Mississippi Girl Interview Series: Mind over Matter – Does it Matter?

Clancy Sohn
Clancy Sohn

He’s 17 years my junior and could double for a man whose my age. He’s had a lifelong affair with fitness and in 1995 had a serious car wreck that very easily could have taken his life. He could have thrown in the towel but instead he kept moving, kept health and fitness at the forefront of his life, and waged a war with his mind to overcome it all. He epitomizes the word perseverance and has an old-school cool way about him. He actually reads paperback books (a lot of them) and buys milk and eggs from a local farmer near his home and wears converse high tops. There are other aspects of his life that he taps the breaks on as far as progress goes but health and fitness is not one of them.

I’ve had the pleasure of being his favorite sister-in-law (did I mention his only sister in law?) for many years. As I sit down with Leon Sohn to pick his brain about fitness (and I do this quite often), I’m reminded how he helped me and Lyle tremendously in the minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months following my cancer diagnosis. Maybe he can shed some light for us about this mind over matter thing.

How did you overcome mentally and physically from your car accident in 1995 to get where you are today?

To make a long story short, I’ll need to enlighten you from the beginning…..

I was ejected from an automobile on the way home from work which broke my back. It was surreal because I remember every detail… I’ll bore you to tears one day with all the details, but for now I’ll give you a little insight on it all.

The hospital put me and my friend (the driver of the automobile) in a room together. An intake nurse came in the room to get some information from us and as I was describing what happened, suddenly she said, “You two are the ones in the bad wreck on northbound 67, right?” We assured her we were. She then went on to say in a hyper nervous kind of way, “My mom was taking me to work and we were behind you and saw everything!” She then pointed at me and said, “And when you flew out I told my mom may as well get a body bag for that one!”

There are 2 key takeaways from that situation that helped me overcome:

  1. First key point: God puts people and situations in our paths to grow us. The nurses comments forced me to see how bad the accident was.  Sometimes when you are in the middle of a situation, you have blinders on, it becomes surreal. I just remember thanking God I landed in a ditch and not the pavement or shoulder of the road or I would have never made it, I realize that this was no accident. I have and always will be a work in progress but with each experience I become stronger mentally, it’s a choice I make.
  2. Second key point:  God doesn’t make mistakes. You can relate with me here sister-in-law. I firmly believe that there are NO coincidences in life. A few months before the accident, I read a book called Rise and Walk (a coincidence? I think not!)

The book is about Dennis Byrd, a football player for the NY Jets. He was injured and temporarily paralyzed playing football for them. He said when he made it to the hospital, they had him lying flat in the emergency room and when they moved him to the upright position he vomited all over the place. Fast forward a couple of months and I find myself in the same position in the emergency room lying flat. The hospital staff come in, move me to the upright position, and you guessed it, I hurl all over the place. Instantly I thought, “Oh no!! I’m paralyzed like Dennis Byrd!” But I could move my fingers and toes so I thought, “Nah! Can’t be if I can move my fingers and toes.”

The doctor comes into the room and explains what my injuries were and how they were going to treat me. I asked him, “Doc, am I going to be able to squat and deadlift ever again?”  He looked at me for a moment (I guess he was trying to figure out what kind of goofball he had before him) and I never will forget his response. He didn’t respond kindly. “Boy, you’ve got much bigger problems then being able to squat or deadlift again someday!”

There is a sentence in the Dennis Byrd book that states, “God would not give you this cross if He knew you couldn’t bear it.” I thanked God, and still do when I think of that day that he landed me in a ditch instead of the concrete pavement. I vowed when I got out of the hospital to train harder then ever, and to never use it as an excuse. I grasp that it could have been way worse. It didn’t stop me, I would go to the gym looking like a turtle in this contraption of a brace that appeared to look like a turtle shell. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.

What suggestions do you have for the person who wants to begin eating healthy and start an exercise regimen but never can seem to begin the process?

That’s an excellent question and the answer could cover many pages. If I could bottle the answer, it would make me rich, many people wonder this because they are THAT person.

My opinion is, it’s not that people can’t eat healthy or exercise. There is an abundance of healthy food available to everyone at our local grocery store and you could just walk and do calisthenics. I think people subconsciously make it bigger in their mind than what it is. They tell themselves, “Okay, I’m going to get in shape.” They then think, “Okay, I have to go to the store and get all my food. I’ll do that tomorrow and I need to get some new workout clothing cause I gotta look good! I need some new workout shoes. I’ll get those next week. I also better order some training books from Amazon. I gotta do the latest thing to make me look amazing.” Then guess what? This all takes days or weeks and then life happens, and then the fitness goal is soon DOA.

