We all have different battles and setbacks to overcome in our health and fitness journey. Most of these come down to how well we are able to keep our mind in a positive mindset, and not be distracted by the little lies our mind tells us. In athletics, physical fitness is vital but it’s mental toughness that is the driving force behind your success as an athlete. When you develop your mental fitness, your obstacles become a temporary roadblock that you know you can overcome if you diligently keep working at them and give your best day in and day out. Dedication is deciding between what you want now and what you want most. Are you able to push through those tough sets when your mind is telling you to slow down or stop? Are you tough enough to delay instant gratification in favor of your end goal? The key within this is to also distinguish what is good pain and bad pain. Is it muscular and a mental task to over overcome, or are we hurting your body? We can push through the first; we don’t push through the second. It can take just as much mental fortitude to learn when to pull back so that we can continue moving forward as soon as possible.
Here are some of my favorite ways to toughen up your mind:
1.) Start with small, achievable goals, and then work your way up to harder and more challenging goals. Once you get that first taste of success you won’t want to go back! For example, you can start out with something simple like getting all your workouts in each week, or getting to bed the same time every night. Focus on the process of making it a routine, and not on the stress of pace or speed but rather execution day in and day out. Then you can work your way up to something more advanced like finishing an ironman or racing with a specific time goal. Even though these goals have varying degrees of difficulty, they require being mentally tough enough to FOLLOW THROUGH and finish what you have started.
2.) Acceptance…if there is one thing that leads athletes to quit in the middle of a workout or race it’s an unexpected issue like a flat tire, stomach issues, or fatigue, but if you go into each workout and race expecting the unexpected, and being prepared to tackle every obstacle thrown your way, you are much more likely to be successful. Look at your challenges as opportunities to overcome and be successful instead of reasons to throw in the towel. In the end, we can only control a handful of things. Focus on those, and find a quick solution when unexpected issues arise.
3.) Make a List. Make a list of POSITIVE thoughts, ideas, and mantras to refer to on tough training days or on race day. For example: “I am strong. I have trained for this. I was made for this.” In the water, where a lot of anxiety lies, I like to count strokes. “One-two, one-two.” I use this during hard training sets. The rhythm I count is how fast I want my arms to move; it makes me focus on one thing and not the outside circumstances. When pain sets in and distraction can be easy to slip in, I go right back to counting and it centers my focus. Where your focus goes, so will your energy. It sounds silly, but it can be the difference between quitting and improving.
4.) Attitude: attitude is EVERYTHING. Training and racing is a privilege, and (for most of us) a hobby and passion that we GET to do. Use positive imagery to IMAGINE yourself crossing the finish line, getting a PR, and finding SUCCESS, and when you find yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern, teach your mind to shift your focus and keep your mind calm, confident, and in control. Mental toughness is not something we are born with: it is a skill that we acquire through hard work and determination. Don’t leave out a key element in your training by focusing only on the physical side–make sure both mind and body are ready come race day!
Remember, there are many people who will never be able to do what we get to for one reason or another. Focus on an attitude of gratitude and your mind will shift to positive and powerful places you never knew you had.
“I GET to swim. I GET to bike. I GET to run.”