Developing An ‘Open Mind’: A Positive Outlook For A Positive Performance

“Nobody who ever accomplished anything big or new or worth raising a celebratory fist in the air did it from their comfort zone.” -Jen Sincero , You Are A Badass

Along my bedside lies a little brown notebook which was collecting dust up until a few weeks ago. My intention is to form some sort of habit involving positive reflection in order to shed some light on my often stressful work week. The notebook has sections where it asks you to open and close your day with 3 things you’re thankful for followed by a daily positive affirmation. While my gratitude for certain things change week to week, one thing has remained static as the Open has kicked off- I have decided that every day I should write the same positive affirmation, “I am a regionals athlete”.

With the Open in full swing, establishing a proper mindset has been essential. I’ve put in all of the physical work, now it’s time to flex the Jell-O mold that lies between my ears. Do I think that I’m a regionals athlete? The humble and highly self-aware side of me wants to say, “Not yet”, but I don’t see why I can’t try to convince myself via pen and paper. There’s a lot that can be said about how self-confidence can enhance performance.

My favorite quote on the subject came up recently, while I was watching a documentary about the 2017 World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall. He describes himself as arrogant and how that mindset has ultimately lead him to success. Defining the difference between arrogance and confidence, he states, “Arrogance is thinking that you’re better than everybody else, confidence is knowing that you’re better than everyone else. But to be confident, you’ve first got to be arrogant.” On a lesser PG-13 note, he also added, “I just kept fu**in kidding myself. I think that’s what you have to do to be successful. You just have to keep fu**in kidding yourself, that what you’re doing is going to lead to a big dream someday. Once I’ve said I’m going to do something, I’ve got to achieve it, otherwise you look a di*k. I suppose that’s a big thing in human nature: nobody wants to look a di*k.”

Nope, I certainly do not, Eddie Hall. But, I do hate the word ‘arrogant’ and don’t think I’m capable of embodying any sort of character surrounding that word. In the context of how it was used, however, I believe that to an extent I could afford to think a little bit more like him. Thanks to this forum, I’ve publicly claimed my goals. Now, it’s time to suck it up, and embrace my underlying desire to be the best.

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of self-confidence and believing that I am a winner. Belief, just like anything else in the gym, is a skill that I need to train. I have begun this process by taking out my little brown notebook, identifying my “can nots”, so I can eventually kick them in the arse, and turn them into “cans”. Let’s just say, I plan on continuing this habit throughout the open, and will have that little brown notebook full by the end of 2018.

Mentality In The Moment: Enter The Pain Cave

Now that I’ve got the mental prep covered, let’s talk about how I’m going to tackle those mid-WOD mind games. I was scrolling across my FitBot the other week when this quote popped up and it cracked me up because it couldn’t be more true.

“In training, listen to your body. When in competition, tell your body to shut up,” -Rich Froning

There’s no way around it… going all out on a workout feels like dookie. I’m a physical therapist, so of course I value and embrace a healthy lifestyle including treating each training day with respect to those variables. However, if you consider yourself a competitive athlete and you are not at risk for an orthopedic injury, you better be going ball$ to the wall on that WOD- no excuses.

Five weeks is a marathon and there is little to no chance that I will be feeling at the top of my game for the entirety of the Open. I’ve been doing my best to work on some mindful practice in order to learn how to maintain mental endurance throughout the process. I must learn to “embrace the suck”. Everybody has a different, yet similar understanding of #TheSuck. To me, it’s that point where your muscles and lungs burn so badly that you’d rather lick the entire length of a subway rail before picking up that barbell to do another thruster. This is the turning point where your thinking starts to transition quickly from “F yeah, I’m going to the muthertruckin games!” to “This hurts, you are weak because this hurts, you won’t be finishing where you want to because of this moment,” Fail. Army. Nation.

I do this, maybe you do this, and at many points in time, elite athletes have done this as well. It’s natural, but it is an unacceptable way to think in the moment and I want it to stop. I have come up with a couple of ways to channel my inner anti-suck-fest mindset so far:

Assault bike is my meditation– believe it or not, this is where I’ve done some of my best work. The assault bike used to make me cry. I mean physically produce tears. For no good reason other than it’s uncomfortable and I hate it. Which automatically means I needed to sit on that thing as often as possible until I learned to love it. When “the suck” starts to settle in, I take a deep breath, and counter with positive self-talk. “You’re fine. It doesn’t hurt that bad. You’re panicking for no reason. Are you dead? Crying is stupid, it solves nothing, just relax. If you keep pushing, you will be on that podium.”

Focus externally– A mental distraction can carry you a long way. The worst kind of pain for me these days is grip fatigue. I did A LOT of farmer carries this year, so this was the best time to practice this technique. Whenever the pain kicks in, I shift my focus towards the texture or temperature of the farmer handle or the feeling of my feet hitting the ground. Fatigue is inevitable, but it will not help you if you fixate on it to the point where you fall short in your performance.

Breath control– Of course, it will depend on the stimulus of the workout, but focusing on my breath has been the ultimate mind numbing technique to weed out negative thoughts.

Positive Affirmations– My self-confidence is a work in progress, but I will start with my little brown notebook and my one and only daily positive affirmation, “I am a regionals athlete.”

The never ending self-improvement project can go down so many avenues, but when it comes to the mental toughness department, I’ve definitely made some big strides over the past year. Just a couple of weeks ago I was on a business retreat in Seattle with my physical therapy crew from Bespoke Treatments. We took an afternoon to learn about the Wim Hof Method, popularly known as a mindful practice involving body control to tolerate extreme temperatures.

The seminar ended with a cold plunge in Lake Washington. It was 37 degrees out and, as my body hit the water, I immediately started to cry and whimper. I was shaking like crazy so a coworker asked me if I wanted to come out of the water with him. I quickly replied, “Nope, I want to stay right here until I’m okay.” So I did. Once I told myself to Chill-TF-Out (literally), my body followed suit. Suddenly I felt warm, calm and in control. It was then that my coworker looked at me and said, “That was badass, you are a badass.” I threw a celebratory fist pump to myself and thought, “Yes, with a good deal of practice, I am.”

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