What percentage of performance on race day is mental: 50 percent; 75 percent; 95 percent?
And how often do you train your mind?
Many athletes would readily admit that more than 70 percent of our performance depends on our mental outlook, yet most athletes spend little to no time training their mind.
Our mental race dialogue is built upon what we do in practice. We can't flip a switch and expect to have a positive mental dialogue (that we actually believe) during a race unless we've practiced the same dialogue in training.
Train your mind and prepare to battle negative race-day banter with three simple techniques.
Clark Kent was a dorky awkward looking reporter badgered by Lois Lane until he stepped into a phone booth.
Create your own imaginary phone booth where you feel extraordinary. Step inside mentally and physically. Create your safe and magical space. What colors do you see? Does it sparkle? Is there a buzz or a particular song playing in the background? What smells do you notice? What three adjectives describe how you feel inside? Define this space for yourself. Try to channel your inner child to tap into your imagination. Practice stepping into this magical space before every practice. Come race time, your phone booth will feel powerfully familiar.
What does your inner voice say to you? Is it encouraging or does it drag you down into a mire of self-contempt? My inner voice is a skinny male elite marathon runner telling me I'm too fat to run as fast as the other girls I want to compete with. Solution? Simple. If I imagine giving that voice a hit on a helium balloon, I take away his power over me. Instead he sounds like a wimpy cartoon character who couldn't stand up to Bugs Bunny if he tried.
Give yourself permission to be a kid again. Leave yourself visual reminders of key words that contribute to a mantra in your head. I use address labels and stick them to my bike, water bottle or body. My words are positive but have no opposite meaning so that my mind doesn't twist them against me: swift, breathe, glide.
You can also leave Post-it Notes at your desk, on your mirror or by your nightstand with constant reminders of time goals or positive words you wish to use to override the negative voice before it takes that helium hit.
Like those tedious physical therapy exercises we neglect until our injury rears its ugly head, we forget these mental exercises until we are at the mercy of negative self-talk beating us into submission. If perfect practice leads to perfect racing, why not spend a little more time on your mental game before practice? Carve out one minute before your workout to train your mind with these techniques. You'll thank yourself come race day.
Put your mental strength to the test. Sign up for a triathlon.
Some of the ideas in this article were developed by NLP practitioner Will Murray and triathlon coach Craig Howie.
Andreas, Steve and Faulkner, Charles ed. NLP, The New Technology of Achievement. New York , N.Y. William Morrow. 1994.