How Triathletes Prime Their Performance in the Offseason

Avid triathletes focus on athleticism, building strength, or improving their swim, bike or run skill during their downtime. But there's an even easier way to fast-track performance in the off-season and the best part is you don't even have to break a sweat doing it.

The method to become a better triathlete is to "prime your mind."

Psychological priming involves increasing your awareness through exposure to a specific motivation or stimulus. Here's what I mean. Think back on a time where you bought a certain make, model, and color of car (the prime). Ever notice how all of the sudden you start seeing the same car much more frequently than you did before? That's a form of priming.

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There's been a lot of research over the years in on how to use priming to change your behavior. One of the more interesting studies was done on, believe it or not, superheroes.

In this study the researchers wanted to find out if they could get psychology students to do more volunteer work, so they had a test group write up a short essay on the characteristics of superheroes (they chose superheroes because they typically help people without regard to their own personal gain). The control group was given an assignment to write an essay about things around their apartment.

What they found between the two groups was fascinating. Those who wrote about superhero characteristics were four times more likely to volunteer compared to the control group. This occurred even though the students in both groups were considered to be equally predisposed to doing volunteer work at the start of the study, which is crucial to getting a fair comparison when it comes to priming.

You see, priming can only work if it builds on what you already want to do or believe.

If, for example, you're a weak swimmer and you know you need to swim more to get better but you really don't like to swim, then writing an essay about the characteristics of great swimmers won't help and, even worse, it might actually have the opposite effect.

The reason for this is simple. Your unconscious mind may have acquired different goals than the ones you consciously wrote down...in fact, you may not even be aware of these goals. An example from my own experience is when I go off on an easy run or ride and someone passes me, before I know it I'm picking up my pace without any conscious decision to do so on my part. Being passed fires up my competitive goals that lay in wait in my unconscious. Priming can work for you, too, especially if you've decided to do triathlons and are predisposed to improving your performance.

More: How to Use Mental Imagery for Peak Triathlon Performance

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