Olympian Lolo Jones on being motivated by her haters: 'I use the negative things to add fuel to my fire'

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Lolo Jones on her new book, dealing with setbacks and the power of Adam Sandler films. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Lolo Jones on her new book, dealing with setbacks and the power of Adam Sandler films. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

When it comes to success, resilience and reinvention go hand in hand. Just ask one of the fastest hurdlers on the planet, Lolo Jones. As a three-time Olympian, reality TV star and influencer Jones has endured her fair share of wins and setbacks.

During the 200-meter hurdle final in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jones — a contender who many felt would take the lead — got off to a smooth start. Seconds later, just as she reached the penultimate hurdle, she rapidly fell behind to seventh place. Jones refused to let that loss define her career, however.

Related video: Lolo Jones on overcoming her 2008 Beijing Olympic hurdle loss

In the decade since, Jones has continued to push the limits of her abilities as an athlete and carve out a colorful career on television with stints on Celebrity Big Brother and Dancing With the Stars. In February, defying her haters and many odds, Jones became a bobsled world champion on a two-woman team as the brakeperson for Kallie Humphries.

This week, Jones’s new memoir, Over It: How to Face Life’s Hurdles with Grit, Hustle, and Grace, hits shelves. Despite her history of competing on a global stage, the world-class sprinter has cold feet.

“I've actually been quite nervous for this book to come out because I feel like people are about to start reading my diary!” she says with a laugh. “But I'm really excited to share my story in my own words.”

In Over It, Jones delves into the perils of fame, rising above poverty and overcoming numerous obstacles, with inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking detail. Ahead, Jones talks about fear, reinvention and the Adam Sandler movie that brings her joy.

What made you decide to write a memoir at this stage of your life?

I've finally been able to process things in a better manner than at the beginning. If I would've written this book after competing in Beijing, it probably would’ve been a nightmare.

How do you deal with failure and setbacks?

Sometimes a goal is too big and we have to break it down into smaller pieces. My goal is to be an Olympic medalist, but if I thought about that as my goal, every day, it can be overwhelming. So I break it down into much smaller parts. For example, Today I'm going to try to eat healthy. Today I'm going to do one of my workouts. Today I'm going to hydrate. I break that huge goal down into these little mini-goals. And every time I did that one thing off my checklist I feel empowered.

What advice do you have for anyone out there who wants to reinvent themselves?

I wasn't trying to reinvent myself. I was just chasing passion and trying to overcome fears. That's where you can get a huge amount of motivation: just trying something new. It fires you up! That's always been my biggest motivation: trying something new and facing a fear. That's how I've been able to naturally reinvent myself over time.

How do you overcome fear?

You can be nervous and have a lot of anxiety, but you still have that anxiety, even if you're not overcoming a fear. You can get those sweaty palms and armpits, or your heart starts racing — and that's not even looking your fear in the eye and overcoming it. So you might as well just take the next step... it's just such a huge relief when you do. You’ll feel most alive after that. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is invigorating. It is intimidating at first, I get it. But on the other side of that is a huge rush that I would hate for someone to miss.

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Do you happen to have any self-care rituals or habits?

It depends on what's getting broken down. If it's my mental state, there are a few things I love to do, whether that's journaling, reading or sometimes even drawing or painting. Sometimes just clocking out and watching a rom-com movie also works. If it’s physical, I love a good long Epsom salt bath. I'll also just check in and see, have I been eating unhealthy? Because sometimes certain foods kind of make me anxious. So eating nice, good healthy foods rebalances me.

How do you set and maintain healthy boundaries?

I’m big on space and time. I need those two things to process scenarios because if it's a heightened situation no one's going to communicate well enough to get to the other side. Especially when people are firm with a certain stance. So I'm the person who will take a pause and take time to let the emotions calm down and then reapproach a situation later.

What keeps you pushing you forward?

I've had so much push me forward. Sometimes it's messing up; a failure. If most people experience a failure, it can break them. But my biggest failures motivate me. I use the negative things to add fuel to my fire — whether that was losing a race and coming up short, even people teasing me, mocking me and having trolls on social media. So I've always used that as fuel for the fire.

What would you like readers to glean from your memoir?

If readers are feeling hopeless I want them to have hope. If they are feeling frustrated, I want to motivate them. I want people to know that one failure should not break them and one victory should not make them. I want them to be inspired to achieve whatever it is they want.

What do you do for fun?

Well, I find the higher intensity that I'm dealing with for a competition, the more calm I need in my life. I love cooking and creative projects. I just started the process to try to make an Olympic team and it can be very stressful. So I’ve stopped watching action movies and I only want feel-good movies right now. I’ve seen The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler and Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley so many times. If you're having a stressed-out day and you feel like you can barely pay attention to the TV, Adam Sandler’s movies have a way of sucking you in just kind of taking the stress off.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.