Develop your goal visually, learn to mentally see yourself achieve, and then physically implement. As I write this article I am reminded of never having any athletic talent, nor ever dreamed I would be jumping out of an airplane and competing in acrobatics. I had to develop mental control of my thoughts, so actions could be had, and goals could be met. Learning to control my thoughts is largely how I was able to reach creative, yet challenging destinations such as: competing in aerial acrobatics-“style”, completion of 94 marathons including 12 Boston marathons, plus have the intellectual achievements of being nominated for Teacher of Year three times and recently becoming an author of a few books.
Here are some mental strengthening exercises which will help you obtain your fitness goals.
1. Be specific with your goal; then break it down into monthly realistic sub goals:
Example: The goal of completing a marathon distance (26.2 miles)
Sub-goal #1 – 20 min. nonstop jog
Sub-goal #2 - running a 5K
Sub-goal #3 - running a 10K
Sub-goal #4 – running a half marathon
Sub-goal#5 - running a practice run lasting the same amount of time consistent with the time goal.
2. Find a visual photo of what your goal should look like. Put your face on it.
Example: A runner completing a race with a strong finish; cut the face out and put your
face in it.
3. Learn to turn your mind off to discomfort. Realize 5 minutes will go by until the body adapts to the velocity, impact, body mechanics, and breathing requirements which comprise movement. The muscles, the mind, the digestion system, etc. have to fully identify with each of those components of movement which may be initially uncomfortable. After 5-10 minutes of warming up, practice turning your mind off for 5 minutes and think of nothing but breathing and your cadence.
4. Eliminate dissociation for the next 10 minutes. Again, focus only on breathing and cadence until it matches the corresponding training pace set forth with the distance goal set. Practice this “10 minute listening drill” at each running bout or other long distance endeavor.
5. Listen only to “your” music. Tune into listening to the musical sound of your breathing and foot strike. Be aware of every muscle being used, the breathing effort, the warmth developing throughout your body, and the impact of your footsteps. After 15 minutes or so associate all of those physical feelings and keep them steady.
Non-example: Music through headphones. This form of dissociation will mask the sound of your
breathing rhythm and cadence. As a result you put yourself at high risk of going out to fast and/or not
keeping an even pace throughout the event.
6. Avoid letting your mind drift to the finish line until half way through. The mind cannot fathom the long distances of 13 or more miles of continual movement. However, after the half way mark, the body and mind can now develop increased focus on the finish line. At this time begin visualizing you going through the finish line.
7. Practice facing the demons of distance running and turn them into positive affirmations. The demons usually come right before ¾ way of the finish line. In a marathon negative thoughts creep in after mile 14, or by mile 8-9 in a half marathon. “Demons” are those negative thoughts that come with physical and mental weariness. We can become overwhelmingly defeated and depressed with questioning thoughts of our training, our lack of sleep, the questionable weather, our previous injuries, etc. These negative thoughts can result in derailing our goal pace. We may begin to stop at water stops, walk prematurely than otherwise planned, initiate re-lacing our shoes even though it is not needed, begin talking to someone, etc. Demons while going the distance can bring on any form of dissociation to take your mind off of your task. Don’t give in to those traps, or there goes your time goal. Rather, go back to your physical and mental strengths and again, focus on breathing and cadence. Reflect on how thoroughly you trained. Practice positive affirmations of how well you are doing and the strong finish coming up. Slow down and regroup if you have to, but always move forward. Each mile relax your body and mind with breathing exercises with corresponding arm drop downs.
Example: Demon thought: I hardly got any sleep last night which explains why I am slowing
Positive affirmation: Wow, this lack of sleep helps me lose track of the miles versus
counting and dreading each and every mile.
Letting the “job” be done through you as it relates to sports means paying attention to the natural requirements necessary to reach your goal. When you keep the goal event simple and allow yourself to simply breathe and listen to your footsteps, much of the distraction and negative complications are eliminated. Now you have developed a peaceful, yet purpose filled mind with the finish line in sight.
Remember: Do not count the miles, but rather make those miles count. LG