GUEST POST: Getting Through Mental Hardships in Training

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When you’re an athlete, or when you’re training to get into the best shape of your life for a race or competition, or simply when you’re training “for life,” just to maintain your fitness and health, some days are obviously better than others. Some days, the fitness gains come easily, and it feels like you’re not even trying, and other days, you swear you would have been better off staying in bed.

I’m a runner and have been racing everything from short track races all the way up to a 50 kilometer trail ultra-marathon, and believe me, I know how much bad days suck the energy right out from under you. Given my running background though, I can also tell you that while the bad days and doubtful moments can quickly ruin your endeavor if you let it, I think overcoming these mental barriers simply breaks down to a simple, if not cliché, mantra: mind over matter.

I think we’ve all been there. We’ve all had bad days that make us question why we work so hard to realize our
goals, only to come up short time and time again, when we swear we’re doing everything “right” and everything
that we “should” be or “could” be doing.
Sound familiar? Before we know it, we’re spiraling down into a vortex of doom, swearing off whatever our athletic pursuits are at the moment, and promising ourselves to simply “take some time off” for an indefinite period because who cares, right?
Working through mental roadblocks in training and in competition is really hard, but my goodness, it’s so
important. My examples and jabbering below are all couched in running parlance, since that’s the circle I know
the best, but figuring out how to both work on and enhance our mental fitness is transferable across all sport
and competition lines. It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting weights, ice-skating in circles, or flying across the air in a gymnastics meet: every sport out there, every physical endeavor that we choose to undertake, necessitates
having adept mental fitness and mental toughness.
Just as we pay so much attention to getting our bodies in sound cardiovascular and muscular shape, so, too, must we endeavor to make our mental conditioning bulletproof.
Things get tough when we’re constantly pushing ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be;
it’s just a fact of life. Below, I’ll describe some of my tips that I use to help break though mental barriers when
I’m competing in a race, running my heart out, or simply when I’m in a training session and am staring down a
really hard workout. Mental fortitude matters, and developing that adequately is a byproduct of endless mental
conditioning and enhancing our mental fitness to be the very best it can be.
Here’s how you can do it –
It sounds dumb, but really –

Believe in yourself.

Your mom was right: if you don’t believe in yourself, then who will? Tell yourself every day that you believe in yourself, in your ability to work hard to realize your dreams, and talk to yourself accordingly. So many of us are our own worst critics, which is acceptable to a degree, but ultimately no constructive growth can arise if we’re constantly berating ourselves for not being good enough, strong enough, fast enough, or whatever enough.
Think of it this way – talk to yourself how you’d talk to your very best friend. If you wouldn’t incessantly tear down your best friend, then don’t do it to yourself. Instead, replace that negative self-talk with encouragement, telling yourself that you are in fact capable, strong, and willing to work hard. Negative self-talk matters more than we think it does, so do everything in your power to avoid spiraling down into the dark and sinister places of your mind where you convince yourself that you’re inferior. You’re not. Words and mantras matter.
Closely related to my above point, the words we use really matter, so it behooves  us to surround ourselves with words that empower us and lift us up. Many runners find solace and empowerment from mantras, short statements or keywords that are usually encouraging and uplifting, and they can be personalized to the umpteenth degree. Consider choosing a word or a short statement that you can repeat to yourself when the going gets rough in competition or training, and really – it can be anything.
My favorites? I can do hard things, forward is a pace, return on investment, roll with it, work hard.

Power-up in power songs.

Many folks I know really value a good playlist to get them in a positive mental
space, and some runners I know even develop special race-day playlists full of jams to rev their engines and
get them excited about working hard. If you’re someone who enjoys a good jam during a warm-up or during
competition, consider constructing your own “power playlist.” Much like mantras, play lists can be extremely
personal, so you do you! If you get fired up by listening to classical music, by all means, go for it. What matters
most is that the music helps lift your spirits and gets you into a state of mind that leaves you thinking that you
are capable of doing hard things, of doing hard work, so whatever songs make you feel that way should be
worthy of inclusion. Plus, if you’re in the throes of competition (racing, in particular) and need a quick pick-me-
up, a powerful song can fit the bill.

Talk to yourself.

Strange as it may sound, I honestly think the best thing you can do for yourself, when you’re
staring down a daunting workout or a challenge that seems insurmountable, is to just take a moment and talk to
yourself. Remember everything I said earlier, about believing in yourself? This is the time when it matters most.
Be your own biggest advocate. Cheerlead incessantly for yourself. YOU matter, YOU can do hard things, and
you’ve already done SO MUCH to get to the starting line: now it’s just a matter of executing on your plan.
Having some perspective here helps, too. When you think it’s impossible to achieve whatever it is that you’ve
set out to do, take a moment to remember what got you started in the first place, or as I like to say, “remember
your why.” Chances are high that you’ve made significant gains from the time you ran your first mile without
stopping (for example) to the time you toed the line at your first marathon. Celebrate your accomplishments,
and trust the process that you’ve taken to get you where you are today. If nothing else, be thankful that you can
do whatever it is that you’re setting out to do, difficult as it may be.
The market is rife with motivational and self-help books, and some are even targeted to athletes in particular.
As you work toward developing your physical prowess in your preparation for competition, take heart to also
develop your mental fitness and fortitude. It’s inevitable that there will come a time that you’ll encounter some
sort of mental hardship in your training or in competition, but if you’ve worked on your mental game throughout your conditioning season, you’ll feel empowered and will know exactly how to counteract the doubt demons.

Writer Bio

Dan Chabert

Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance
runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.
 
 

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