My suggestion is not novel, it is very simple. Just begin. MOVE! I compare it to a cars headlight shining at night. Go as far as you can see and when you get there you will be able to see farther.

It’s been proven in change psychology that if you take just one habit and work on mastering it, you have a better then 80% chance of succeeding.  What happens if you add one more? It goes all the way down to 35%!  You can imagine how the chance for success plummets if you try to change 3 or more! I recommend starting with one simple habit that if mastered would have a major impact upon your health and fitness. Now here’s the excuse people will use, “But it takes so long doing that.” WRONG. These same geeks that did the research in change psychology found that it’s only slower initially but much faster overall and found that for the large majority of people it becomes a permanent and positive change.

So, don’t make it bigger in your head than what it is, begin NOW. Choose one habit that will have a positive impact on your health and master it, then choose another. In my opinion, this is the best and fastest way to physical health and fitness.

How big a role does the mind play in the process?

Jokingly, I say it’s mind over matter and if you have no mind, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s safe to say the mental aspect is of paramount importance. However, instead of droning on about something everyone knows is important, let’s talk about how to program it to work for you. You’ve probably heard the statement, “Rarely are we interrupted by a good idea.” This simply means you have to cultivate your mind like a farmer does his farmland. You must put in the mind healthy “food” just like you put into your body. As Ben Franklin put it, it’s one of the best things you can do to become healthy, wealthy, and wise. Read something that helps you achieve what you are going after in life. Reading is to the mind what food is to the body, ESSENTIAL.

Put up pictures of the body you want to look like, and stay away from anyone who tries to sabotage you. You can’t afford the negative programming of sometimes well-meaning people or jealous people disguised as “friends.”

Why should people incorporate health and fitness into their lives?

Let me tell you the reason straight guys who’ve ever lifted a weight and worked to get in shape does it… GIRLS. If it wasn’t for girls most dudes would never pick up a weight!

Now for real answer….

It makes everything in your life better. If you’re strong and healthy you will enjoy your life more because you are able to do more. It could also save your life. The doctor who was treating me when I broke my back told me that my bones were bigger than average for a person my size. Years of weight training may have prevented a worse injury. Who knows, but I’m walking today so I believe it.

One of the biggest motivations to incorporate health and fitness into my life was that I wanted to set myself apart from the average. I was always a skinny runt and I wanted to FEEL BETTER ABOUT MYSELF. It’s easy to see that only a small percentage of people are in shape. If you want to build your self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image, nothing beats training to get in shape and knowing you are doing something extraordinary which beats the heck out of ordinary. Who wants to be ordinary anyway?

Do you have days where you don’t want to eat right or exercise?  How do you push through?

Yes, many times. Training is something I truly love to do, but like all humans, we get lazy at times. Eating healthy all the time is tough for most people but here is what I’ve found out. If you talk about something, it’s a fantasy. If you plan for it, it’s then possible, but only if you schedule it does it become real.

Think about it. When we go to the doctor, dentist, lawyer, tax planner, investment advisor, our jobs, family get togethers, etc, it’s all scheduled.  Anything important is scheduled. Put it in your appointment book and keep that appointment as you do all others. That’s the key to being consistent today and 20 years from now.

Another thing I do in my mind is project myself three or six months or more into the future as if I had stopped training and eating right. I say to myself, “You really want to go back being a skinny runt with a pot belly?” Scares me so bad I go train!

My recommendation is to create a B.A.G. (Big Audacious Goal) so big and exciting that it motivates you to eat well and train consistently.

Can you share with us what foods are off limits for you?

Hot dogs, bologna, spam, processed food like that. Read the ingredients of that garbage – Yuk! 

What’s your favorite quote?

I have more than one favorite quote. Reading and quotes have helped me through so many low parts of my life when major storms blew my way.

“Discipline equals freedom”  ~ Jocko Willink

So many times, people think “discipline” is restricting. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. It’s freeing.

For instance, if I’m disciplined with my health, I’m free to live my life of disease and shame. If I’m disciplined with my finances, I’m free from bill collectors and the worry and stress from debt.

The examples are endless.

Another quote I like is “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” ~Anais Nin

Courage doesn’t mean you have no fear. I have many fears. It means to act in-spite of fear if the outcome is noble.

I ask the question again, does mind over matter actually matter? I believe it does. Through my own experiences over the past year I found that I can talk myself into believing just about anything. Self-discipline and courage help us overcome many difficulties in life. Leon has shown me that I can accomplish just about anything I set out to do long as I let my mind lead the way. He has been my personal trainer since 2010 and my brother-in-law much longer than that. I love you Leon. Thank you for helping me set myself free from my own mind.

We are all works in progress. Let’s keep on progressing!