Based on my recent Facebook posting regarding Good days and Bad Days, I would like to follow up on this theme, or at least add to it, if you will indulge me.
It should be simple enough to understand that a positive attitude helps, and a negative attitude hinders, performance. Regardless of how you interpret various situations, one aspect that needs mention is how important it is to stay in the moment— to focus on doing what you can do at that moment, and to not dwell on the past or project to the future.
One of the things I’ve noticed within the fine group of athletes I have raced against, with, and coached, is that those who have been most successful all have the innate gift of having the ability to put what is not important out of their minds until after the training or race is done. Maybe this means they have bad hearing combined with poor short term memory, but although it is frustrating when they can’t remember the workout I just told them, I prefer to think of it as a bonus and not a hindrance—when something happens, they deal with it calmly and appropriately, and then forget about it. They don’t worry about what happened and they don’t worry about the next thing that could happen because they are confident in their ability to deal with issues as much as they are confident in their ability to compete at the level they want.
There is a snippet by Mark Gungor, a psychologist, here:
In it, he explains the difference between a man’s brain and a woman’s brain. While I totally disagree with any disparaging remarks about women’s brains, I absolutely agree with his assessment of a man’s brain. Or at least my man’s brain.
I spend almost all my training hours in various boxes—I don’t need music, I don’t need outside stimulation to do my workouts. When I ride, I think about riding and am in my pedaling circles box. When I swim, I am in my swim box. When I race, I am in my race box. There is a part of my brain that is working to filter the necessary NOW information from the necessary LATER information, just like the spam filter on my computer—it’s running in the background and it separates what I need to know from what I do not need to know and puts them in their respective boxes. Anything that is irrelevant to my performance, though it may get noticed, gets stored for processing in the LATER box.
If you think about it, any high level athlete that performs on a huge stage for big rewards has an ability to focus that exemplifies what Mark is talking about—the golfer who sinks the $1 000 000 putt with ten thousand people watching has to be in his/her box.. The professional basketball player with the game winning, last second three point shot sees everything on the court until they are ready to take their shot, and then sees nothing but the net until after the release. Regular athletes might be in their box as well, but the walls of their box are not as strong as the professional one and a waving fan could intrude and make them lose sight of the goal. The pro box is tougher for the extraneous information to get into, so they make the shot. This drives home the fact the difference among people with similar abilities at any given task is often not the physical strength, but the mental strength and focus they possess.
As another example, when it comes down to a sprint finish with 100m to go in a race, it is likely the person who wants to beat the other most that will cross the line first. They may pay dearly for the effort after the race, but the thoughts of the price are in the LATER box, not the NOW box.
If you think about it even more, which I have done ad nausea, the simple phrases we hear when being taught the basic lessons in sport and life come to mind:
1. “Keep your eyes on the ball, Rick.”
2. “Look where you want to go on the bike, Rick.”
3. “Keep your eyes on your fries, Rick.”
4. “Think about what you are doing, Rick.”
5. “Run through the finish line, Rick.”
6. “Swim through to the wall at the end of every swim interval, Rick.”
7. “Watch out for that pothole, Rick.”—okay, so that one does not work, because as soon as you look at it, you step in it, thanks to point #2.
Having 30 years of interval training experience, I have always felt one of the benefits of doing the interval workouts on the track or road is that you get a chance to practice turning your focus on and off and adjusting the levels required. Laugh and giggle during the warm up, recovery and cool down, but when it is time to run hard, focus. Between intervals, put the focus on the back burner, but keep it ready. With 10-15 seconds until the start of the next interval, start cranking up the focus again so it is fully on at go time.
This is absolutely something every one of you should work on. I suggest a special focus be put on this aspect in every workout. Start with trying to manage 2-3 minutes at a time of great focus before letting other thoughts intrude, then try again. And again, And again.
Hope this helps
And yes, it does bug the heck out of my wife when I am in my nothing box J