The thing that keeps you from your peak performance probably isn't the latest super-bike, skinsuit or recovery potion. More likely, it's your mental self-talk. "A large percentage of anyone's personal record (PR) is psychological," says Lucy Smith, coach for LifeSport Coaching.
"Sometimes, your brain tries to hijack you from performing your best," says Smith, who's also a 19-time Canadian champion and internationally ranked athlete in triathlon, duathlon and distance running. That's when negative self-talk surfaces and starts to snowball. Soon you're slowing down and wondering whether you should quit.
Fortunately, you can learn to stop the negative chatter and outperform yourself. "You have to basically will yourself to create this mindset that your belief that you can do something becomes stronger than the doubt that you won't," she says. Sound impossible? Not if you follow these strategies for getting out of your own way.
Recognize Your Trap
"Negative self-talk often comes from a distorted view of reality," says Riley Nickols, New York City-based sport psychology consultant and coach at MindBodyEndurance.com. It's useful to be aware of what's going on in your mind. See if you're falling into any of these performance-busting negative thinking patterns:
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: You don't think you succeeded unless you were perfect. As in, "I didn't PR, so the race was a waste of my time." Or "I didn't hit my splits so I failed."
- Overgeneralizing: You jump to a conclusion based on no evidence. Example: You had one tough climb, so you proclaim yourself "a terrible climber."
- Catastrophizing: Overestimating the likelihood that bad things are going to happen. For instance, "my swim was bad, so my bike and run will be bad, too."
Quiet Your Inner Critic
When your inner critic starts talking to you, Smith says, "don't engage with it." Tell the voice it's unhelpful, and then let it go away. "Some people can visualize the delete button on their computer or the trash icon," she says. "You have to make a split second decision about whether you're going to listen to the voice or not. Hitting 'delete' is the fastest way to get around listening."