Mental Toughness Training
BE POSITIVE. “Every day, there is a dialogue going on in your mind,” says Cosgrove. “These thoughts are usually a mixture of outside stimuli and your own beliefs about yourself.” Some will be negative, but to be successful, you must focus on the ones that make you feel better about yourself. It sounds like corny advice, but you’d be hard- pressed to find a successful person who doesn’t practice it. “If you even think you can’t finish a marathon,” says Cosgrove, “You can’t.”
An easy way to stay in a positive frame of mind is to create a mission statement that gets you pumped up. Take the time to consider your reason for running a marathon, competing in a particular contest, gaining 10 pounds of muscle, or whatever your goal. “If you have a powerful reason why, you can get through anything,” says Cosgrove. “Make this ‘why’ your mission statement and repeat it to yourself during your training.” Anytime you catch yourself slacking, questioning your motivation, or feeling like you want to quit, repeat your mission statement.
TALK TO YOURSELF. You should be your own coach. “Speak to yourself in the second person with statements such as, ‘You are going to give this every- thing you have,’” says Cosgrove. It can simulate the extra bit of motivation a real coach would provide. It also allows you to control what kind of encouragement your “coach” gives—as discussed above, you may respond better to one kind of advice than another.
“Learning to talk positively to yourself when the going gets tough takes practice,” says Cosgrove, “but you’ll get better at it.” Then, on race day (or whatever your particular challenge is), you’ll be able to talk yourself into a second wind.
VISUALIZE. “Before you even step under the bar for a squat or pick up a dumbbell,” says Joe Stankowski, C.P.T., a former powerlifting and strongman competitor, “your set should be mentally done.” Imagine the steps you’ll take to get into position and the way your body will look performing the movement, and rehearse each repetition in your mind. Think about how all that will feel to you. “Because it’s already been done in your mind,” says Stankowski, “all you have to do is repeat it with your body.”
“I like to think of myself as the under- dog,” says Ferruggia, who avoids failure by competing in impromptu lifting competitions with his pro-athlete clients (often beating them). “I think of the shame I’ll feel if my lifting partner outdoes me. When that’s not enough, I picture him threatening my family, and that if I do not lift this weight for the required reps, he will act upon those threats.”
MEDITATE. Various forms of meditation have been used for thousands of years for almost any purpose you can fathom, including reduction of stress, enhanced mental clarity, and simple relaxation. But you don’t have to get all New-Agey to make it work. Skip the candles and Enya tunes and instead just focus on clearing your mind of extraneous thoughts and mentally preparing yourself for the upcoming contest or confrontation. “One of the biggest challenges guys have when they start meditating is knowing if they’re doing it correctly,” says Stankowski. In some instances, you may feel you just can’t concentrate well enough to get into a meditative state. In that case, check out the meditation technique offered by centerpointe.com, which will start you off with a free demo CD. “Their technology uses sound to provide the exact stimulus your brain needs to go into meditation,” says Stankowski. “You will feel calmer in minutes.”
GET UNCOMFORTABLE. You can’t settle into a routine and expect to make progress. If you’re trying to be a tougher runner, then a couple of times a month you need to practice running a little longer or faster than you’re used to. These workouts should be at random—put your running shoes on one day and decide you’re going to take it to the limit. The same logic applies to the weight room and life in general. “Take acting lessons, go skydiving, or learn the tango,” says Stankowski. “Just as progression is an important part of training, applying any challenging stimulus to your life will give you a greater ability to handle stress of all kinds.” It teaches you problem-solving skills and critical thinking, both of which can help you tough out any number of situations.
BE PREPARED. Endurance athletes have a saying: “Nothing new on race day.” Meaning if you’ve prepared your- self for everything, you’ll be ready for anything. You should know well ahead of a race what you are going to eat, wear, and even think about that day. Naturally, you can’t be prepared for every eventuality, but try to be anyway. Anticipate any problems that could arise, and have a solution in mind. During a triathlon, these could include flat bicycle tires, getting your goggles knocked off during the swim, or getting blisters on your feet. “Knowing you have done everything possible to get to your goal will help you mentally,” says Cosgrove. “When it comes to the event you are training for, you can go into it with peace of mind.” Once you have that, you’ll be surprised by just how far you can go.