Monday, October 25, 2010

Mind Games Pt 3: Self Talk

It seems I've been thinking about this post for weeks, so I decided it was time to get a grip and put it down on paper - this one is about Self Talk. Whether we like it or not, all of us have an internal dialogue going on telling us how we feel about ourselves, our plans, ambitions, our likes, our dislikes. This self talk shapes our world view and how we perceive ourselves within that world.

For the most part it is unconscious and we often do not take time out to analyse the internal voice or try to take control of it. The voice is the product of our past and upbringing, and can define the very essence of who we are. The voice can be positive, self affirming, encouraging, but equally it can be damaging, limiting and blinkered.

It is important to listen to this voice and assess its impact on your life. If you are often talking to yourself in negative terms then you would do well to make a strong effort to change this. However this is not a self therapy session, but more a look at what I can do to improve specific performance.

The point to take away is that we can change what we say to ourselves and by changing this, we can have a direct impact on our mental outlook come race day and our performance in the race.

First and foremost, do you really believe you can achieve your goal? There is a very simple way to test this. Write down your goal in a simple sentence. For me this would be something along the lines of: I will qualify for Hawaii in Ironman Utah next May. Now stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and state your goal aloud. It is important that you say this aloud and not just in your mind. Gauge your reaction - it is surprisingly easy to assess how much conviction you have in your words.

Looking back to last year, the first time I tried this, I did not believe myself. I wanted to believe but deep down I didn't. By race day I would say I was 90% convinced but not 100%. I try this now and I do believe - it is a firm conviction and I am willing to take whatever steps are necessary.

If you feel yourself less than 100% then you need to take charge and improve that internal voice. In fact we need to take charge even if we do believe - there's more to it than simple confidence. What are the specific steps to take?

The visualization techniques I have already discussed are very useful here and you can use these in conjunction with the following suggestions. The first step is writing an Ultimate Intention Statement (UIS). I give full credit for this to my friend Robby in this post. I'll also link to the youtube video showing how Dirk Bockel has used this technique to great effect.

The UIS is a succinct statement of what you will do on race day and how you will feel as you achieve your goals and dreams. You will read this statement regularly (daily is good if you can manage this, and again aloud is best). What will happen is that you are changing your mind to truly believe that your desired outcome will actually become reality - it will not be a surprise on race day, it will be a deep felt conviction that will give you the strength to prepare in the manner you need to prepare and to execute accordingly, to overcome the inevitable obstacles that will rear their ugly heads on the way. You may hit setbacks but because of your belief you will handle them and they will not get the better of you.

Belief is important, because you do not suddenly become a Hawaii qualifier on race day - you need to believe it long before race day and become that person months before. It is what we do now, today, that determines what we will do when the start gun fires.

Ok so you have your UIS and you are stating it aloud to yourself on a regular basis - what else can you do? For your visualization sessions, you can write scripts for scenarios to practice, whether they be simply sections of the race, or how you will cope in adverse conditions.

Also, assess your feelings from your B & C races, even your hard training sessions and be vigilant for negative feedback. Pay attention to how you can change negativity to lessons to learn and areas to focus on.

Last weekend I did a half marathon in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast. It started with 3 miles on a shingle beach and then proceeded to take me over 4 brutal climbs with equally precipitous descents. Sure there was some stunning scenery and glorious sunshine, but you tend not to be thinking that as you are reduced to a walk with your heart rate firmly in the red zone.

It was hard and afterward I realised 2 things. Firstly my capacity to endure pain needs to be improved - I found it too easy to back off when it began to really hurt. And secondly my competitive spirit is not as strong as it could be. I dropped 3 places in the final flat half mile as I wasn't prepared to dig deep and truly didn't care about my final placing. That's all very well in an unimportant 'fun' race in the off season, or actually, no it's not very well at all - it's dangerous to get into bad habits. Now I realise these weaknesses and now I can build them into my various preparations.

To wrap up, be conscious of your internal dialogue and strive to make it a positive and strengthening voice. Often our limitations are not real, they are self imposed by our own belief systems. Take charge.

Now it's time for me to take a dose of my own medicine. I'm writing this on the train to Portsmouth where I will be doing the Great South Run in about 2 hours time. After the jump, it'll be the race report..

1 comment:

  1. It's cool reading the Great South Run race report and then this entry. Shows you were prepared. Good stuff. I may even tweet. The world needs to know.