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Are you mentally strong enough to succeed?

Posted Apr 21 2013 8:10pm
Did you know that we have over 50,000 thoughts a day? According to some research , the majority of our thoughts are negative. As a writer and a speaker, I feel my brain is on over-drive from the moment I get up until I go to bed. I am always thinking and some of my best thoughts come when I am working out as I feel the rush of adrenaline and blood flow helps my thought processes.

I'm sure you don't think about all the thoughts that go through your head as many are silly, non important and meaningless. But others likely contribute to how you live your day and the choices you make throughout the day.

For example, how many times have you been driving to work or on a road trip and in the other direction there is a crash or extreme traffic pile-up. You think to yourself "I am so glad that's not me!"

As athletes and fitness enthusiasts, I am sure there are many times when you think to yourself "Why am I doing this?" but certainly it hasn't slowed you down or stopped you from doing what you love.

The other day I was putting away dishes and my blender slipped out of my hands and fell in the sink. I thought to myself "OMG! That would be the most horrible thing in the world if my blender broke!!!" Thankfully, the blender didn't break but the next thought in my head was "OK - that wouldn't be such a bad thing as I could buy a new blender and of course, there are worst things in life than breaking a blender on accident."

From thoughts about body image, food (aka 'bad' food) and health to athletic performance, careers, relationships and experiences.....we have a lot on our mind and sometimes it can be positive but many times it can be negative.

Not sure if you saw or heard about Alistair Brownlee's amazing performance at the ITU San Diego race this past Saturday but not only did he breakaway from the breakaway on the bike but he ran his legs off with a blazing 29:30 10K run off the bike!! Now we all know that this Olympic medalist is an amazingly talented triathlete but in reading a recent article about Alistair as he lead up to the race, I started to think about the mental strength of top athletes.

"Brownlee spoke about battling an injury eight months out from London at yesterday’s press conference in San Diego. “A million things were going through my mind, from the moment I got diagnosed with a tear in my Achilles, it doesn’t get much worse, to then actually having it laid out as spending three weeks in a cast,” Brownlee says. “I never gave myself the choice of whether I was going to do it or not…just get on with it and train as hard as I can.
I’m not in the shape from London but I can’t spend my life trying to be in that shape all the time,” Brownlee says. “I have six to eight weeks of training, but I have a massive few months gap from last year to now, so I am just happy to be here and looking forward to racing to see what I have got. I have spent the last few years racing when fit and on form, so this will be nice to see how I go.”


Whether you are an athlete or fitness enthusiast who struggles with injuries or just normal life getting in the way of training/working out, I think there is something really special about mental strength and I feel that as I mentioned above, we spend more of our thoughts thinking the negative instead of staying positive.

I think for many it is scary to be in the moment and to stay positive. It is much  easier to be negative for then we know if we fail, we would have expected it and we can prepare for it. But if I remember correctly, you only miss the shots that you don't take. How do you know that you don't have the potential to make those shots if you don't stay in the positive, be mentally strong and learn from past experiences to prepare for the future?

As you all know (or may not), I work with a mental coach, Gloria who is a clinical sport psychologist and also my friend from the West Coast. She has played a valuable, priceless role in my life over the past few years from helping me with my career, sport performances and overcoming injuries and daily life stressors.

I came across this article called  Olympic Mindset: Thinking your way to good results  which provided valuable information that I think we can all apply to our daily life. As much as believe in training smarter to train harder, I won't sugarcoat the idea that you have to train hard to succeed. You have to be dedicated, consistent and smart with your approach to pacing, nutrition and all types of recovery but in order to do all of this, you have to be mentally strong.

Because most of you that are reading this are average "normal" athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are not racing for prize money to pay your rent but instead because you love competition, fitness and/or the benefits of being in shape and healthy, we all have to battle obstacles on a daily basis. Life happens and so do missed workouts, stressful days, off eating, restless nights, injuries and travel. Life is not perfect but in our mind, we want it to be and therefore we often count ourselves out when we should be thinking about what we can do to set ourselves up for a better tomorrow. You always want to keep your eye on the final destination but you can't lose sight of the journey. Sadly, in today's society, we things now and when we don't get them now, we get frustrated and feel defeated. But what if you changed your mind in order to succeed?

According to the article on Olympic Mindset, Olympic athletes have the following qualities
1. Flexible dedication - the ability to first utilize a long-term perspective with regards to goal-setting while simultaneously planning for obstacles. In short, it means that Olympic athletes are able to set their target goals in spite of the fact that they know problems (injuries, etc) will arise along the way

2.  The ability to bounce back-quicker, harder, and better -Nobody deals with losses and setbacks better than Olympic athletes. Resilience-the ability to bounce back from setbacks-is a key characteristic of the mental program of Olympic athletes. Resilience is increased through proper anticipation of obstacles. Olympic athletes understand that life isn't fair, and neither is sport, but they forge ahead despite this knowledge. Why are these athletes better equipped to deal with setbacks and adversity? Because they plan for it, and use failure and obstacles as part of their training. For example, some Olympic athletes, unable to participate due to injury, spend that portion of their training time doing visualization, or biofeedback training instead. Therefore, time that had been allotted for physical training is now used for mental training, and they continue to progress towards their goals-despite their injury.

