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The Right Clothes
— for better habits, mindsets, and performances
My high school soccer team always had the best-looking uniforms. It wasn’t that we had a particularly large budget for such things; rather, it was that my coach had a firm belief that the way our team dressed, both in practice and in competition, had a significant impact on how we performed. His motto was simple:
“When you look good, you feel good”
Most people recognize that the way they dress — no matter their style — sends a message to the outside world about who they are and what they’re all about. But what isn’t as obvious, or well-understood, is how our clothing shapes the opinions and beliefs we have about ourselves.
See, my coach didn’t care what the other team thought about our uniforms, he cared what we thought about them. Or more accurately, he cared what we thought about ourselves when we put them on. His motto — when you look good, you feel good — was all about instilling confidence and belief, knowing that such qualities were the cornerstones of high performance.
High Performance Starts with Better Habits
“We are what we repeatedly do; therefore, excellence is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle
If Aristotle were with us today, he’d probably say something we’ve all heard many times before — If you want to perform at a higher level, you have to train at a higher level.
To become a better athlete, or to achieve the next goal you’ve set for yourself, you must be consistent in your training. No one heroic workout is going to advance your abilities in any meaningful way. So how do you become the type of athlete who has better habits?
The Connection Between Our Clothes and Our Habits
Wearing the right clothes can be an excellent primer for creating better habits. For one, your clothes are highly visual and always right in front of you. That influence is abundant and inescapable — so whatever message you happen to be sending to yourself with your clothes, remember that you’re getting a constant dose of it all day long.
Second, clothes serve as a form of self-expression and are linked to our identities. They are the costumes of real life. In the same way that a good, convincing costume helps an actor get into character, we can use our own clothes to prime ourselves to think and feel like the athlete’s we wish to become. We can literally shape our identities with the clothes we choose to wear.
James Clear, a renowned expert on habits, explains that forming better habits is largely
about changing one’s sense of identity. When we change our beliefs about who we are, we naturally find it easier to change our behavior in a way that aligns with those beliefs. For example, if someone in the habit of staying up late can learn to identify with a statement like — I’m the type of person who goes to bed at 10pm — it will be much easier to change the habit of staying up late. On the other hand, if that same person identifies with a statement like — I’m such a night owl. I hardly ever fall asleep before midnight — then it will be difficult to make any lasting changes to bedtime.
Granted, retooling your athletic wardrobe is not going to turn you into Rocky Balboa overnight. There is always hard work to be done in building better habits and bettering one’s performances. But important insights can be gained from understanding how your clothes impact your sense of self and your duly taken actions.
According to one study from the Journal of SocialPsychological and Personality Science, participants scored much higher in creative and organizational tasks when wearing formal attire opposed to casual attire. The participants wearing formal attire also reported feeling more confident and focused during these tests, indicating their clothes had a significant impact on both their belief in their ability to perform well and their actual performance.
The Right Clothes — Not Necessarily the Most Popular Clothes
The right clothes for you, the ones that make you feel like the athlete you’d ideally like to be, day-in and day-out, aren’t necessarily going to be the most fashionable or luxurious options. They certainly might be — but wearing a set of clothes merely because they’re popular isn’t going to make you feel the way you want to feel. So forget about how your outfit appears to others, and think about how it is impacting your self-image instead.
At the same time, don’t just assume that all of the well-worn clothes in your closet are working against you. Any older garments that you have a positive association with can be extremely valuable. If the tattered and frayed race t-shirt you got six years ago reminds you of the time that, in the face of persistent pain, you charged the last 5k of your half-marathon without ever slowing down — then that old t-shirt is the one for you. Just be careful that the “classics” in your closet aren’t holding you back. While some older clothes have the power to lift you up in ways no others can, some have the potential to lead you back around to a former, worn-out state of mind.
Clothes are an Investment
The most common objection to investing further into one’s wardrobe is — I already have plenty of workout clothes. I really shouldn’t be buying any more.
I get it. You probably feel like you have too many clothes in general. Most people do. Plus many of those clothes are probably perfectly adequate in terms of function.
But in the same way that you invest your time and energy into your sport or activity, it's equally as valid to invest your money into a mindfully constructed wardrobe.
Ask yourself this — How are my clothes affecting the way I see myself as an athlete?
Along with keeping you warm, dry, and protected from the sun, shouldn’t your clothes be helping you feel strong, confident, and determined, too?
How to Get Started
First, give the following questions a generous ponder:
What’s the image of my ideal athletic self?
What habits do I need to form in order to become the athlete I ultimately want to be?
Then come up with 3-4 descriptive words that capture the essence of your answers. As a professional decathlete and pole vault coach, I spend about 4-5 hours each day training, coaching, and writing workouts. To do all of it well (or even decently), I must be able to think in both a long-term and short-term way.
When it’s time to train, I have to narrow my focus and be completely in the moment. When it’s time to write workouts, I have to envision a long-term plan and act strategically. One of my biggest day-to-day challenges is letting go of the long-term, strategic thinking when it’s time to be in the moment of a workout. With that in mind, I’ve landed on the following descriptors that, for me, embody the type of mentally agile athlete-coach I want to be day-in and day-out:
Your descriptors may be completely different. In fact, I’m sure they will be! So here are some more descriptive words that many athletes, regardless of sport or skill-level, might use:
Once you have a sense of how you want to feel in your clothes, donate each of the items in your closet that fall short of getting you to that place. Then start filling in the gaps with carefully considered pieces that will anchor your thoughts to your chosen descriptors.
Now is the perfect time to make a change like this. It’s the perfect time to pause and reflect on how your athletic wardrobe has been holding you back or lifting you up for the past few months or years. It’s the perfect time to put words to the type of athlete you ultimately like to become. And in a few weeks (God willing), when retail stores all across the country reopen their doors and hold massive sales to jump-start their businesses, it will be the perfect time to find some great deals on the clothes that are going to help you work towards better habits, mindsets, and performances.