How Bodybuilder Erin Stern Optimizes Her Mind & Body For Peak Performance

Reframe your emotions. Nervousness and excitement are the same emotion. Knowing this, instead of telling yourself, “I’m nervous”, try “I’m excited”. I guarantee it will change how you feel about the situation.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Stern.

Erin Stern is a Dymatize athlete and 2x Ms. Figure Olympia Champ. She began her bodybuilding career after missing the Olympic Qualifying standard in the high jump by 3cm. She is an author of 3 books, motivational speaker, and lifetime natural athlete. She has helped thousands of women get into and stay in the best shape of their lives.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

It is my pleasure to do this interview, thank you. I grew up in West Palm Beach, FL. My parents owned a wholesale clothing business and I spent most of my weekends waking up at 5 a.m. to help my parents set up their booth and sell clothing items at the local flea market, which instilled the principles of discipline and work ethic at a young age. For most of my childhood, I was a tomboy and rode horses competitively. I used to love to run next to my horse and make the jumps alongside him. My father, seeing this, suggested that I try out for the track team, so I took him up on it. In high school, I ended up placing 2nd at the State Championship and earned an invitation to walk on as an incoming Freshman for the University of Florida’s track team. In college, I was a Jr. All American high jumper, competing in the heptathlon and pentathlon. I also made the All-Time Top Ten list in a few events. For as long as I can remember, hard work and competitive sports have been a part of my story.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

My father inspired my path as a professional athlete. He played collegiate football, so naturally, he loves the world of athletics. As a family, we would always race in the street or see who could jump the farthest. I wanted to be fast and strong because I wanted him to be proud of me. As I continued to grow stronger, I began pursuing athletics because it made me happy. Because of my dad, I had a successful track career and have a fantastic bodybuilding career.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

When I started my bodybuilding career, I won a small local show. The next month, I competed and won a national qualifier, which made me eligible for a national level show. At the time, I didn’t think I was ready to compete at the national-level. But the head judge at the national qualifier told me that with a little work, I could achieve great things in the sport. Because of his advice, I competed in the next national level show a month later. I ended up winning a title and earned my IFBB Pro card. The judge at that competition and my determination to win propelled my bodybuilding career.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

My funniest mistake happened during my collegiate track career. The track team traveled to the University of Pennsylvania Relays in Philadelphia, which is an annual track meet that is always held in the spring. Being a Florida native, naturally, I thought the weather would be warmer, so I didn’t check the forecast. I spent 4 days soaking wet and cold because I didn’t properly plan. Now, any time I travel for an event, I always check the weather to make sure I am prepared.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

Find your strengths and figure out how to make them stronger. If you don’t know your strengths yet, try to pay attention to what you gravitate towards. Keep learning, keep thinking and one day, you will find a place where your skills align with your passion and knowledge. It takes a lot of work to become the best, but it’s worth it when you get there.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I run a program called FitU, where I help women achieve their fitness goals. I curate daily workouts, meal planning guides, and do live Q&As. Because the program is online, the FitU members can train at home as most gyms are closed.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

1). Reframe your emotions. Nervousness and excitement are the same emotion. Knowing this, instead of telling yourself, “I’m nervous”, try “I’m excited”. I guarantee it will change how you feel about the situation.

2). Focus on your breath. Count 5 seconds on the inhale and 5 seconds on the exhale. It will calm you down.

3). Visualize the victory. Mentally rehearse the outcome you desire over and over again. The more detail that you can add, the better. You’ll find that you’re more prepared and centered.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I breathe in for a count of 5 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds. It helps with getting focused and calm.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

I focus my mind on the present by noticing small details about my surroundings. If my mind wanders, I don’t get upset. I just bring it back to the present.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

I make sure to eat well and consume enough protein — my favorite is the Dymatize ISO100 Whey Protein. I practice time-restricted eating, which is a form of intermittent fasting. I also get 7–8 hours of sleep. When it comes to training, I like intense, short workouts. I think that it helps me stay sharp.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

Yes, absolutely. I don’t think that any of us are born with discipline. The mind is like a muscle, and it needs to be trained every day. We can control our thoughts, and in doing so, we can shape our lives and future. I believe that much of my success is from doing the same little constructive habits daily and the outcome compounds over time.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

I write down my big goals and break them down into smaller goals. With the smaller goals, I write down daily actions I need to accomplish to help me reach those goals. Then, I integrate the daily actions into my routine. For optimal performance, I think perfect practice makes perfect. So, you must be practicing the little things (and visualizing, of course). One of the best ways to stop bad habits is to replace it with a good one, rather than cutting them out cold turkey. For example, this could mean replacing the late-night ice cream with a cup of sorbet or fresh fruit.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

I think it’s important to find something that you both enjoy and are good at. To get into Flow, you must remove distractions. If you’re working on a computer, close other tabs, and silence notifications. Allot specific times for your work. It can take time to get into Flow, and once there, it can last hours. For me, I create a list of tasks that I’d like to accomplish, or I’ll create an outline. Then, I’ll sit down and start typing. My goal is to create as much content as possible. It can always be edited down later. Just like anything else, if you prepare for it and allow time for it, you’ll achieve more of it!

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

Weight training is my meditation. I find that by focusing on each rep, proper form, and using just the intended muscle in each exercise, I can quiet my mind.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

The best way to change our thoughts is to first become aware of them. When those self-defeating thoughts come about, take a moment to stop them. Replace the negative thought with a positive affirmation. Over time, negative chatter becomes quieter. The mind needs to be trained, just like the body. The negative chatter will never completely go away, but we can enjoy less of it and stop it sooner when it starts.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I openly share everything I have learned. One of my favorite platforms for doing this is through YouTube. I release weekly videos that teach people how to train, eat well, and reach their goals.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

No thief can steal your will. -Epictetus

Possessions, money, and other material things can be taken away. Our will or desire to achieve cannot be snuffed out by anyone (except us). Knowing this, we are all unstoppable. I wish that everyone could internalize this and see just how powerful each of us are!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Marlena Stell, founder of Makeup Geek Cosmetics. I have watched all of her YouTube videos and own a few of her makeup palettes. I admire everything she has created and how she gives back. She is a great businesswoman and seems like a wonderful person.

Learn more about Meditation