Part 3 of 4 on mental toughness. Now that your body is in motion, your heart is pumping, and you are now realizing ‘Holy crap this is harder than I thought….’, what do you do? Most of the time I enter a subconcious mental zone….I have no idea what music is playing, don’t recognize the faces surrounding me, and cant even tell where that trickle of blood is coming from…NOW it’s time to perform.
3. Composure Under Pressure
Working out and performing optimally is one thing when we are in our comfort zones, and all of our attention/effort can be directed towards the task at hand. Take us out of that comfort zone, a different gym, higher stakes (e.g. a competition) or a new skill and suddenly it can be a whole new ball game.
The Inverted ‘U’ of Optimal Arousal
I remember one of my favorite professors a University talking about the ‘Inverted U’ relationship that exists between athletic performance and the amount of perceived pressure. Too little pressure and we can’t perform optimally because we don’t care enough about the outcome to push ourselves; but too much and we have an increased risk of ‘choking’ or ‘freezing’ because we become distracted and lose focus. Between the two extremes however, there is an ‘optimal level’ of pressure that provides enough incentive to perform but not so much as to make us nervous or flustered.
Ok great, so there is an ‘optimal amount’ of pressure under which we deliver our best performances; but we can’t always control how much pressure we are under, now what?
I also remember learning, from that same prof, that as a general rule when placed in a high pressure/stress environment we are likely to exhibit our ‘dominant responses’. This means that our ability to perform skills we feel confident about will likely improve, but that our execution of skills we are less comfortable with may do the opposite. The more we practice something and become confident/familiar with it the greater our chances of excelling in competition are much greater.
Time for Some CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
I.e. Some strategies to help get ‘in the zone’
1. Figure out what state of mind YOU need to be in to deliver your best performance.
Angry? Focused? Energized? Calm?
2. Think back to a time you were in this mindset and focus on as many details as you can.
What was different about this particular time? How did you feel?
3. Choose a physical cue, to attach these feelings to, that can be done prior to/during a workout to help ‘get you in the zone’.
e.g. I like to tighten my ponytail, take a deep breath and put my hands on my hips.
Does it suddenly make me a stronger/better athlete? No, but it helps get me in the zone.
4. Focus on the task at hand, go through the movements in your head and visualize the best possible outcome.
Imagine successfully completing “x”. How does it See/Feel/Hear/Taste? (Hey you never know, but if you’re licking any equipment please warn me before I pick it up).
5. If necessary think of (positive) physical cues to help with executing the movement.
e.g. ”chest up”, “fast elbows”, “drive hard”
6. Physically rehearse the cues while visualizing them.
This can be done in private if you’re afraid of looking weird/crazy in public; I used to go over my cheerleading routine in my head while I was running, and I’m sure I looked pretty weird. But it was worth it. Visualizing the routine helped me feel WAY more confident when I stepped onto the competition floor because even though it was the first time doing our routine in front of the judges, I had already done it hundreds of times in my mind.
Weighted Pull Ups
4 rounds for time
12 Burpee Box Jump Overs (20/24)
Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.
– Jamie Paolinetti