When Dolvett Quince took the stage at the Varsity Theatre on the campus of Marquette University last week, I assumed he'd spend his time talking about the fitness buff stuff; you know, everything from squats to supplements.
After all, isn't that about what we've come to expect from the chiseled and charismatic celebrity who is now in his sixth season on the television show "The Biggest Loser"? Portrayed as the tough-love trainer, he's often seen pacing between treadmills, pushing contestants to go harder and dig deeper until you can't really tell if they're soaked in sweat – or tears.
But in Quince's first-ever visit to Milwaukee, he threw us a curve and devoted most of his speech to a completely unexpected topic: self love, and the daily practice of affirmation.
"I want you to say, 'I'm great.' ... And I want you to be OK with saying you're great. I want you to own that," Quince said.
The crowd went pretty quiet. If this feels a little awkward to read, or makes you feel uncomfortable, join the club.
Why in the world would Quince go there? Greatness is found in work, usually, isn't it? Greatness _ at least the fit and athletic kind _ begins with discipline and sacrifice and pain (and suffering, but that's me).
What's love got to do with it?
It's pretty hard to feel great when you're out of breath from climbing up a flight of stairs or when your self-esteem is in the dumps – or the bottom of a bag from Hardee's.
It's probably why "The Biggest Loser" focuses so little on nutrition and fitness tips and so much on the backstory of the contestants – "because the tears are heavier than the pounds," explained Quince. Anyone who struggles can usually relate.
Quince has had a lot of experience in working with those of us who have hit health rock bottom, and he doesn't like the things that we tell ourselves when we're there.
"Push away the negativity," Quince said. "It's OK for you not only to pursue greatness, but to be great. And don't apologize for that."
I cannot even imagine. It's a fight just to stay on top of work every day and maybe make an appearance at the gym and then collect a kid at whatever sports practice or game and hopefully get something on the dinner table that didn't come from a box and try not to nod off while looking at social studies homework while holding a basket of unfolded laundry.
I settle for surviving – and that's a good day.
But Quince, who gives about a dozen speeches a year nationally, said something else that might make a lot of sense to anyone who beats themselves up to the point where it holds them back from good health, from change, from progress.
He suggested that we think about our affirmations as reps. Reps, short for repetitions, is a sports phrase. Like every time a young quarterback threw a pass in practice, it was a rep and the more reps in practice he got, the better he became.
Well Quince, this seemingly have-it-all, do-it-all success story, was once a foster child who was abused and did not get the positive encouragement that every kid needs. He had to prop himself up with his own pep talks, and to this day, he wakes up every morning and tells himself that this day is his day. That this day will be better than yesterday.
Quince starts training his brain way before he starts working out his body.
And I guess we can do that at any weight and at any age and at any stage of our own versions of survival.
How often do any of us start our morning with such meaningful meditation?
"Every single day I have to be positive with me," Quince said. "So if my attitude is positive, if my mindset is positive, then I am halfway there. Discipline, and positivity of mind, is what directs us to the path to accept the fact that it's OK to be great.
"I do it, and I do it on purpose because it gives me a certain energy I like to guide my day. I wake up, I put my feet on the ground, and I say, 'Today is my day. I'm going to be better than yesterday.' This isn't a trainer thing. This isn't a physical thing. This is a mindset.
"I was told once that I wasn't good enough. I had to rethink the way I think and I never graduated from that. It's never over. I don't have all the answers. I pursue them daily.
"Don't put so much power in your doubts. The more power that you put into a specific thing, the more reps, the better you get at it. If I am constantly working on doubting myself, I will get so good at doubting myself.
"Be careful what you tell yourself everyday," Quince said, "because you're listening."
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