Indomitable Will: The Key to Success

By Kate Bennett, PsyD

One of my personal goals is to run a marathon before I turn 40. Initially, I intended to put that goal off until I was about 39 years old. Well, as luck would have it, friends invited my husband and me to run the Steamboat Stinger trail marathon this summer. Always being up for adventure and not cycling competitively anymore, we instantly agreed.

During our long runs over the past few weeks, I frequently pondered the idea of willpower. Considering the fact that my longest run prior to June was 10k, it is not surprising that I continually assess how willing I am to dedicate myself to marathon training.  Willpower, after all, is essential for crossing the Steamboat Stinger finish line.

From the outside looking in, most people would deduce that I am a successful individual. Some might even consider me ‘lucky.’ While I agree that I am generally successful in several areas of life, I would say that I am far from ‘lucky.’ People who know me well would actually say that I am the opposite of lucky: I tend to be the person who inevitably has bad luck at inopportune times. For instance, my friends joked that I needed to be enclosed in bubble wrap because I crashed so frequently one season. Others might look at my resume and assume that I am naturally-talented or gifted. Again, I beg to differ. While I have a natural aptitude for academics and athletics, I was never the brightest student nor the best athlete. Instead, I was born with old-fashioned work ethic. From a young age, I intrinsically pushed myself to be my best, regardless of the outcome.

As I talk to clients about personal and athletic goals, I continually address the concepts of success (What does it mean to be successful? What if I fail? What if I do not like what I achieve?) and willpower (It makes me feel anxious. I am not sure this is worth it. How do I tolerate the discomfort associated with change? How do I maximize my efforts in sport?).

With these conversations in mind, in addition to many hours contemplating willpower during early morning trail runs, I created the following equation:

Values + Resiliency + Sacrifice + Willpower² = Increased Chances of Success


My goals (i.e. winning a national championship or earning a doctorate) very much represented my values and personal drive. I can guarantee that I would not have worked nearly as hard towards those goals if they were not significant and meaningful to me. At the end of any day, whether it be successful or disappointing, I could tell you exactly why and how my goals reflected my values. Being fully aware of that information made the toughest of days bearable.


I grew up riding ex-racehorses straight off the track. This means that I learned at a young age how to deal with failure and disappointment. Whether my horse acted up during a show or went lame, I was constantly managing emotions that most people avoid. Cycling was no different. I got dropped in more races then I won, I travelled cross country only to crash.

If I was not determined and committed to my goals, I would not have persevered through the hardest times in sport and life. There was no instant gratification in anything that I pursued. As a result, I learned how to cope with disappointment and move on. I now look at ‘failing’ as an opportunity to learn. While I would not choose to endure adversity, I certainly welcome it as an opportunity to grow personally and professionally.


In addition to tolerating disappointment, I willingly made sacrifices. From countless hours with frozen toes in Michigan barns to traveling everywhere with my bike, my goals were always reflected in my actions. Likewise, with graduate school, much of life was put on hold in order to earn my degree and create professional opportunities. Shortly after meeting my then boyfriend/now husband, I moved 1500 miles away from him to complete a one year pre-doctoral internship. Not only did I sacrifice meaningful time this increasingly more important person in my life but I also took a leap of faith trusting that it would all work out (and, it did!).


Knowing that accomplishments never came easy to me, I quickly learned about commitment, dedication, and determination. In order to achieve my personal and professional goals, I willingly put all of my effort towards obtaining them. At the end of the day, because I was so focused and committed to those goals, I endured discomfort and sacrifice in order to get one step closer to my goals.  My willpower was the result of knowing, deep-down in my heart, that taking a chance, putting myself out there, was worth it because my goals aligned with my values.

Even now, as I train for the marathon, setting out for a run at 6am before work is far from ideal for me. In fact, I would much rather be sleeping at that early hour. But, I know that in order to achieve my goal of completing a marathon, I need to train, regardless of the momentary dissatisfaction it creates. Likewise, tolerating the discomfort of tired muscles, sore bones, and blisters during a long, Sunday morning run will be worth it in the end to me. After eight weeks of training and three half-marathons, I am committed…100% committed.

(Note: Commitment does not mean perfection.)

Regardless of whether you are trying to win a national championship, recover from an eating disorder, or simply feel happier, willpower is a key ingredient. It takes indomitable will to stand up each time you fall down, to endure discomfort, and to take a chance…to truly put yourself on the line. It takes willingness to try and possibly fail. But, when you are willing to take a risk, great things can happen. And, when you succeed, the reward is incredibly sweet.

What are you willing to try this summer?

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Be Mine: Practicing Self-Compassion on Valentine's Day

By Kate Bennett, PsyD

It is hard to deny the imminence of Valentine’s Day when grocery stores overflow with reminders. From pink frosted cupcakes to red heart-shaped boxes of candy to balloons and decorations, displays shout that February 14 is only days away. In my experience, people tend to have a love/hate relationship with the holiday. If they are in a relationship, people tend to enjoy a special day with their partner. For others, the holiday reminds them of the loneliness or longing in their hearts.

