Eliminating negative processes in training
I remember the day I sat in a corporate conference room and was asked by the CEO of the company, "What do you do as a team or individual to mentally prepare for your events?" It was an intriguing question. I was on the company’s sports marketing team of professional athletes who were also employees of the company in various capacities, everything from systems engineers to attorneys. How could a team of corporate professionals and national champions overlook the importance of the power of the mind?
As a competitive athlete, I've had plenty of experiences where my mind worked against me rather than for me. Negative messages work like a light switch controlling the source of power that's needed to perform. Negative patterns can be created and sustain themselves without much effort on your part; it only takes a few seconds for the pattern to surface and months of physical training to be sacrificed. As with any goal-setting process, there will be challenges to face, and you will be dealt some lemons. The recipe for turning those lemons in to lemonade includes specific steps to eliminate the negative patterns.
To mentally prepare for peak performance, one must think of the process and not the outcome. It's common to think only of the outcome or how you will place, and it’s a positive step to visualize crossing the finish line. Even more positive is to visualize each step required to get to that completion. Focusing on the process means forgetting about the outcome and putting forth your best effort in meeting your goal. It's the same as “living in the moment” –you must be fully present to do your best. Do your best each step of the way, and the result will come.
Example: You have an interval workout, which includes ten repeats. When it hurts on the third one, you say to yourself, “I can't believe I have ten of these." When training in the moment, you disregard the big picture and focus on the positive mantra that is needed to succeed in that moment. You might replace “I can't believe I have ten of these” with any of these thoughts: “Arms are relaxed; feet are turning over fast; control the breathing; this is short and sweet; get this done; work these turns; pain goes away at the finish.”
When you know you have a hard workout coming, it helps to practice visualization before the workout. Visualize where your weaknesses might surface, where you might struggle; see yourself with a new approach to the weak spots, with proper form own the hill, proper turnover, good posture. Imagine yourself purging negative thoughts (throwing out the trash) and using positive ones to replace them. Identify and record your mantra: “Five more pedal strokes; pain is temporary, regret is forever.” See it, say it, do it! From Sports Slump Busting by Alan S. Goldberg: “Winners see what they want to have happen. Losers see what they are afraid will happen.” (You don't have to be in a slump to benefit from this book. It provides great self evaluation techniques and steps to achieve mental toughness and peak performance.)
Visualization includes tuning in to all the senses (your breathing rate, the sweat, the lactic acid building in your legs). What is your mind telling you at this point? “UGGHH—I can't” or “Push off, great form, pain will be done soon”? Positive visuals are what is needed, and with visualization this positive message routine become second nature. Having “practiced” the scenario gives you an instinctive response to easily retrieve and perform with.
Example: Let’s take the tempo run or ride that's on your schedule. You've started the workout and it suddenly feels too difficult to accomplish; a good tactic is to use landmarks (such as a telephone pole or mailbox) and only focus on getting to that landmark. When you do this, your world/ambition/goal all become much smaller and you are no longer overwhelmed with the larger objective of holding a hard pace for five more miles. A narrower focus simplifies the process and makes the effort manageable.
Race day visualization is like dialing in your performance. It’s like sitting down at your computer and programming exactly what’s going to go down in your race—defining it exactly how you want things to progress from start to finish. Mentally rehearsing your race is a great way to experience those areas of perceived weakness without fear of negative consequences. Your visualization targets the weakness and blankets it with the needed positive response.
Example: “I have no power on downhills” is replaced with “On the downhills, I will work harder than my competitors”.
Taking ten minutes a few times a week leading up to your event to visualize race day and your performance each step of the way takes commitment but the rewards are tremendous. Having been there in your mind allows your body to relax. Having visualized the positive mantras and specific actions on each part of the course gives your mind easy access to those files you programmed earlier. The more you practice visualization, the easier it becomes to free yourself from the negative thought patterns. How well you visualize positive images of your performance is directly related to the impact they can have.
Inner chatter can cause some real interference in performance. To silence negative messages, practice being in the moment and utilizing positive mantras.
Example: You may have to actually say “STOP” when negative messages surface. After all, you don't have time to entertain negative thoughts; you are focusing on proper form, good breathing, efficient gearing, etc.
Converting lemons to lemonade takes practice. Squeeze your lemons with determination and something sweet will come out of it! Forget about the outcome, be in the moment, see and say what you want to have happen, and the result will be waiting for you.