Have you ever wondered what separates the top Sportsmen and Sportswomen around the globe? What creates winners from 2nd place? For the most part they all train in a similar fashion for their chosen sport, however come ‘Game Day’ there are those that perform – and those that don’t.
The physical demands are understood, their skills have been honed, their nutrition dialled in; however they just seem to ‘under perform’ when it matters most. Now while there are many variables for an athlete having a bad day, a judging decision go against them or simply just not peaking physically as planned – there is also a very real element regarding the state of one’s mind; the quality of one’s thought patterns and the power of one’s belief. THIS is where the leaders prevail.
Through out my career in fitness, I have always, knowingly or unknowingly, strived to build mental fortitude – Blindfold Marathons through mountains, endurance Row tests, 24 Mountain Climbs, the list goes on …! Aside from the physical high these offered, there was always an undertone of trying to understand my own mind and to categorise certain aspects of my thoughts (and character!) whilst under duress.
I believe the following 5 stages of Mindset can be offered to categorise where one may find fault within their own thought patterns come ‘Game Day’.
Stage #1: Fear / Anxiety
Truthfully speaking this is where, I believe, so many get stuck in a rut! Before they even begin, they have already talked their bodies out of a performance worthy of pride. There is an instant association with what they feel could go WRONG rather than what they can control and essentially dictate to go as they wish. In the area of Fitness, people fear surprise, the unknown, the ‘what if I am not ready’ thought patterns begin to prevail and an anxious state of being takes over. There are so many performance related issues that this then creates, none more so than the reality that our mind controls our ability to move. An anxious mind will never operate at optimal capacity.
Stage #2: Doubt
The natural progression to stage #1. You hear the the workout of the day announced, see the movements, the load, the time – and instantly begin to doubt your ability to perform. This is also the point where excuses are seen most. Basing perception off previous workouts or fitness endeavours one begins to correlate excuses that make them feel better about a) not performing at an intensity prescribed or pace needed to be successful b) begin the get over sensitive and actually work themselves up TOO MUCH, to a point that a successful performance is impossible.
Stage #3: Panic
This stage is the end point for a high % of fitness enthusiasts. The point at which the negative mind has taken over and thought patterns dictate a lacklustre performance. A well known saying from the renowned Coach, James ‘OPT’ Fitzgerald – ” Get Comfortable with Uncomfortable” rings true. There is always a point of discomfort when one is pushing boundaries – whether that’s with pacing strategies, food intake, time duration or just simple environmental factors ( bad weather etc…). Lack of ability to control a panicked thought pattern simply shuts down the ability to control what you can control – tasks become more daunting, thoughts more negative and ultimately, capacity is stunted.
Stage #4: Acceptance
Ah, stage #4 – my personal favourite. Few ever get to experience Stage #4 in it’s truest sense. Understanding that you can only control what you manage is the cornerstone to Stage #4. You’re 20 reps away from the end of a workout yet your lungs and burning up, your 5miles from the end of the torturous run yet your legs are feeling weak – the only true way to continue is to form an ‘acceptance mindset’. Deal with what is in front of you and accept the discomfort that it brings. Our Minds our indescribably powerful, if people could just let it be.
Stage #5: Management
The holy grail of performance – Mindset Management. This is a skill and takes daily practice, the sum of many many working parts. Those that have reached this level have transcended the previous 4 stages, experienced them and learnt from them. Stage #5 is therefor the sum of all that went before it. The truth is that not everyone will get to a point to experience true ‘management of mind’ within an athletic / fitness pursuit. Daily awareness, understanding of oneself, one’s characteristics are all integral parts to this stage – but without active daily acknowledgement it is simply impossible to ever reach.
So the next time you’re hands deep in to a test of your fitness, a tough workout – or simply a daily challenge; ask yourself – What Stage do I Operate from?