The Mental Games

It’s been three days and I can finally raise my arms above my shoulders without wincing in pain. My forearms look as if I was thrown into a one-on-one fight with a blackberry bush…and I lost. My knees and shins look as if Babe Ruth had a round of batting practice. And through all this pain, soreness and bruises…I couldn’t feel more alive!

This weekend, a group of family and friends and I completed a 12-mile obstacle course named “Tough Mudder.” The course was designed by British Special Forces and it claims to be the toughest event on the planet. Obstacles consist of running through live wires, jumping into an ice bath, crawling in the gravel and mud under barbed wire and inverted monkey bars – to name only a few. And yes, we did pay for this brutal torture. But one of the coolest components of this event is that 100% of the proceeds directly support the Wounded Warrior Project. If you’re a few screws loose and want to learn more about this event, check out their website at: 

One of the most important elements of this event, and any long-endurance event, is a competitor’s mental capacity or mental toughness. Runners will often say, “It’s all in your head.” Translation: the thoughts you think will either negatively or positively affect the outcome of your athletic event. Psychologists call this the Cognitive-Behavioral perspective in that a person’s thoughts affect his feelings which affect his actions. Consequently, athletes strive to consciously think positive thoughts, such as, “I can win this!” or “Only one more mile,” or “You’ve done it before, you can do it again.” As soon as negative thoughts begin to enter the mind, an athlete can feel discouraged, depressed, and unmotivated.

So what can you, as an athlete or simply someone wanting to achieve his or her health goals, do to improve your mental toughness?

1. Talk to yourself – whether it’s in your head, in the mirror or out loud, affirm positive comments to yourself

2. Establish SMART goals (S=specific, M=measurable, A=achieveable, R=realistic, T=time specific). Goals will help keep you motivated to work towards something positive

3. Visualization – close your eyes and take time to visualize yourself completing a race or a task successfully

4. Shake It Off – if you encounter a barrier, shake it off instead of dwelling on it

5. Focus on the Present – take it one day at a time instead of overwhelming yourself with the unknown of the future

6. Focus on the Positive – seemingly obvious, but focus on the “good” instead of the “bad”

7. Don’t Beat Yourself Up – sometimes your worst critic is yourself. When you’re tempted to cast the first stone, take a step back and ask, “Would I treat my friend like this?” If the answer is no, then set the rock down and allow yourself some grace

8. Find Your Cheerleader – we all need someone who believes in us; whether it’s a coach, a spouse, a child, a teacher, or a mentor, be sure to find someone who will encourage you along the way

9. Establish Rituals – establish a routine and stop thinking about the final results; this can help prevent your brain from getting in the way; Nike said it well, “Just Do It!”

10. Practice Up – whenever possible, train or practice with someone above your experience level; this will force you to grow and become a stronger competitor, allowing for more success on race day

As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t. You’re right.”

Take the first steps today to developing and conditioning your mental toughness to make you an even stronger competitor in whatever “race” you are competing!!

One thought on “The Mental Games

  1. Kristen, this is an awesome column! Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and insights about staying in the game, preparing for future events and for overcoming the overwhelming desire to quit when the going gets tough. I love what the Tough Mudder emphasizes too; to work as a team! “Dirt Happens” worked and played as a team and there were those who found new hope in realizing a healthy routine and outcome. You inspired your team, you organzied the details and you saw to the finish a success and fun outcome! I was so pleased to be a support spectator and photographer for Dirt Happens and even more pleased to have such a great family!!!! Awesome and WELL DONE!
    Auntie Karen

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