Q. Why is it mentally so tough to PUSH myself?
A. Have you ever noticed that as soon as you start to think about how much pain you are in, the pain gets even worse? Controlling the messages you send to yourself is the key to sustaining intense effort. Your perception of the pain you are experiencing has an impact on your ability to tolerate it. Instead of focusing on feeling miserable, connect the feeling of pain to getting stronger. Connect the feeling of pain to accomplishing your goals. Associate the pain with something positive versus something negative. Fighting against the pain only makes it worse. Learn to accept the pain and appreciate it as part of the experience. Here are some powerful thoughts to try out when you are deep in the pain cave and want to run out!
* “Everybody is suffering.” Repeat this phrase to yourself. You are not the only one out there in pain. Your competitors might have their game face on, but they are hurting just as much as you are.
* “The pain will be over soon. I can do anything for ____ minutes.” Knowing that there is a finite end to the suffering you are currently enduring can help you hold out just a little longer.
* “Suffering gets me closer to my goal.” This is a powerful message to send to yourself. You are basically changing your perception of the physical feeling of pain from something negative to something positive. Connect the feeling of pain to getting stronger and accomplishing your goals.
Practice controlling your thoughts so that they work for you instead of against you!
If you have a negative reaction to the feeling of physical pain that comes with an intense effort, your muscles will tense in response. An increase in muscular tension will burn more energy, which slows you down and can burn you out before the end of your race. An increase in muscular tension can also increase the intensity of pain that you feel. The best thing you can do for your performance is relax, relax, relax! Make sure you aren’t adding any extra physical tension as you compete. Cyclists often contract muscles in their upper body that aren’t necessary for optimal performance. Too much muscular tension will interfere with the execution of a motor skill. Too much tension = poor performance.
The greatest tools you have for helping your body relax are your brain and your breathing. Use your brain to tell your body to relax. Practice this during your next training session. Every km or so, remind yourself to relax your hands and relax your face. Usually the next thing that happens is that you drop your shoulders (another area that holds too much muscle tension). Try it right now and see what happens! You are basically sending yourself a message to chill out. The next piece is to control your breathing. Your brain and your muscles require oxygen for optimal functioning. Taking full and complete breaths helps relax the body and calm the mind. Shallow breathing delivers less air per breath than full and complete breaths, which causes an imbalance between the oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. Taking full and complete breaths can help slow the heart rate down and delivers adequate oxygen to your brain and muscles. Your muscles won’t work without oxygen and you can increase the amount of oxygen that gets to your muscles by increasing the quality of your breathing.
If the ability to suffer plays a part in being a competitive athlete, then it makes sense to work on your ability to suffer. Without the physical conditioning, working on the mental skills involved with the psychology of suffering won’t do much for you. Mental skills don’t make up for a lack of physical ability. You need to prepare for putting out big efforts both physically and mentally. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be. If you feel like your tolerance for suffering pales in comparison to your competitors, mental preparation has to be added into your training plan. Prepare ahead of time for what is to come and take control of your performance.