Have the right kind of pride

Authentic pride is based on the belief that your accomplishments are thanks to hard work rather than natural superiority. Aaron Weidman, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, calls it the athlete’s candy. “It’s the big reward that we get when we finish a long run or a hard workout,” he says.

And a new study links authentic pride to grit, the type of determination that enables you to grind it out when the pain of a challenge tells you to quit. In that way, it can propel you toward your fitness goals.

The researchers surveyed 200 athletes and found that those who believed their fitness-related achievements were due to effort rather than innate ability were more likely to continue striving, even in the face of obstacles. On the other hand, hubristic athletes—those who were cocky or arrogant—had less grit, says study author Jenna Gilchrist, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the motivation lab at Pennsylvania State University.

Because authentic pride relies on hard work, there’s no shortcut to gaining it. But you can harness it, nurture it, and use it to boost your grit and improve your results. Here’s how.

Keep your goals personal.

Hubristic pride relies on others’ views of you, but the authentic type shines from within. Gilchrist, a runner, sets her sights not on external goals like placing in a race, but on continually improving, whether that means setting a personal best or focusing on better form. When you make small steps toward the athlete you hope to become, your authentic pride swells.

Practice positive self-talk.

In addition to warming up the body, Justin Ross, Psy.D., a sports psychologist in Denver, recommends athletes prep their brains for tough sessions, too. Take a few deep breaths, focus on your goals and intentions, then be aware of your self-talk both pre- and mid-workout. Use “I am” statements that reflect purposeful effort: “I am working hard,” “I am pushing past my comfort zone.”

Then, mentally cool down.

When you finish that last rep, walk out of the studio, or stop your watch, monitor your emotional reaction. Focus on one or two things you did during the session (like picking up the pace near the end or adding extra weight to the bar) that moved you closer to your goals, Ross says.

Track over time.

Keep a training log of pace, load, reps, and emotions. For instance, if you had a tough day but gutted it out anyway, write it down. “Later, you can look at that and see not only the objective data of what you did within the session, but you have that narrative piece to draw on as well,” Ross says. Research shows writing about your emotions can prime you for future success more than writing about the facts alone.

Don’t fear failure.

Hubristic people often don’t stretch themselves because defeat challenges their self-perception. “But with authentic pride, you’re okay with putting in the effort and not succeeding every time,” Gilchrist says. “That's how you improve: by pushing yourself and allowing yourself to fail.” When you don't reach a goal, resist the urge to berate yourself or dwell on it, she adds. Instead, let go of what you can't control, forgive yourself for any shortcomings, and assess what you need to do to get back on track.