Depression, anxiety, stress and self-doubt – these are just some of your mind’s monsters.
It’s something Hazel Gale is all too familiar with, having been plagued by her doubting voice during her boxing and kickboxing career.
The voice is one thing, but it’s the impact it has on the rest of the body that proved to be her undoing.
Hazel was petrified of looking weak and that fear took over. It resulted in overtraining, chronic fatigue, stress and depression.
Eventually boxing ‘broke her’.
Today, Hazel is a cognitive hypnotherapist having discovered the form of therapy when she was at her lowest. She’s also the author of the book The Mind Monster Solution: How to overcome self-sabotage & reclaim your life.
She’s now in a position to help others tame their own mind monsters, but it’s been a long road to get to this position.
Listen to the podcast episode below
The mind monster is a label-free metaphor for any kind of mental health issue people can struggle with.
It’s something so many will relate to whether they are inside or outside of sport. It’s also highly likely people will have more than one monster.
“The thing about monsters is, once you get in touch with them, you really start to look at what they’re actually saying,” Hazel explained.
“There’s a whole multi-layered thing going on with them.
“At the surface you have the immediate thoughts and the immediate behaviours but, if you dive down through that stuff, what you get is far deeper, really human stuff, that we all struggle with.”
She continued: “My monster was all about telling me I wasn’t good enough.
“In particular for me it was about telling me I was weak – I was petrified of looking weak.
“As a boxer I was putting myself in positions where I could look weak pretty often.
“Also, that’s probably why I chose boxing because it was the ultimate way for me to prove to myself and the rest of the world that I was no weakling.
“Because of that not-so-healthy way of getting into the sport eventually boxing broke me.”
“It felt like a death to me…”
Now Hazel is in a position to understand her mind monster.
But one of the difficulties of being human is that we are all guilty of making everything binary – you either win or lose, succeed or fail.
By doing that it can be incredibly detrimental.
“The thing is with all these issues, any monster, it is both a strength and a weakness,” said Hazel.
“In many ways it becomes a weakness when you overuse the strength.
“So, I had a real genuine strength of being strong, both in terms of mentally strong – in that I would persevere, would put up with failures and keep working hard to move towards a goal – and I was physically strong.
“I was always strong at school, I was arm-wrestling and beating all the boys.
“I even beat a bunch of sailors at arm-wrestles once in a Thai bar, but we don’t need to talk about that now.
“So, I was genuinely strong but because I got too associated with that strength – and because it became my personality – it turned into either ‘I’m strong’ or ‘I’m a complete failure’.
“Any moment where I had a loss, either a big loss in the ring or a small loss like losing a press up competition in the gym, it felt like a death to me because I was so connected to this mask I was wearing.
“It became a real flaw.”
“Even if I did win, I’d feel like I’d lost”
Hazel first discovered cognitive hypnotherapy in 2009 and, while it understandably takes time, things started to take an upward turn.
Several of her sporting achievements can be found after her discovery of the therapy, including being crowned ABA National Boxing Champion in 2011 and 2013 and ISKA Full Contact World Champion in 2010 – to name just three.
A large part of that success can probably be put down to the fact that Hazel was no longer fighting two opponents every time she stepped into a ring.
“Every time I’d gone in the ring, I wasn’t just fighting my opponent,” she said.
“I was fighting my opponent and the monster – the fear of failure and the fear of weakness. Even if I did win, I’d feel like I’d lost.
“I moved to a place where I could accept that part and understand it and understand where this overemphasis on strength had come from – that had come from my dad, who was a very sporty man and praised me for being strong.
“So clearly, I developed a belief that it was a good thing to be strong, I’d just taken it too far.
“Once I’d done that work, I felt like I was going into the ring and my monster was on my team instead of something I had to battle.
“I was only up against one opponent after that and the fighting experience was completely different for me then.
Subscribe to our newsletter below
“The fight I always talk about as the real turning point for me – it was 2013 and I was fighting in the ABA Boxing National Championships.
“I’d been doing the therapy work for some time up to this point, but this is where I really felt it was different.
“Right from the warm-up I felt present. I was skipping, I was watching everybody, and I felt just ok.
“I realised, when I stepped out to walk through the audience to the ring, that it felt peaceful in there.
“I had this really strange feeling that the crowd had been hushed by a crisp layer of freshly fallen snow.
“Instead of battling with my doubt and feeling like I wanted to run away and do something else I just had this little voice in my head that says, ‘I’ve got this, I can do this’.
“It wasn’t an overly-arrogant ‘I’m going to win, I’m king of the world’ kind of belief – that doesn’t help either. That’s just monster in disguise.
“But what this was, was just a realistic thing like ‘I deserve this win’.
“’If I don’t win that’s ok, if I do win that’s ok too because I deserve to be here’.”
“That was a totally different experience.”
Hazel went on to win that fight, but afterwards decided this was the point to close the chapter on the boxing part of her life.
Instead, she decided to move fully into the world of cognitive hypnotherapy as well as writing a book to help others.
“You can’t fight yourself and walk away victorious”
So how do you go about taming your monster? For Hazel it is all about not fighting back – in doing so you’re essentially fighting yourself.
“The more we fight against them, the harder they have to fight back to be heard,” Hazel explains on the self-doubting voice so many of us will have experienced.
“If we battle the doubt, we’re just going to end up doubting ourselves even more. If we battle with anxiety, we make ourselves more anxious.
“We battle with something like comfort eating, we’ll end up eating more because the stress of battling with it makes us want comfort even more and we turn to food. Then we get even more stressed.
“It always becomes this self-fulfilling cycle where things get worse and worse.
“The flip side of all of this is there is no evil part of the personality. There is no part of you or me, or anyone else, that actually wants to derail us.
“The reason we have these parts of the personality doing these things that we can see as negative is because there’s a miscommunication somewhere.
“They think the behaviour is going to help. A comfort eating monster thinks the chocolate cake is going to make the person feel better. A smoking monster thinks the cigarette is going to make the person feel better.
“The intention behind our self-sabotaging behaviours is always good and always protective. It’s sort of like a coping mechanism that fires up to say, ‘this is stressful, if we just do this then we’ll feel better’.
“Which is why fighting it doesn’t work. You can’t fight part of the personality and win.
“You can’t fight yourself and walk away victorious – it doesn’t work like that.
“Instead we need to get to know that part, so we can empathise with it and empathise with the self.
“Then, by striking up a communication with it, we can change the strategies.”
For more information on cognitive hypnotherapy and Hazel’s book you can click here.
Interview: Alasdair Hooper
Words: Alasdair Hooper
Image credits: With thanks to Greg Funnell and Hazel Gale
All music in this episode is courtesy of Otis McDonald.