when I didn’t qualify for the Olympics the last time, I couldn’t go back to the gym for two weeks. Even the mention of the Olympics would make me so upset that I’d break down in tears. Eventually, I picked myself up and told myself to keep moving forward. Failure is part and parcel of winning; we can only move up from failure and improve ourselves, and we always have more room to grow. We should allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes and believe that something better is on the horizon. Physical and mental strength go handin-hand Right now, I go for sessions with a psychologist to help me mentally prepare for a big event by running through routines and goals so that by the time I enter the arena, I’m mentally prepared to face my challenges. But first and foremost, it’s important to be physically prepared for whatever you’re doing and your mental preparation is an addition to these. When you know that your body can do something after doing it a thousand times in training, the probability of succeeding gets better. Take small steps in adapting new habits You need to believe in yourself and trust that your dreams – whether it’s an ideal body weight or a job that you want – can be achieved. If you don’t believe it yourself, then no one else will support you. At times it will be hard and you want to give up, but those are the moments when you decide that your dreams are bigger than whatever you’re feeling at that moment. Write your goals somewhere you can see them – in your kitchen, bedroom and on your phone – so you never forget what you’re striving for and what you need to do to get there. Make small steps first to adapt to your new habit, then gradually make them bigger – I find that this will help you adapt better to your new habit. Surround yourself with people that are happy for you and will help you in your journey.