I know what you are thinking, "Why should I read an article about handling negative thoughts?" You would probably prefer some tips on the latest "run-till-you-puke" mile repeat track workout or possibly a "swim-till-you're-dizzy" pool workout, but as Yogi Bera said, "sport is 90% mental and 50% physical." While his math skills may need some work, his point was well taken. Often times it is our mental outlook on training and competing that is our biggest limiting factor for ultimate performance.
Most sports are comprised of four basic components: technical, tactical, physiological and psychological. The technical component is the actual skill necessary to play the sport (e.g. dribbling in basketball, stroke technique for swimming, etc.) The tactical refers to strategies used to implement those techniques (e.g. what offense/defense to run in football). The physiological aspect refers to the physical demands in a given event. Finally, the psychological component covers motivation, handling negative thoughts, visualization, and self-confidence.
This article will focus on some of the key points of the negative "self-talk" and how to improve your positive mental picture. Let's start with a key point: Negativity will almost certainly guarantee that you'll fail to reach your dreams. So with that being said, let's discover how we can manage the negativity.
What is negative "self-talk"? It is that inner coach that is with you during training and competing. When you say to yourself, "I hate hills, I can't swim as well as Sue, I really hate to run in the heat, Fred always beats me out of the transition area, I was faster than this last year, etc." are all examples of negative "self-talk". Any of this sound familiar? These thoughts, and even some of the more subtle thoughts, can and will have a profound impact on how you train and eventually perform during competition. It is perfectly natural to have negative thoughts. It's the ability to monitor our "self-talk" and recognize the negative thought early and replace the image with a positive and more productive thought.
How do I replace the negative thought? The first step is to be aware of how often we have negative thoughts. Try this exercise (most of us just had a negative thought right now, "I don't want to try this exercise") Take the next few days and jot down all the negative things that you tend to think and say in relation to your sport. You may be surprised at the number of negative thoughts that you actually are having. Here are some ways of replacing the negative thoughts with a more positive image:
- Positive Affirmations - For those of you that watch Saturday Night Live and remember the Stuart Smalley skits, who would look at himself in a mirror and say, "I'm good enough, smart enough and dog-gone it people like me." While this is not the most practical in T1 after a 1 mile swim, the concept is great. Writing down positive things that you have done or believe about yourself will work wonders in promoting confidence.
- Visualization - Like Tiger Woods does before each shot. He creates a mental picture of the way he wants to execute the golf swing. He does this in practice, so that when he is competing he can simply "refer back" to the mental image that he has executed many times while preparing for competition. Imagine yourself, being exactly the way you would like to be. Mentally practice your positive self image every time you are training.
- Relaxation Keys - Often times negative thoughts are brought on by onset of extreme physical stress. The nature of endurance sport is lots of physical stress. One of the easiest places to start is by focusing on an appropriate breathing pattern. You can take a deep cleansing belly breath. As you inhale, focus on reasons why you are prepared, skilled, capable and ready to perform. Repeat a short phase that captures those thoughts on inhalation and exhalation. For example, if while you inhale repeat "I am fast", "I am ready", "I love this" or while you exhale "I have done this before", "I am prepared". These verbal cues cause you to focus on more positive thoughts and will allow you to relax. Most athletes perform best when they simply relax and let it happen.
There has been plenty of information that has been published on the power of positive thinking. Endurance athletes by nature are generally a very highly motivated group of individuals. Utilizing some of these techniques you can reach the next level of performance. I believe that these steps will allow you to persist in the face of adversity and to challenge yourself to reach new heights. You will be more inclined to "dig in" with an even greater resolve to prove that you will shine at the next opportunity. Remember , even the great Michael Jordan was cut from his Jr. High School basketball team. Luckily, he chose to view that negative setback as a temporary occurrence and came back with a greater resolve to prove his critics wrong.
Remember: Positive practice will yield positive performance!