I will not talk about positive mental attitude since there are plenty of references available and written about it already; I will just be repeating all of them. However, I will share how I keep my mind in the game during training.
Training to increase fitness, improve performance, reach a personal best, and/or for an upcoming race can be as mentally exhausting and challenging as the actual race itself or when you’re in the middle of performing. It is during training when we have to deal with various challenges involving personal and professional life commitments; existing health and physical conditions; current skill level; limited resources [time, energy, finances]; and plenty other things. Athletes, whether recreational, amateur, elite, or professional, share common experiences when it comes to what they have to go through during training.
Here are some lessons that I have been learning and applying in my training life:
I come first:
I have always believed in the saying that “you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others…”. So if I do not make room for my priorities and myself, how can I make room for others? My training schedule was built to work for me. I have a Monday to Friday, 8-5 job and I make sure that my work schedule and my training schedule can work well together. My training schedule provides room for my personal life as well. For example, I have date nights scheduled every other Thursday and I have Tuesday nights scheduled and blocked for gym climbing and/or movie nights when I can socialize with friends and do other activities. Having a consistent schedule helps me and the people around me find time to spend together. Although, this does not mean that I am never flexible with my time but I keep my schedule consistent 98% of the time. I guess it is easy for me to do and say this as I do not have a family to care for. However, what I can share to those who do have families is that…
I am open and honest about my wants and needs:
Other than for myself, the reason why I have a schedule and routine that I follow is to also help my loved one[s] become aware of my other commitments and when I am absolutely available. Saying no and turning people down is usually not that easy to do most especially to those who are important to us. Support from others, for me, comes in the form of respecting and understanding my schedule and time. It also makes me feel supported when others recognize that what I do, as in training, is very important to me and so it is one of my top priorities. With this, I am open and honest of how I want to be and would feel supported. I cannot just assume that my loved one[s] would know what I want and need without verbally communicating it to them.
Be patient and kind with myself:
It is during training when I experience a lot of frustrations and disappointments toward myself. From learning a new skill, improving a technique, to recovering from an injury. Being patient with myself is being kind to myself. Learning when to pause and take a deep breath, knowing when to stop and to try again next time is sometimes difficult to do when all I want is to become better. With this, I make sure I…
Recognize and acknowledge my own feelings of frustration, disappointment, and even fear:
As much as I want to stay positive all the time, it is not really helpful if I dismiss and ignore the negative thoughts and feelings I have about myself. Recognizing and acknowledging that negative thoughts and feelings are part of the process in becoming a better athlete helps me understand and strategize on how to manage them.
Manage my expectations through mindfulness:
I try to apply this in all aspects of my life. When I speak of managing expectations, I do not mean lowering expectations but having healthy expectations. We train because we have a goal and that goal we expect ourselves to meet at some point. Being reasonable and clear of what it would take to reach my goal helps me manage any shifts and changes to my goals. Sometimes I have to deal with circumstances that prevent me from achieving my goal, staying on track, and meeting my deadline. Instead of reacting and giving up, being mindful allows me to pause and problem solve — act instead of react. Which brings me to…
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it:
I feel fortunate to be in a time where there’s plenty of research being conducted and overflowing knowledge available to me when it comes to improving athletic and physical performance. Sometimes, though, all the information can be overwhelming to a point where I think I am doing everything the wrong way. What I have been learning is that just because it works for somebody or the majority of the people, does not mean it would work for me. It is important to understand that there are factors to be considered when looking at various approaches to diet, training load, exercise routine, improving performance, etc. [such as those factors involved in the nature vs. nurture argument].
For example, changing my diet based on what is currently popular in the world of endurance sports can have a detrimental effect not just on my performance but also my overall health. Fixing my running form because my form does not exemplify a professional runner’s form can do more harm than good. What I have been learning is that if what I am currently doing is not causing injury or not preventing me from reaching my performance goals then I should not force myself on fixing it. Of course, as to any changes that we want to apply to our bodies that can significantly impact our health and fitness, consulting with a health professional is highly encouraged. Also, it is very helpful if you are working with a coach or professional that have your health and fitness at heart and not someone who is there for you to “fix you”.
My mind also needs to rest and recover:
As much as my body gets tired, my mind gets tired too. It is great to be really passionate about one’s sport[s] but giving one’s self a break, and doing other things outside training and performing is not only healthy for one’s body but also the mind. It has been really helpful for me to do other activities, talk about other things, read about other topics, spend time with people who are not in the same sports, and not think about training and my performance goals. I want to be excited and looking forward to training and performing instead of being anxious about them. Giving myself a complete mind and body break from training, performing, and even thinking about training and performing has been very beneficial to me.
Everyday, I try to think of things and people that I am grateful for. Even on days when my workouts are lackluster, when I am having a hard time dialing in on a technique, or I did not meet my goal -- I try to be grateful even just for the opportunity of being able to train. Being grateful for even the simplest things helps me maintain my excitement and enthusiasm about training and looking forward to performing.
What do you do to keep your mind in the game during training? I would love to hear your thoughts!