Olympic motivational speaker Ruben Gonzalez

Totaled my sled and broke some bones…

Top achievers in every field understand that words have the power to condition the mind to succeed or fail. Whenever you say something, your mind tries to build a case for it. If you call yourself “stupid” the mind does a subconscious “Google search” on the word stupid and pulls up a list of every stupid thing you’ve ever done in your life. Armed with that list, you have the proof that you are stupid and you start acting that way. If you call yourself a winner, your mind pulls up all your winning moments. And you start acting like a winner.

In fact, if you are not getting the results you want out of life, it can probably be traced to your self talk. “What you say to yourself will influence what you think. What you think influences what you do. What you do all the time becomes your habits and your habits determine your results and ultimately, your destiny.”

That’s why you have to be very careful with whom you associate. You don’t want to get any “second hand” negative talk from the people you hang around with.

At the Olympic Training Center, they will not tolerate anyone bad-mouthing themselves. They want to create an environment conducive to achieving peak performance; an atmosphere where success is in the air. If they catch you bad-mouthing yourself, it’s pushups time. Why do you think Olympic athletes are in such great shape?

Sometimes, even Olympic athletes forget to watch their self-talk. My worst luge crash ever was a result of negative self-talk.

One year before the Salt Lake City Olympics, we were in St. Moritz, Switzerland training for a world cup race. We were training in the morning and the Italians were training in the afternoon. At the time, the Italians were the best. So that afternoon, I went to the track to watch the Italians train. I wanted to see what lines they took down the track. I wanted to learn from the best.

I went to the fastest point of the track, curve thirteen. Watching the Italians rocket down the track at over eighty-five miles per hour was unbelievable. Every time an Italian luger went by I would mutter to myself, “I can’t believe I do that.” Another sled would barrel down the track and I’d say to myself, “I can’t believe I do that.” For two hours, I said it over and over.

Up to that day, I had not had any major problems at that track. I was just looking for a way to take my abilities to the next level.

The next day, on my first run, as I reached Curve thirteen, my mind reminded me, “That’s right, Ruben, you CAN’T DO THAT!” And I froze; forgot to steer and had a horrible crash. I broke my foot, broke my hand, and totaled my sled. End of season.

That was the lowest point of my luge career. At that point I didn’t know if I would be able to go to the Olympics. I was hurt, I could not afford another sled, and it was all because a couple of hours of negative self-talk.

I had a pity party for a couple of days but eventually, flying back home from Europe, halfway over the Atlantic, I got my head straight. I took a piece of paper and wrote, “This has been the worst year of my life; the most stressful and frustrating. I am being tested. I will pass the test. I have an opportunity to make an incredible comeback and show what I’m made up of.” Then, I started saying to myself, “There is always a way. There is always a way. There is always a way. I will find a way, because there is always a way.”

Repeating the phrase, “There is always a way,” over and over, when you are facing obstacles, puts your mind in a solution-finding state. It helps you shift your focus away from the problem and into finding a solution.

And I did find a solution. I could not afford to buy another sled, but maybe I could borrow a sled. I started calling some of my best luge buddies and my good friend Adam Cook of the New Zealand Luge Team, loaned me his sled to qualify and race in the Salt Lake Olympics.

Watch what you say to yourself, and remember, there is always a way.


Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez