Are you Mentally Tough

Fellow athletes you will understand. We often struggle to let things go. Whether you’re a professional or a newbie we all deflect blame at one time or another away from our selves. Frequently I over hear athletes negatively discussing some workout, equipment, pre-race routine, race day weather or equipment failure that results in less than perfect performance. Folks we cannot all have days were we swim like Potts, cycle like Crowie and run like Mirinda.
For example, and a most recent instance of just such a discussion. Saturday as I drove home after spending the day at the TriMania Expo in Boston (where I completely geeked out on Triathlon. I got a month’s worth of tri talk within the first hour at the expo!) I began to wonder with this heavy rain if Sunday’s Central Park Duathlon would happen, and if it did would I race. Would I be tough enough to fight through the rain and cold? As I pressed further south toward NYC, I started to psych myself up for the race as best I could. I told myself that this would be a race that made me stronger mentally!
Upon arriving home my thoughts drifted negatively, I started to think how cold and wet I would be during the race. I am not paid for this, I just got a new bike, do I need to jeopardize myself out on a wet, slick, cold course? Luckily, I would have time to think, so I delayed the decision. Telling myself that I would wake up and make a game time decision. Only, that did not happen…returning from dinner we fought winds that nearly flipped and broke both our umbrellas. I kid you not, the rain was actually blowing up into our faces from under the umbrellas. Where did this storm come from!?!?! I called it there and then, no way was I racing in this if the storm was going to last through the night, like the weather app. said. I tucked myself in for the night.
Its 7:25 am Sunday morning and I wake up to find the winds are gone, the heavy rain has stopped and the race starts at 7:30. I hung my head at first. Then I started to do exactly what I described above, I deflected the blame. I began with the weather app. on my phone, moved onto blaming others, and eventually just blamed the buildup of this week’s events.
Professionals do this as well; away from triathlon there have been baseball, football, basketball super stars who have blamed things from blisters, turf toe and even the design of the stadium as to why they didn’t perform as expected.
I’m sure there are a few professional triathletes who are guilty of this too I am just not in the business of calling people out.
Locally we have all experienced the ranting by fellow athletes regarding how they failed to reach their goal or race objective for any of the following reasons. “My nutrition today wasn’t dialed in…my legs felt heavy from to short of a taper period…I just couldn’t catch my breath because….” This is classic deflection behavior where we push the results away from ourselves and blame what is around us….and that’s why I DNF’d, had a slow (swim, bike, or run) didn’t hit the ball, score a goal, or win the game. Ironically when we win, few athletes rarely give thanks to others. Many stand in the end zone pounding their chest screaming how they single handedly won the game. Triathlon is a very individual sport so when we do succeed we should praise our selves but when things go wrong we should do the same and not deflect the blame, especially during the middle of a race or training ride/run/swim.
Why do you want to stop this deflective negative self-destruction? First, it wastes energy. On race day none of us have excess energy to waste. Secondly, negative thinking quickly takes over an athlete’s entire mental game; consider yourself done for the day. Once you go over the edge and negate obstacle after obstacle you might as well find your way to the parking and leave because your mental game is already at home with its feet up and beer in hand. Finally, take ownership. These things spun out of control, or resulted in X because of a decision you made so OWN IT! Last night, I decided not to race. That was my decision, not anyone else is so I have to be confident that for me it was the right call.
I believe there are three things an athlete can do to overcome this deflective habit. First, never panic always adapt. You know the cliché “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” well get out there and do it, adapt to your situation whatever it might be and make the best of it, overcome the challenge and you will be rewarded. To stop the “negative-Nelly” syndrome I use the power of three positive statements. I say three things that have gone positively today. These can range from I had a great smile on the toughest hill (keep smiling), to hey I had a quick transition, or I am proud I stayed tucked in aero for as long as I did during the ride. Keep it simple, and if you can repeat the action positively do it. Actually smiling is an amazing trick that makes you feel better. Finally, this is to echo the above, OWN IT. Take ownership of your decisions and your results everything happened because YOU did something. Not the bike, or the volunteer at the aid station, or that person at the swim start told you how tough the swim was going to be. You let all these things affect your mental game.
I hope these thoughts help you as you prepare for your season. If you have any additional suggestions, comments, thoughts or ideas on how others can keep mentally tough please share. Thanks for reading, see you again soon. Tinman2Ironman

picture from Pearl Izumi

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