How to Cultivate Presence to Boost Performance

By Carrie Barrett – January 1, 2018

Sometimes we want to check out when an event or long training day gets tough. However, by using these tips to stay in the moment, you can cultivate a better attitude — and even better results!

You know it when it starts happening — the dreaded moment in the middle of a training session or race when your body starts to say, “I’m done here, I’m packing it in,” and your mind follows with an, “Okay dude, you’re the boss. If that’s how you want it to end…”

That moment can shatter an athlete. You’re running along at your Boston qualifier pace and suddenly, when the body and mind merge in negative union, you go from a winning pace to a demoralizing walk. You’re done. Toast. For many, this is the toughest part of an endurance event. How do you train your mind to stay engaged even when your body starts to give up? 

Here are some tips for staying in the moment when the going gets tough:

Create The Character You Want To Be  
I’m beginning to think that kids have it right. Imaginary friends really are better than the real thing, especially when the real thing is on the struggle bus during a long race! When you can’t muster the energy to think one positive or motivating thought, it’s time to conjure up an alter-ego who is stronger and more pain-resistant. You need to develop that other person inside of you that isn’t afraid to say, “Suck it up! Keep Moving! Everyone is tired, you silly fool, but that doesn’t mean you can throw in the towel!”

My alter-ego is American marathon running legend, Deena Kastor. For some reason, the image of her at the 2004 Athens Marathon is seared in my brain (check it out on YouTube if you’ve never seen it). She started mid-pack with her white hat low, almost covering her face. By running a stealth race and focusing only on her own efforts, she slowly but surely picked off women the entire 26.2 miles and went home with the bronze medal, seemingly out of nowhere. As a new marathon runner, it was all I needed to adopt that “silent assassin” persona anytime I line up at the start of an event! Even when I’m struggling, I’ll pull my hat down low and look only at the road that’s directly in front of me. I become Deena as I, too, try to stay as focused as possible on my race. Unfortunately, it’s never resulted in an Olympic medal, but it’s definitely saved a race or two!

Find a Repetitive Mantra or Song 
Almost every athlete I speak with has some form of repetitive mantra they call upon when their mind starts wandering. Some will count pedal strokes or foot strikes to make sure their cadence remains optimal. Others will sing a song or repeat a phrase that brings them back to the task at hand. A couple of years ago, I started repeating the words, “Power-Alignment-Love-Energy” over and over in my head. Not only do those words bring me immediate strength and focus, but they also provide good physical and emotional cues as well. The word “love” especially lifts me out of a funk if I’m in a dark space. I have love for the sport, for my body and especially for those who are out there cheering and supporting. Even if I’m not feeling the love, I can certainly still give it. 

Be Grateful for Every Moment 
Multisport athlete, Julie Mae, says that when she starts to feel overwhelmed, she thinks about how blessed she is to be out there when there are so many who think they can’t and some who truly can’t. “I think about how others may be watching,” she says, “and you never know who you might inspire the way I’ve been inspired by so many others.” She cherishes the feel of the water, the beauty of nature and the earth beneath her feet. “I think about how, even though I have health struggles, I was given this body that can do many amazing things!”

W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) 
Legendary football coach, Lou Holtz, is credited with this wildly appropriate acronym for moment-to-moment decision making. During a long race or training session, ask yourself that question multiple times. What’s Important right now? Don’t think about the outcome, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted or frustrated by things that are out of your control. The only things you can control are your emotions and how you respond to unexpected events. By continually asking yourself what’s most important, you remain focused on the present. In one moment, your form may be most important, and in the next it may be hydration. Whatever it is, tend only to that need. 



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