My trainer, Sione, once told me that he could tell how I was going to perform in sparring the second I walked in the door.
The power of that statement set me off on a journey to study, better understand and very deliberately engage my brain and emotions in every workout since. Could I manipulate how I am feeling to achieve optimal performance? What if I’m tired? stressed? scared? Could I teach or trick myself into feeling confident and excited to perform?
I am constantly searching for ways to do this. It entertains me.
Good workouts are meant to stress your body and your mind. It’s the only way to grow. Finding, creating, and using mental strategies to get you through a tough workout both increase your performance and enjoyment, as well as enhance your coping mechanisms and grit in and out of the gym.
Workouts have become more meaningful to me since I’ve made this connection and practice it.
We all naturally find ways to get ourselves through a workout without quitting. We may pace ourselves, or go all out using grit. We may break it up into segments, or get lost in the music. You probably have used all of these natural methods, as well as others, without paying much attention to your strategy.
In addition to those more common mental strategies, I have been searching for, and creating others that are more fun and interesting. Undoubtedly I will dedicate many more blog posts to them because it fascinates me, but here are a couple examples.
Transfer of energy: In fighting or sparring there is such intense energy and it is constantly flowing. I try to create opportunities to “steal” some of my opponent’s energy/confidence. In boxing, a moment of weakness or doubt strengthens even the tired opponent. It is real and you can feel it both ways.
Similarly used, if I am working out on the heavy bag with someone, or just working out next to them, and I see that they are tiring, I visualize taking their energy and it fuels me.
Now this may not sound like the nicest strategy, but it is effective in the right situation.
Lying: If I tell myself I am good at something I absolutely perform better. It doesn’t even have to be true! Every time I look at a workout, I will pick something in it and tell myself that I am really good at a specific movement and each time I do it I reinforce this – “Oh, here’s that thing I’m really good at! Yeah! I get to do that now!”. I then enjoy it more, which is probably why I perform better. Interestingly, if you lie to yourself enough you may find that your lie becomes true.
Personal Truths: It is when you notice something about yourself that you then commit to being a part of who you are. I have decided on a few “personal truths” which I believe about myself and therefore I expect to live up to them. They, in my head, define who I am as an athlete.
For example, one thing I have been mindful enough to notice is that I start off slower and get stronger as I go. It is just how I naturally work in nearly every kind of workout, and because I know this about myself I am able to remain calm the first round even when I am slower or behind because I know that it takes me a round to gain confidence. I know that as others come out strong and then get tired I will keep gaining momentum and catch up. Knowing and believing this personal truth allows me to remain calm, which allows me to perform at my best.
My challenge to you is to start by paying attention to your mental talk during your workouts. Are you being your best coach? Are you positive? Are you resilient? Are you confident? This is so important. You are your most important coach and the thoughts you have will directly impact your performance and results.
Next, be mindful of your coping mechanisms. Instead of just trying to get through, try different strategies. Experiment. Lie to yourself that you love burpees. Create a personal truth that you are the strongest in the class. Try different mental strategies for different types of workouts. Come up with your own creative ways to remain calm and have fun while optimizing your performance.
Practicing mental strategies to cope with stress will help you in and out of the gym, and will change your workouts forever.
So walk into the gym with confidence (real or fake) and a plan!
And next time you see me in there you’ll wonder what’s going on in my crazy head and if I’m trying to steal your energy. 😉
***Written for FA Boxing.***