Mental Toughness Strategy #3 for the Workouts – Optimizing Positive Self-Talk (Part 5)

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(In the last part in this series on using positive self-talk to help you get through the WODs, I talked about how important it to stay calm in the face of fear. Fear is the most debilitating form of negativity. If you let your fear get the best of you, it can be a major setback to your growth to mental toughness development. It is essential to that you learn how to neutralize fear when are up against it. If not, even the occasional moments of living in fear can destroy all your ambitions of being a stronger and more courageous person).

The reason we the fear the WODs is that we give them way too much credit. It is totally normal to feel a bit anxious about some the WODs in this program. Remind yourself constantly that they are designed to unnerve you. What’s expected out of you is how you respond to the fear and negative uprising that you will have to deal with. What happens in a frantic state is that the mind tends to blow everything out of proportion. Your imagination runs wild and makes the WOD harder than it really is while at the same time you depreciate what you actually can do. Constantly underestimating yourself is what led you to your current dissatisfaction with your life.

So, accept that it is a given that the WODs are going to be tough, but also remind yourself often that you have what it takes to get through themWhen confronted with things that seem insurmountable, you must approach the challenge with a calm mindset. This will enable you to change your perception of the task as something that is very attainable. The skill for you is to learn how to break the WOD into parts with mini-segments instead of letting the thought of the whole WOD seem too daunting. For example, if the WOD requires you to do 100 pull-ups, break the workout down to smaller sections with reachable goals. Instead of thinking about the overwhelming task of 100 pull-ups, redirect your mind to think of doing 10 sets of 10 pull-ups or whatever sounds very reasonable to you. Continue your positive and encouraging self-talk by telling yourself over and over again these achievable mini-goals such as “I’m tired, but I can do a lot of 8 sets of 5 reps” or “Doing 8 sets of 5 reps is within my reach.” The most important thing is that you know specifically what your reachable goals are. For some of my clients, they like to repeat their mini-goals silently in their minds while others literally express themselves vocally. Don’t feel like you are a moron if you catch yourself talking to yourself.  Elite athletes do it all the time.  This is another example of how CrossFit training most likely resembles an athletic playing field where one can see and hear others verbally encouraging themselves and others. I am a loud mouth myself with my positive intentions.

Another method that can help you counter the negative thought pattern is to override them with a positive visualization. I know earlier I said visualization is a crappy technique in itself, but if you use positive imaging followed by an action, it is very effective. There are many studies that show athletic performance can be enhanced if you precede it with a positive mental image of the action. I teach my clients to do “mental rehearsing” when they have a very challenging task in front of them. You’ve got to expect you can do the task and get it done before you actually do it. Scientific studies suggest “mental rehearsing” actually stimulate your central nervous system to pre-activate your muscles so it when it comes time to do the actual movements, you will have more strength and confidence to do the task.

Breaking the WODs into attainable parts and mental rehearsing are skills that take some practice, but will be very beneficial when you are faced with workouts that seemed impossible. Take, for example, “Murph.” The “Muprh” workout is a mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats followed with another mile run.  If you start the workout with the run and let your mind think ahead to all the pushups, pull ups and squats you have to do, it can be overwhelming and exhausting on the mind. You will be physically worn out very soon. If this happens, your morale will be demolished. In the heat of the battle, your morale must be protected, so learn to get through some of these workouts one step at a time with a lot positive self-talk and imagery.  Concentrating on competing one task at a time will challenge your mental focus to stay in the moment, but more importantly to teach you how to manage physical pain and fatigue. In my opinion, the negativity most of my clients feel is the anticipation of the discomfort that is coming up. If you can teach your mind to stay positive in the present, the future becomes less frightening.

Both breaking the workout into smaller goals and using positive imagery are effective methods to overcome the fear that some of these WODs can create. I wish I could go on and come up with an easy to follow 5 step guide on how to overcome fear, but I can’t. If somebody told you they could, they’re just full of crap and trying to make a buck from you. In other words, it comes from experience. With this mental toughness program, you’ll have ample time to test your courage.

Today’s WOD –

5 sets

20 burpees

400 meter run

I have yet to meet anybody that enjoys burpees. From experienced CrossFitters to top level conditioning athletes, any WOD with a hundred total reps burpees will make anybody sick to their stomach in anticipation of the upcoming misery. I don’t care how fit you are. A hundred burpees is still a hundred burpees. There’s no avoiding it. This WOD is going to suck bad. So to help you neutralize the mental agony of doing a ton of burpees, I highly recommended you break down the burpees to sets that you can handle. For example, instead of being mentally worn down with the daunting task of doing 25 unbroken burpees, break it down to doing two sets of 10 reps. By making the set more attainable, you will calm your mind and prevent you from freaking out before starting the WOD. This training is about teaching you to view any challenge as something you know you can beat. Breaking down a brutal WOD or personal problem to mini-goals is one way to do this. You always want to approach any adversity as something you know you can overcome.This is the positive mindset that I am advocating and not the rah-rah “You can do anything if you are positive” bullshit that many self-help advocates preach about.

After you do the first set of the burpees and the 400 meter run, you will feel like you need an oxygen tank to help you finish the WOD. You will be gasping heavily for air, your leg muscles will be burning and your mind will come up with dozens of logical excuses for you not  to continue with the workout. So accept that the self-whining is inevitable and be ready to counter it with your positive visualization technique. Mentally seeing yourself doing the WOD has an immediate calming effect on the mind and your soaring heart rate. The more your negative thoughts try to get you to surrender the fight, the more specific you must get with your visualization. Seeing yourself continue the WOD in a strong manner is one of the best way to make the negativity shut the fuck up.

But, don’t watch yourself too long. The problem some of my clients have with their visualization technique is that they spend too much time indulging themselves with their vision that it just becomes another form of procrastination. The longer you wait to begin the next set, the more draining it will be on you mentally. A good general rule is that when your breathing slows down to being normal, start the next set.

Breaking down sets to attainable goals and using visualization technique may sound overly simplistic, but they sure do work. This is the same mental procedures that navy academy teach their young SEAL candidates in dealing with the physical strain and pressures of SEAL training. What they do is a billion times tougher than any 20 minute WOD on this site.

If it works for the toughest group of bad asses in the world, I have no doubt it can work for you as well.

Scaled back version of this WOD:

1.Do the burpees without the pushups.

2. Lower the reps of burpees per set to 15, 10, or 5.

3. Run or walk 200 meter instead.

Acceptable alternatives:

1 You can jump rope or run on a treadmill for a minute.

3 thoughts on “Mental Toughness Strategy #3 for the Workouts – Optimizing Positive Self-Talk (Part 5)”

  1. Love your take on positivity. Like you, I wanted to vomit when I hear those who are overly positive with nothing to show for it.

    I like the thought of me being an optimist, but i’m too much of a cynic to think I can completely shift gears.

    Nice and interesting points, though.

  2. Not another burpee WOD….

    I hate them, but I understand why you keep incorporating them into toughness training. They are the best teachers for mental strength development.

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