I have always been a big girl but I haven’t always had big dreams—or at least I didn’t have the confidence to say them out loud. For many years I didn’t dare to dream big about anything. I mean, who did I think I was? Especially when it came to my fitness goals, I did the opposite and tried to stay small, flying under the radar to avoid drawing any attention to myself.
The goals I did have always came with an air of indecisiveness and lack of commitment. I chalk this up to an intense fear that I would fail. I thought that if I didn’t really commit, I couldn’t truly fail, so I was safe. Other times, I worried I’d be judged so why would I even tell anyone my big dreams and expose myself to potential criticism or laughter?
Ultimately, my fear kept me from dreaming big and achieving my biggest fitness goals. It stopped me from living the life I wanted.
I remember one of my big dreams was to become a runner. This was before the age of the “body positive movement” or liberated Instagram accounts giving diet culture the middle finger. This was before any size diversity was represented in fitness at all.
I remember being terrified about joining a run club because I’d never seen that someone with my body size could actually be a runner. I had no inspiration or mentors to show me it was possible; there was no proof of it anywhere I could see, and the unknown was scary.
But I did become a runner. I started to challenge my own beliefs and push back on my own mental limitations (more on the tactics I used to do that, below). Bit by bit I started to live my wildest fitness dreams. In fact, I’ve since run over 100 races and I am now a running coach.
The process of conquering my running dream was absolutely the catalyst that changed my life and became the gateway to my dreaming big as a larger woman and athlete. I learned that fear is normal, not something to run from.
You can do this too.
Yes, we live in a world that rarely celebrates larger bodies, but believe me: I know many women who are dreaming big and conquering big goals—in their big bodies.
Here are my best tips for moving beyond the fear of the unknown and making your big dreams a reality.
1. Develop a positive daily mantra that you can turn to when old thought patterns about your body arise.
The human body is amazing and can adapt to demand when trained incrementally and progressively. I’ve found that oftentimes, it’s our minds that struggle to perform, not our bodies. There have been so many times I’ve started to work with a new client and they tell me how out of shape they are, only to surprise the hell out of themselves when they realize it was their mindset holding them back.
Changing your mindset won’t happen overnight. Having a positive mantra that you can turn to when you need it is such a simple yet effective way to push the negative thoughts away. It sounds cliché, but in my experience positive thinking can really take you far.
2. Whenever you fail at something, use it as an opportunity to learn what you could have done differently.
I used to view failure as something to be ashamed of. But over time, and through many failures, I have been able to reframe that old thinking. Where I used to see failure, I now see opportunity. Here’s the thing, you may not be successful at your big fitness dream right away, or even after multiple attempts, but neither were Olympic athletes! Having to try over and over is normal and part of the athletic process. The difference is, they kept at it and viewed failure as an opportunity to re-strategize and grow. Every time you fail, take it as a chance to weed out what didn’t work for you so that your next attempt will bring you even closer to your goal.
3. Make yourself—and your dreams—a priority.
Many people don’t feel worthy of dreaming big because they don’t see their worthiness. One of the biggest things I teach in my coaching program is how to make yourself a priority. I’ve worked with thousands of women who find themselves last on the list of people who deserve their care and attention. The result of this behavior often sends a subconscious message that your health, dreams, and goals come last. You have to turn that behavior and thinking around if you want to dream big.
When anyone asks you to do something for them, instead of an immediate yes, tell them you will think about it and get back to them. This creates space and time to see if saying yes aligns with your big dreams and goals. Also, remember that it’s OK to say no!
4. Think about how your goals can inspire others.
Dreaming big can change the message. My friend Latoya Shauntay Snell just completed a 100-kilometer (62-mile) race! Yes, a big girl going the extreme distance. In the ultra-running world, you don’t often see larger women running that distance. It’s not necessarily that our bodies aren’t capable, it’s often that lack of representation discourages us from putting ourselves out there. Mirna Valerio also dreams big and has completed many ultra races. These women started from zero and just kept showing up and dreaming big. Not only are they achieving their big dreams, but they are also showing other big girls what’s possible.
When the going gets tough, and it will, think about the impact you can make by pursuing your dreams and showing others it can be done. Be the change you want to see in the world.
5. Remember: You have the right to pursue your dreams.
You, at any size, have the right to dream big and pursue those dreams! This isn’t a message our society often spreads, so many women who don’t have the typical “fit body” feel spurned and unwelcome by fitness culture.
Here’s the deal: You can’t wait for an invitation. Take charge of your dreams and pursue them on your own terms. You have the right. Of course, this is often easier said than done in a world where real stigmas exist against people with big bodies and societal structures are often working against you. But it has helped me to remember, when I feel sidelined by fitness culture, that I have the right as I am to show up and dream big!
6. Dream big, but start small.
While working toward some of my big goals, there were times I thought I couldn’t go on any longer. I thought I might combust if I took another step. But I didn’t. Instead, I realized my body is amazing and capable of great things, and through that process I have built a mental fortitude that takes a lot to shake. I now know that with the right training, anything is possible. I’m not going to get there in one day. It might take weeks or months, or in some cases, years. And that’s OK. The key is to start small and take one day at a time.
I’ve run my body through half-marathons, swam non-stop for what felt like an eternity, and cycled over 250 kilometers (155 miles). If this mind has dreamt it, this body has done it. The body is an amazing machine that will take you big places if you just get started working toward your dreams.
Louise Green is a plus-size trainer, founder of the fitness program Body Exchange, and author of Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have. Follow: Instagram @LouiseGreen_BigFitGirl, Twitter @Bigfitgirl, Facebook @louisegreen.bigfitgirl