Regardless of your relationship status, I challenge you to celebrate Valentine’s Day with yourself: To spend the day or week intentionally practicing self-compassion.  According to Kristin Neff, PhD, self-compassion is composed of three elements:

Self-kindness Understanding and accepting oneself in the midst of failure or inadequacy; responding to oneself with warmth and empathy regardless of circumstance; practicing gentleness instead of self-criticism during difficult moments

Common humanity Recognizing that all humans make mistakes and suffer; accepting that personal inadequacy is part of the human condition

Mindfulness Receiving thoughts and emotions non-judgmentally; observing and responding with intention rather than reacting out of fear

If you prefer a simpler definition: Jen Louden described self-compassion as “dropping self-judgment” every time you notice it.

Dr. Neff’s research revealed an underlying fear of self-indulgence growing out of self-compassion. However, in her New York Times interview, Dr. Neff stated that self-compassion contributes to motivation, noting that “if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather then what’s harmful to you.”

Next time your eye catches the pink and red display, think to yourself: How can I practice self-compassion today? If you are having a pretty good day and acceptance is easy, take a moment to express gratitude towards yourself. What about your mind, body, spirit, or personality are you grateful for? Learn to love yourself from the inside out, which will allow your connections with others to grow stronger in return.

If you are curious about how your self-compassion ranks, take Dr. Neff’s self-compassion assessment.


Mind Over Matter: The Skill of Mindfulness

By Kate Bennett, PsyD

Last week, I spent time at a team camp in Tucson. And, for the very first time in the history of my trips to Tucson, I drove up Mt. Lemmon. Over the past several years, I pedaled up the mountain countless times focusing on power output or coaching athletes. This time, I sat in a car and took in Mt. Lemmon as an observer. It was my first mindful experience of the road.

As I navigated the mountain, I reveled in the natural beauty glowing during the sunset as well as braced myself for moments of squinting into the sun’s glare as I rounded a bend not knowing what would come next. The drive was a grind, just like life. It was filled with moments of peace and pleasure that were frequently offset by the setting sun and unfamiliar road. As I prepared myself for the next blinding glare, I took a deep breath and practiced mindfulness. Likewise, as I entered into the shade, I took a deep breath and reminded myself to enjoy the natural beauty of the mountain landscape.

During the drive I realized one thing: I frequently reference mindfulness but I have yet to actually discuss the skill on my blog. Today is the day. Let’s take a moment to conceptualize mindfulness as a skill.

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a common term with a simple definition: Awareness of the present moment or deliberate attention in the present moment. It is the opposite of autopilot (completing routine tasks without conscious recollection). When people refer to “grounding,” they refer to the idea of mindfully connecting with that very moment instead of worrying about the past or future. Mindfulness is attending to the stimuli right in front of you rather then analyzing, criticizing, planning, or daydreaming.

Skill. While mindfulness is a seemingly simple concept, it is often a difficult skill to practice: It requires developing a part of your brain that has yet to be “exercised” (unless you were influenced by mindfulness earlier in life). Like strengthening a muscle or acquiring a new technique, mindfulness requires conscious attention. Similar to the hard work you put in to excel as an athlete physically, you need to intentionally practice the skill to develop a mindful brain and derive benefit.

Acceptance. One of the key components of mindfulness is a non-judgmental stance. When you are mindfully engaged, there is no good or bad, right or wrong, should or should not. Acceptance does not equate to approval (you can accept an outcome without approving of it) but it does mean letting go of judgment.

Present awareness + acceptance. Rather than get stuck on a mistake or outcome, you move onto the next moment in time. The past provides feedback on how to modify or change, it is not meant to linger on. Identify the important data from an experience and then ground yourself. Let go of judgment, allow uncertainty about the future to flow through, and settle into the present moment.

Practice. The development of mindfulness as a skill requires intentional practice of deliberate attention. Start with a realistic expectation of a few minutes and identify a stimulus to observe:

Breath: Observe your breath as you inhale and exhale, notice your chest rise and fall

Bodily Sensation: Observe your body, notice areas of tightness or relaxation, areas of warmth, and sensations of tingling

Sensory: Observe the environment by connecting with your five sensations (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell)

Emotion: Observe your emotions in the moment

As you practice mindfulness, you will most likely notice your mind wander off. That is okay. Simply take note of your wandering mind and ground yourself by observing one of the stimuli described above. In the early stages of mindfulness, it is common to notice your mind wandering more than observing. Accept your wandering mind non-judgmentally and ground yourself back in the moment.

Over time, as you develop skill and discipline, you will notice your improved ability to remain mindful for longer periods of time as well as a new ability to practice mindfulness during stressful periods. The result: Improved health, performances, life satisfaction, relationships, and sleep to name a few benefits.

When was the last time you sat in a car and observed your surroundings instead of reviewing mental checklists, texting at stoplights, checking your email, or having a conversation with [insert name] in your head?