3. Love of competition:  Olympic athletes are the perfect example of doing something for the pure joy of it. The life of an Olympian, which may seem glamorous, is anything but. Long hours in the gym, long hours recuperating, strict nutritional programs, and hours upon hours spent reviewing tapes are commonplace in the lives of these athletes. The ability to balance family obligations, relationships, academics, and work-in addition to their training needs, sets Olympic athletes apart. The only way they can do this is through love of competition. And this competition is more with themselves than with others. They do it because they love the process of competing with others, and they do it because they are obsessed with bettering themselves. There is no better example of pure love for a sport than those examples evidenced in the Olympic games. This love of competition and self-improvement provides the fuel and motivation when obstacles appear and failure sets in.

I think as an age group or elite athlete or a fitness enthusiast who loves working out, we need to consider these qualities of Olympic athletes or else we will constantly find ourselves defeated before we even see if what we thought was so bad is really that bad. I do believe that life gives us lessons. For every mistake, injury and "off" feeling we can learn and grow. It is then up to you how you move on from it and certainly you don't want your days on Earth to be wasted because things just aren't going the way you planned. Don't forget with every plan A, a plan B should follow.

I love triathlons and I love that I am still learning more about myself as a competitive athlete. I get excited to train and every workout I feel like I get better. It's small gains every day but eventually they add up. I have my share of setbacks but I have learned that if I have the mindset that life is over and my goals will never be reached in my season, I only become weak with my own thoughts. Although it is very very very hard at times, thanks to Gloria's help, I have learned how to stay focused on my goals and to not let set-backs or obstacles slow me down. My own thoughts can slow me down or they can help me power my way through amazing workouts and a healthy relationship with food.

When I wrote my Branson 70.3 run race report  I found myself battling thoughts in my head. Something in my mind was trying to tell my body to slow down or that it wasn't possible. But then there was another part in my body that was telling my body that there was no reason to slow down. It was a very strange relationship with my mind and body for 13.1 miles after an incredibly challenging bike course but someone I managed to conquer those negative thoughts and take chances with my mind leading my body to give me the run off my life. Even now, I am finding myself with workouts that should be hard and impossible but someone my body isn't giving me a reason to stop, slow down or surrender. We have so many thoughts on a daily basis, are you going to let your thoughts keep you from taking chances to see what is possible? The worst thing in life is being afraid of failing and not taking the chance to see if you can succeed.

To finish this blog post, I'd like to share an excerpt of a great book called "Mind Gym" by Gary Mack w/ David Casstevens (thanks Gloria!). On pg 108 the chapter is called "You Gotta Believe"

Belief is a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing. Beliefs drive behavior and behaviors affect performance in everything we do. In psychology, the term self-efficacy is the belief in one's own ability to be successful. Simply believing in yourself doesn't mean you're always going to win. But believing in yourself can help enable you to put yourself into a position to win. Belief systems are a big part of confidence. Beliefs that are irrational or unrealistic lead to stress. Let's look at the ABC theory of success and stress. 
A - Activating event. 
B - Belief about the event. 
C - Consequences, feelings and behaviors about the outcome. 
There are several unrealistic or irrational beliefs some athletes have about themselves. Some thing they aren't big enough, strong enough, fast enough or good enough to play at a certain level. My question to them is "Where's the evidence?"
Some have  a belief system that says failure is a shameful thing. In truth, life is based upon failures. If you don't fail you probably aren't challenging yourself enough. If, as babies, we had a fear of failure - if we believe that failure is terrible - we might never learn to walk. Another irrational belief is "If I mess up no one will love me. I'll be rejected." Imagine the pressure that kind of thinking creates. If you believe that by not winning you're a loser, if you believe if you lose no one will love you, if you believe that taking a risk is dangerous, if you believe that not being perfect is unacceptable, these beliefs will only cause upset and trouble in your life. 
One way athletes counter irrational beliefs is through positive affirmations. These affirmations should be  powerful, positive and in the present tense. According to Muhamad Ali "It's a lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges and I believe in myself." "To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you are not, pretend you are."

So are you mentally strong enough to succeed? Do you have goals that you want to achieve but your thoughts are keeping you from moving forward? Let your thoughts drive positive behaviors and remove self-defeating thoughts from your mind. Believe in yourself and your ability to succeed. I invite you to spend an entire day tomorrow thinking only positive thoughts. If a negative thought comes into your mind (which it likely will) reframe the thought. Upset you are at work? Be grateful you have a job to buy groceries. Having a bad workout? Be grateful your body is healthy enough to workout. If you can do this for an entire day, it's likely you will find yourself living a day unlike any other.

What your mind can conceive and your heart believe, you can achieve. 

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