Building mental strength

Four-time Ironman World Champ and 220’s exclusive tri columnist talks about  getting her ‘mojo skyrocketing’

Without discipline, minor speed bumps turn into monsters. I’ll get you going faster than you can say Chariots of Fire

In the privacy of my own room, I sometimes crank out a few tunes. I might dance. I might dance and sing. Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life occasionally makes an appearance, followed by Mariah Carey’s Hero and finished off with Eminem’s Lose Yourself. What do these classics have in common? They send my mojo skyrocketing. Yes, despite my big, cheesy grin there are times when it’s hard to shift my backside and occasions when I feel immobilised by motivational malaise, lethargy, injury or downright bad luck.

That’s when mental strength matters. Without mental discipline, these minor speed bumps turn into mental monsters. So how do we nurture motivating thoughts and focus on the task at hand? The following are some of my tips to get you going faster than you can say ‘Chariots of Fire’…

Have a clear, realistic, yet ambitious goal. It should be written down and posted somewhere visible. Julie Dibens has a photo of Rinny [Mirinda Carfrae] and I in her turbo room to fuel her fire. It’s also crucial to know why you want to achieve that goal. You must be passionate about it, rather than simply doing something because you feel you ought to. When your motivation wanes, keep the goal at the forefront of your mind and know that each session is a step closer to achieving it.

Create a strategy to give direction, structure and prevent procrastination. The plan should be realistic and tailored to you and your life. It shouldn’t only include the exercise sessions themselves but all aspects of rest and recovery. Although consistency is key, it’s also important to mix things up every once in a while – it keeps you fresh and stops you getting stuck in a routine rut. Also, create an environment that supports the plan. For example, find a gym, run track or pool that’s convenient and affordable; keep your kit at the office so you can do a quick session in your lunch hour; or bike to work.

Set smaller goals to make the long-term goal seem less overwhelming. These stepping stones can be in the form of difficult training sessions or B races, or you could even split an individual session/race into smaller, more manageable segments. If you have a big swim workout, say 30 x 100m, just think about getting through the first one, not the next 29. During Kona last year, I got myself through the race by mentally breaking it down into lots of separate stages, whether it be getting to the next swim buoy or aid station, or even just taking one step forward. Giving my brain the reward of having completed these smaller goals created tons of positive momentum.

Use music, movies, poems or inspiring stories. Create a playlist that’s guaranteed to get you jumping, or use my motivation/coaching downloads from AudioFuel [www.audiofuel.co.uk]. If music doesn’t tickle your triathlon fancy, listen to a podcast or lecture, or read your favourite book/poem; I carry a dog-eared copy of Rudyard Kipling’s If with me everywhere. Watching uplifting movies of others overcoming huge hurdles to achieve their dreams can also ignite your fire. I’m always inspired by Team Hoyt’s I Can video, and a quick peak at Kona DVDs the night before a race never fails to get my blood pumping!

Keep a log of your workouts. Make sure you highlight any accomplishments and successes; note how they make you feel and then celebrate getting past these little milestones. When you’re flagging, look back and recall times when you’ve overcome troubles. If you’ve done it before you can do it again.

Sometimes we need others to help motivate, guide and encourage us. This could be a coach, training partner, your spouse or children, local sports club or even an online forum. Extrinsic motivation can also come from making your intentions public. The next time you’re wavering about a workout, go on Facebook or Twitter and say: “I’m just about to do this session…” This will give you the urge, and accountability, to deliver.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the importance of training the brain, so you have the mental strength to overcome mojo malaise. First, you need to build confidence so that you truly believe you’re capable of achieving your goal. Second, have a mantra to repeat ad infinitum. Mine is ‘Never, ever give up’. I even write it on my race wristband and my water bottles. Third, spend time on visualisation. Picture yourself strong, confident and successful, and imagine how good it’ll feel to cross the line.

So, next time you’re injured and feeling low, or just can’t get yourself out the door, remember that overcoming those hurdles is going to be the foundation of your success.

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