If you have ever attempted any endurance-based sport, it is likely that you have thought very seriously about quitting at some point during a very hard training session or race. Endurance-based challenges, as exciting as they are, bring the element of taking your mind and body to the limit.
In this blogDavey Black Triathlon’s Mental Health Counsellor Alejandro Rivera takes a look at the ways triathlon club Melbourne, Ireland and Ukraine athletes can hack our brains and embrace the challenges set out before us.
*Any of the below advice needs to be actioned in consultation with your coach to first help build in rest and recovery, and plan your training around your work, social and family commitments. The strategies outlined below are to help overcome the issue of repeated self-sabotage, not simply to help you push through the pain barrier.
In the first instance, you need to define if you are stepping back for a real reason, or if you are using the reason as an excuse to leave this challenge behind. This can be defined based on how realistic the reason for going out is. A proper reason to stop training or facing the challenge might be because of a physical injury, mental fatigue or even a personal situation. An excuse can be any reason that you personally and truly know that it is just there to get you away from the challenge. You might be able to convince everyone around you, but deep inside you will know if the reason you choose to step out of your personal challenge is a valid one or just an excuse.
Once you have defined this, there are many ways to stop the practice of “quitting” and embrace that challenge you have ahead. These steps are made to hack your brain into embracing the challenge.
Analyse your previous exits.
As with any skill acquisition, quitting a training session, a race, or aspects from other areas of life such jobs or relationships are made of continuous repetition, or “Practice”. These are behaviours that repeat a pattern and are self-reinforced. It is important to analyse what happens every time you decide to step down from a challenge. What thoughts went through your head? What happened that triggered those thoughts? When, exactly, in the process you decided to quit?
If analysed properly, and after repeating this process several times, you will realise that there are certain elements that keep repeating themselves. You will begin to find patterns and understand what makes you want quit and how you convince yourself to quit.
Prepare your brain.
Analyse those moments that you dread and prepare yourself for them. You can use a ritual that you enjoy like using your favourite run singlet, listening to a motivational podcast or song before starting the activity. The objective of this is to promote the production of dopamine and get you in the zone mentally. These types of rituals will help you be mentally warmed up for the challenge ahead.
Find an environment that nurtures your challenge.
Try to develop a network and environment around you that actively helps you engage in the challenges that you are facing. Find groups, clubs, or friends with the same interests and utilise the squad environment. To help nurture your passion, seek out books, webinars or social media channels that can allow you to develop your knowledge. Surround yourself with places, people and objects that allow you to properly engage in whatever activity or challenge you are thinking of engaging in.
Break down the challenge.
Thinking about a Marathon in terms of a 42.2 km run can feel daunting. Instead, think of it as four 10 kms and a 2 km finish! This way you can trick your brain into making it feel easier and more achievable. Even if it is the same distance, tricking your brain into negotiating small chunks at a time will raise the probabilities of you getting it done. Mathematically you know it is still a Marathon, but your brain doesn’t have to know that until you are on the other side.
Friends and social support.
Friends don’t let friends exercise alone. They will push you into going the distance. The power of social praise and encouragement is often underestimated. You can do amazing things if you feel and believe that you are not alone in the task. Not only will having the support around you allow you to push harder, but they will also keep you accountable and focused at all times.
The mental endurance required to reach your full potential also requires training. Just like training our bodies physically, we need to train our minds. It is a matter of working through the challenges and embracing the discomfort. You need to practice these skills so that you have a full understanding of how it feels and when you wish to quit. This mental training will help you develop a kit-bag of strategies and mind-tricks to ensure that your body keeps moving forward towards your goals and beyond.