Sunday, 1 May 2016

How To Use Sports Psychology To Master Mind Over Muscle


How Bad Do You Want It?

Endurance sports journalist, Matt Fitzgerald, argues it all comes down to posing this question to yourself and if you do want it, then you can take actions to make it happen.

This is not just elite athletes, of course. It's anyone who needs the motivation to perform - whether it's fitness or your sales job, your desire to get through a triathlon, write a novel, cycle to work daily, complete a second degree. These things take mental courage and commitment.

Matt has worked with elite athletes from all over the world and what he reveals is that ".001 percent have the same psychological vulnerabilities that the rest of us have, and must overcome them to achieve things...Talent alone doesn't cut it."

Talent alone doesn't cut it.
This might be enough for some of you to throw in the towel. For the rest of us, it's inspiring. Regardless of skill, it comes down to attitude towards our goals and working for it.

Here's what to keep in mind, whether you're just beginning or you're already established as an athlete, a performer, an executive or contemplating a half-marathon.

If you want to read Matt's book, it's How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald (Murdoch Books, $29.99)


Embrace principles of Psychobiological Performance

Samuele Marcora, an Italian exercise physiologist, introduced the theory of mind and body as interconnected. Essentially, biology matters but psychology rules

Finnish runner, Paavo Nurmi, said (almost 100 years' ago!) "Mind is everything. Muscle - pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind."

It is not the actual, objective "hardness" of a task that matters, it is how hard you think it is. It isn't possible to outrun and out-think a physical endurance challenge entirely, but an athlete's relationship to putting in the effort and to focus is key.

Alter your focus: the competitor ahead of you, the memory of losing a similar race, the feeling of winning, the next check-point.

Be Your Own Sports Psychologist

Research methods that athletes and performers use to inspire and motivate their training, their performance and their endurance. 

Don't be afraid of stress, fear and discomfort. Use them as challenges. 

When you're struggling, ask yourself How Much Do I Want It? and if you can honestly respond, More, then despite it being harder than the questions of how often to train, how much to eat, which shoes to wear and time to beat, you will prove it.

Find An Accomplice or Many

While many endurance athletes train alone in the early hours or late at night, depending on their work and family commitments, many also engage in team training or participate in forums.
The beauty of social media is that even if you can't find an accomplice to run with, cycle besides, go to classes with... you can share your goals, your weaknesses, your questions and your insights in online forums.

Go to classes. Join running groups. Start an online group that meets once a week to train. 

Imagine An Audience

In 2003, a university in Arizona ran an experiment to see if students would benchpress greater weights for longer under three scenarios:
1. Alone
2. In competition with other students
3. Alone in front of an audience

To the surprise of the study authors, the students performed significantly better in front of an audience than in competition with others. The act of questioning their perceived exertion or wanting to perform for themselves an others may have driven this. 

You don't need an audience. You can imagine one. What does your victory look like? Does your training regime inspire and motivate them? 

Listen To Your Body: Don't Over-Train

We live in a culture that embraces the Harder. Faster. Stronger. mentality.

Knowing when you're pushing too hard or being excessive is vital to maintaining a training regime that will keep you mentally and physically on your game.

Triathlete, Paula Newby-Fraser, took a year off triathlon training after a particularly exhausting and physically debilitating defeat. She reflected during this time on the fact she had allowed her insecurity and desperation to achieve to force her to train too fiercely, and to exhaust her body. She had beaten herself up wanting to win.

She decided to return to triathlon and to do the might Kona but this time, with "no expectations". In yoga, this choice to pursue any goal or lifestyle purely for the lessons and the experience rather than attaching to the results is called abhyasa

Paula later embraced trail running and mountain biking in addition to Ironman (which she mastered aged 40) and in advice to the great Australian Ironwoman, Mirinda Carfrae, said: "The greatest lesson as an athlete and in training is just don't get greedy. The media is going to push you and hype you. So is everyone else. You have to just have faith in yourself, and faith in your coach, and just believe. When it's working, it's working. Don't mess with success, right?"

Embrace And Enjoy The Challenge

Whatever your challenge, or challenges, embrace the uncertainty and the discomfort that are inevitable.

As Matt says, "The path between you and the best you can be is unexplored territory."
None of us can know what we're capable of. None of us have the answers as to how to be the greatest we can be laid out and easily defined in front of us.

You're embarking on a journey that is mental more than physical and the more obstacles you face, the more you must channel the athlete and the person you want to become. All you need to do is be genuinely curious and determined to see how far you can go.

Nobody Else Knows What You're Capable Of. 
You don't. They don't. 
You must listen and learn from people who inspire you, who know things you want to know, but don't put all your faith in someone else - or even many others - to tell you what you can and can't do or how you should do it.

The challenge is to ask yourself what works, what doesn't, what feels right, what your weaknesses are and how you can change that, or avoid that bringing you down when it matters.



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