2015 is in full swing and I can sense there is a great deal of EPIC in the air - a good sign that there have been some pretty amazing and ambitious goals set for this year! From aiming to increase your race distance or your training load, or simply biting the bullet and starting a sport you have always wanted to pursue; whatever your goals may be, there will be many of us getting set to push our limits in 2015, and I for one am so excited!
For those of who ready to start pushing their physical and mental limits, this month we are going to have a look at how to become more focused in training and deal with the mental ‘chitter-chatter’ or ‘noise’ that we so often encounter in training.
It has taken many hours, if not days by now, for me to realise that no matter what training I am doing, my brain is the ‘noisiest’ for the first quarter of any session. If its a 15 kilometre long run, then I know that for the first 3 -4 kilometres my brain will be banging on with comments like: ‘these pants don’t feel right'; ‘my rhythm is so off today'; ‘my hamstring hurts already'; ‘why did I ever put this song on my running playlist?’ Four kilometres of steady-streaming garbage that used to have the potential to make or break a session.
Naturally we tend to try and counter negative thought patterns with positive reinforcement or by challenging the each thought, but when the nonsense is coming thick and fast for a sustained period, these tactics can prove rather exhausting. Sports psychologists have in recent years acknowledged this and there is now a great deal of research into the benefits of a Mindful approach to training and combating negative thought patterns.
Mindfulness is most basically defined as a mental state whereby you become very aware of being present in your current environment. It is a practice whereby you acknowledge and accept thoughts and observations without assigning judgement or meaning to them. Many people are familiar with Mindfulness as it has been used for many years in conjunction with yoga and meditation, and more recently used as an approach to aid with conditions such as disordered eating and anxiety. In the sporting realm it is starting to be linked to more heightened physical performance and achieving a ‘flow’ state.
Here are some very basic exercises I do to integrate Mindfulness into my training which you may wish to consider for your own.
1. Stop talking. Learning to be quiet may be a difficult for some, especially if you train in a pair or group, or love to talk. This also applies to internal ‘talk’ - that needs to also cease. A way to start practicing this external and internal quiet is to find a clock, and watch it tick over for one minute, focusing on the time ticking over and nothing else. Do this one before you start your session to ensure you are ‘tuned in’.
2. Get your gear off. Once a week I like to do a ‘for the love of it’ run, where I don’t take my Garmin, music or any other technology. I pick the distance and the route that I feel like, and go for it. Without music, looking at split times or current pace, you find yourself listening to your surroundings, soaking up not only the noises but feeling which direction the breeze is blowing (and not worrying if its a headwind), the warmth of the sun - all of those things that usually go unnoticed on a ‘business’ session.
3. Be sensational. Start paying attention to sensations your body is experiencing. What does the water feel like on your skin as you’re moving through the water? Is it warm, or cool? How are your lips moving with your breathing? If you are walking or running, notice your foot strike (and not in a technique analysis).
4. Focus on breathing. Pay attention to your breathing, both the depth and the rhythm. Acknowledge the in breath and the out breath.
5. Accept and acknowledge negative thoughts. This is a biggie for me. Rather than countering the negative thoughts, simply acknowledge them and let them pass. Focus on your surroundings, your body sensations or your breathing and know that the ‘noise’ will pass.
Now I’m not saying that these will cure one of those sessions where everything goes wrong or feels wrong, however by putting some of these tips into practice, it may just see you through and getting the job done - which on those days is a victory in itself.
For more detailed information on practising mindfulness in your daily life, have a look at sites like www.mindfulness.org, or mindfulnesstrainingtoronto.com
About the Author
Leah is the Founder of Body Positive Athletes, a community who celebrates the physical diversity of athleticism and fitness. A sponsored endurance athlete and mum, this Aussie is classed as a global thought-leader in the area of Body Positive Fitness and in promoting the notion that the term ‘athletic’ defines a lifestyle and not a body type.