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Sports, Sports Psychology

Peak Performance and the Olympic Athlete’s Mindset

In my continued efforts to understand the factors that set high performance athletes apart from the rest of the field I came across a triathletes’s website (www.cruciblefitness.com) that contains some valuable information regarding pushing through pain, keeping focused on the goal, and reaching for the prize. Rich Strauss is an Ironman competitor who shares his perspective on the realities of remaining focused when our bodies are screaming at us to quit, he states:

“I went through Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in January through March, 1996. It was the coldest winter in 100 years. For one exercise we had to negotiate a very long obstacle course, which included the Quigley, a small creek, covered in ice. The instructors had us break the ice with the butts of our M-16’s just so we could get in the water. For the exercise, I was the leader of a four man fire team. The other three guys were very thin runner types and they were absolutely suffering in the cold water. The instructor yelled at them and said “I didn’t put you in that water, you did. You asked for this. You have asked for the privilege of leading me and my Marines. You earn it in that water. Suck it up, Buttercup.”

The body will do amazing things, when driven by the single-minded focus created through clarity of purpose. In short, identify why you want to do this to yourself and then commit your head to driving your body to the edge of your physical envelope. In the words of Jack Palance in City Slickers, it’s the One Thing.

…The One Thing is whatever has motivated you to do this to yourself in the first place. Before the race you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and identify what your One Thing is. And this is no time for bullshit. Be completely honest because your body will play your bluff when the chips are down. You can’t lie to yourself out there…

Identify why you want to do the race before signing up. Are you doing it for you or to prove something to someone else? Be completely honest with yourself. “I’m doing this Ironman so I can earn a unique title that is mine forever.” One Thing = title of Ironman.

Take that One Thing and mate it with your race goals and expectations: “The title is important to me, not the time. I want to finish with a smile on my face.”

Remind yourself, daily, of your One Thing and the race goals and expectations you have built around it. Through this process your One Thing will provide clarity of purpose to your training. When the Phunometer is pegged during a 6 hour long ride, you’ll know why you are still out there.

In your mental rehearsals before the race, visualize the conversation between Mind and Body when the Body begins to question the Mind’s commitment to the One Thing. Prepare your rebuttal beforehand.

On race day, continually remind yourself of the One Thing. Focus completely on its accomplishment. Remember, you can never disappoint your friends or family. They will be proud of you regardless. However, you can let yourself down. In the end, the best we can do is follow our commitment to our One Thing.”

While this mindset may seem to be reserved for elite athletes it is a technique that holds value whatever the discipline. Each of us has a “race” to run, an obstacle to overcome or a task to accomplish.

Rich shares more in depth advice on running an Ironman at his website. My question for you is…what is your One Thing? Have you come to terms with being fully committed? Have you prepared a “rebuttal” for the argument your mind will give you when the heat gets turned up? In the upcoming weeks I will be discussing the issues of motivation and choice as it relates to initiating life change. For more information on mental focus check out this post and check back for updates!

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The Quotable Climber

"I believe that no man can be completely able to summon all his strength, all his will, all his energy, for the last desperate move, till he is convinced the last bridge is down behind him and there is nowhere to go but on." Heinrich Harrer
August 2008
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