You’ve heard people say “It’s all in your mind” or “It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what you do”. Neither statement is quite accurate. Psychology has pretty much established that thoughts drive our emotions/feelings and emotions drive us to action/inaction. This is of significance to athletes’ performance.
At issue are our thought habits. What we think on a regular basis is what we become. These thoughts drive our emotional state. In turn how we feel will feed our “motivation”, or that drive to action. What actions? It might be doing that workout we don’t like but know we need, or sticking out difficult times in training to prepare for race circumstances or taking any action you can think of that will help you succeed as an athlete.
We are emotional beings. Goals, feelings of self-efficacy, sense of accomplishment feed personal energy. Thought habits can generally be categorized as positive and affirming or negative and defeating. Seldom does anyone have ONLY one or the other. But, we are concerned with any pattern that does not set us up for success on a regular basis.
Here are some questions which tap into your thought habits:
Do you remain positive when things don’t go well in a race/training?
Do you talk positively before or during a race?
Do view poor races as learning experiences or failures?
Do you let nervousness get the best of you at races?
How well do you control your emotions before a race?
Do external issues such as late race starts, competition, bike mechanical problems, poor weather, etc. bother you?
Here are some things to do to fortify your thought habits.
1. Be predictable in your preparation. That’s your pre-race routine. Create a warm-up routine and follow it every time. Be sure to do it in practice. This creates an anchor both physically and mentally that enhances predictability and control.
2. Setting goals help our general thought patterns. Goals provide a focus. Written goals provide us physical reminders. They provide a framework to evaluate ourselves. And of course they have to be realistic. If your goals are truly important to you, and they indeed match your values and life, then they will motivate you to take action to accomplish them. They provide the seeds (thoughts) of action!
3. Practice reframing those less-than desirable situations or outcomes. Reframing means viewing the same situation in a different light. Key questions to reframing could be: What could I learn from this situation that will make me a better runner (triathlete)? What one good thing DID come from this?
4. Evaluate the logic of any fear or nervousness, you may have. Is it rational? What is really the worst that would happen if you have a poor race (or get beaten by someone)? Be sure any comparisons are logical (i.e. appropriate sample size versus selecting a skewed sampling). While we’re at it, what age group are you comparing yourself against? Use logic, as opposed to emotional comparisons. Frame it accurately.
5. Focus on the process versus the outcome. If you focus on training regularly, doing the speed work, hill work, goal paced workouts and distance work at the appropriate paces and frequency as appropriate for your event, you are focusing on the process. Also focusing on your thoughts is part of the process. Controling your thoughts during bad stretches are process focus. If all you think about is a place or finishing time in a race, you think about the outcome. You don’t control places. You somewhat control your pace and time. But, wind, heat or just having a bad day are things that can affect your times. So, your preparation on a day-to-day basis is a more controllable and proper focus for your thoughts.
Generally we aren’t always negative or positive. But, positive thought patterns are critical during trying times. They can tilt the performance one way or another. They can motivate or demotivate you. Your thoughts are a choice. It takes practice to change or improve them. Start in practice. Start today.