Mental strategy is important in every athletic endeavor and arguably most aspects of life. Most experienced athletes have developed some form of “mental game” or cue to aid in performance and minimize anxiety. Often we have a running dialogue happening at all times… whether we are tuned in to this is another story. I’d like to preface this by saying that developing a mental game is not something you need to buy on cassette from a late night infomercial. This is personal, deeper and more philosophical. It is about searching your mind for that which motivates you, tuning out the world and tuning in your own mental dialogue.
Often, when gearing up or mentally rehearsing for an event, the task may appear too imposing. I recall the years when my working weight for a back squat was in the 200 range. As I’ve progressed the range is closer to the mid to high 300 range. For me, few tasks can be as imposing as the back squat. Whether it’s the night before or the moments leading up to it, I’m prone to performance anxiety for this particular lift when the weight starts to pile on. I remember early on when my numbers began moving from the high 200’s into the low 300’s. Gradually, I was being taxes with weights that were more psychological than mental. In preparing for this I would quietly tell myself, “welcome to the new normal.” The process of telling yourself this is right and this is who you are now can be powerful.
Few lifts can be physically and mentally challenging for lifters than the Snatch. This technical lift combines strength with speed; technique with violent aggression. Given the nature of the lift and the level of commitment, it can be imposing. This feeling can easily extend to the Clean and Jerk or any other lift that forces a person to accelerate their body under a heavy load. Early on I would try all sorts of aggressive tactics to prime myself for the action, with little success. For me, quietly addressing the barbell with poise and focus is far more beneficial than thumping my chest and kicking a garbage can. I’ve never been one for the theatrics of the weight room!
One day it occurred me the feelings of agitation I felt stemmed from nervous fear. Some part of my brain feared the barbell as the weight increased to a particular increment. Standing in front of the barbell one day I quietly told the barbell, “I will not fear you.’ Kind of corny? Perhaps. This has become something that I quietly state out loud as I address the barbell. I say it through the warmup and into maximal lifts. I do not scream it dramatically but I do not whisper it without conviction. With each statement and every successful lift I draw power, emboldened by my ability to confront the challenge. Does this mean I PR or lift successfully every day? No. But I will not let this challenge be the reason I fail to execute the task, regardless of the outcome.
A few final thoughts on the mental game…
Trust your preparation. If you aren’t doing the work or if your programming is not consistent they it is difficult to draw confidence. I like to remind myself to “trust my preparation.” This includes trusting your coaches, your programming and your work ethic. If you’ve done things right you should have nothing to fear.
Don’t be afraid to say it out loud, even if it sounds corny. There is power in hearing your own voice. When you hear your own voice speak with conviction and commitment it sends a powerful message to the brain. Be defiant. Be relentless. Be vocal.
There is no Tony Robbins approach that will help you better than your own self reflection on the task. People who work for extrinsic motivators can only go so far. People who work for intrinsic motivators have no limits. The source of motivation, inspiration and mental focus lies in each of us. We simply have to quiet our minds and find that voice.