Postpartum triathlete finishing a half-ironman

That’s a picture of me finishing a thing I never in a million years would have thought I could do. In the summer of 2014, I completed my first (and so far, only- but, that’s just so far!) Half-Ironman.

I grew up as the brainy one, not the athletic one. In high school cross-country, I don’t think I completed a single race without walking. In many many years of soccer, I literally scored one goal. I loved sports, but I didn’t think I was good at them. This Half-Ironman, this was a goal that once would have seemed well out of reach. But I did it. It was exhilarating. It was tough. Not just the 70.3 miles but the months and months of training leading up to them. And although I didn’t have a name for it at the time, a growth mindset is what fueled me through the process. And to this day, I draw on that experience when I’m plodding towards other large or seemingly distant goals.

I find that, sometimes, putting a name to a thing can help give us a new framework to think about a problem or situation. In my case, discovering more about the growth vs. fixed mindsets has personally helped me reframe challenges as opportunities.

In a nutshell, a growth mindset is correlated with the belief in one’s own abilities and characteristics to change. People with this mindset focus on improvement instead of absolute achievements. They understand that trial-and-error are part of the journey and they learn and grow from setbacks.

People with a fixed mindset, as you might guess, have the opposite traits. They feel stuck and as if they have no ability to change their situation. They lack self-compassion and setbacks can lead to a downward spiral of hopelessness.

I see this pop up in the world of postpartum fitness and pelvic health in a variety of ways: when you miss a workout, when pelvic health symptoms arise or flare up, when you begin to compare your abilities now to your pre-pregnancy abilities. I see people (and I’m not immune) catastrophize these events and begin to project them onto a future trajectory of negative outcomes (I’m never going to be able to run/lift/feel like myself ever again!). This fixed mindset becomes incredibly demoralizing.

So, what can you do?? What are some ways to cultivate a growth mindset? Here are a few concrete suggestions.

  • Try to view challenges as opportunities. Take a step back and look for creative ways to reach your goal. Ask for help. Seek out advice from new sources.
  • Focus on acquiring new skills or learning something new. For example, if you can’t run, focus on another sport. Learn to swim, explore strength training, or take this time to focus on creative pursuits that you usually would not have the time for.
  • Instead of setting one big goal, set smaller, achievable short-term goals that will help boost your confidence and motivation. For example, for the postpartum runner who struggles with pelvic floor dysfunction, don’t focus on the marathon you want to run SOMEDAY. Focus on how you are going to rebuild your core and pelvic floor function right now. Work on achieving consistent strength training goals or look forward to your first interval workouts.
  • Focus on the progress you’ve made, not the negative voice in your head. So, you missed a workout. But think about all the workouts you HAVE done. Look at how much strength and skill you have acquired through those workouts. One missed workout does not negate all of the progress you’ve made.
  • Think about all the other hard stuff you’ve done. The other challenges you once thought insurmountable. That Half-Ironman I competed in? Continues to fuel my self-efficacy.
  • Think about the thing you are doing right now- yes, it’s hard. But you’re doing it!
  • When struggling with a new task or a challenge, use the words “not yet”. Just because you can’t do a thing today, does not mean it is not achievable.

If you are trying to return to exercise after having a baby, expect that recovery and progress are not linear, setbacks are part of the process and consistency in your efforts is THE key to long term gains. A fluid, flexible growth mindset is the key to perservering in the face of the changes and challenges that arise in the childbearing year. 

Want more? Learn how to dial in your breathing strategy to harness control of your pelvic floor. Download a copy of The No B.S. Guide to Breathing for a STRONG Pregnancy and Postpartum.
Redmond, WA-based Seattle birth doula Laura Jawad, headshot

My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things.

Contact me if you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I work with people locally (Seattle’s Eastside: Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and surrounding areas) and online to develop personalized pregnancy and postpartum personal training plans. I also offer labor support (birth doula services) within the greater Seattle-Metro Area.