Mental training is a hot topic that has been talked about a lot for the last couple of years. You often hear people say that if your mind is strong, your athletic performance will be too. But what is mental training exactly? Is it as simple as positive thinking? Ralph Feitzinger, mental training expert, shares some specific examples of how you can use mental tricks to your benefit.
What is mental training?
The phrase “mental training” is composed of two words that at first may not seem to automatically go together. “Mental” means dealing with something intellectually, or thinking about it. The word “training” refers to exercises that are repeated several times to make long-lasting improvements to your performance. Thus, you train your mind to reach your personal goals. Mental training helps you awaken your inner powers. You can learn to apply the powers of your mind, and will in a targeted way at a desired point in time, whether that be in your daily life, career or sport. The more you train your mental abilities, the easier and more automatic the use of them will be.
Tip for beginners
Imagine you are walking through a meadow with very tall grass. After crossing the meadow, you turn around and try to see where you had walked. With a little effort and imagination you can make it out. Now imagine that you took the same route every day for the past few weeks. What do you think you will see when you turn around now and look? – Exactly, a new, clearly recognizable path! This path is a result of walking back and forth frequently. Mental training means walking new paths in our brain. The constant repetition carves your goal into your mind. Have fun walking!
Internal monologues and their effect
Everything in balance? You stand with both feet on the ground and are given the task of raising one foot and standing on one leg. Easy, right? Now stand on a chair and repeat the exercise. Notice the difference? Some people might have a queasy, wobbly or uneasy feeling. If you don’t feel anything and it’s no problem for you, then let’s go one mental step further. Free climb a tree. At a height of 10 m, there is a wooden platform the same size as the seat of the chair. Put both feet on this platform and then raise one leg. Do you feel something happening? An inner voice is saying: “He’s crazy! It’s much too dangerous to be climbing such a tall tree without any safety equipment and then to stand on one leg too. What if something happens?”– You have just left your comfort zone and you are losing your balance. Internal monologues affect your actions and behavior, both positively and negatively.
Tip for runners
Pay attention to your internal monologues. What do you say to yourself, how do you say it and what tenets do you keep repeating within? Conscious awareness of these monologues is the first step to success!
Overcoming your lack of willpower
“Tomorrow I’ll start my day by exercising!” You have vowed to go jogging around the block right after you wake up – who is not familiar with these kinds of resolutions! The alarm is set and goes off at the intended time. But then your fiendish weaker self says: “But you know, it’s so cozy in bed, so cuddly warm and comfortable!” The smarter the person, the cleverer and more inventive the arguments of the weaker self will be. Whether at this point your weaker self wins or not depends entirely on you. The crucial thing is who retains the upper hand. Even if you get up and only do 30 jumping jacks in your pajamas, this can be a mini-version of what you resolved to do (namely take a jog around the block). By doing this, you signal to your unconscious that you retain the upper hand and your weaker self doesn’t have a chance in important situations. The next time you vow to go running in the morning, go one step further and put on your running gear – you’ll eventually make it!
Tip for mental experts
Is your weaker self really so mean, or have you simply given it the power? Take a moment and ask yourself what motivational monologue might do you good!
The guide to your goal
Are you still daydreaming, or are you living out your visions in reality too? Are your wishes and dreams being heard, or do you tend to ignore them? What is your goal? Perhaps you want to lose some weight, achieve a better place in your next 5 K race or turn your inner calling into your real job. Put this goal into one sentence in which you try to incorporate into your daily life as much as possible. How do you think this goal might look, how does it feel, and can you hear, smell or taste it? Make sure to phrase your goal in a positive way and avoid words like not, no or must.
Food for thought for runners
Think about what kind of reaction the word “con-TEST” (or 5 K race) triggers in you? Maybe you need to adjust your goal a bit.
From goal to action
Many athletes may be familiar with the problem that on day X you can’t deliver your best performance. Let’s focus on this problem by looking at the example of Sandra.
Coach: “Hi Sandra, what would you like to accomplish?”
Sandra replies spontaneously: “To not lose as much time in the last kilometer of a 5 K race as I did last time.”
Coach: “Can you rephrase that in a positive way?”
Sandra: “To be better than the last time.”
Coach: “Okay, what does that mean specifically?” (Now the coach asks for a specific goal)
Sandra: “I don’t want to break down during the last kilometer of my 5 K race – uh, I mean I want to finish strong in the last kilometer ☺.
Coach: “Is there a particular 5 K race?”
Sandra: “No, I just want to get better at running 5 K runs in general.”
Coach: “Then let’s come up with a specific goal. I’ll say a few words and I want you to write down your first association with this word.”
Tip on phrasing goals
This short and easy test can help you quickly find out which sensory channels you prefer. In our example, it’s hearing. Ask a friend to read you a list of words and to assign your answers to one of the following categories: auditory (hearing), visual (sight) or kinesthetic (touch, smell, and taste). The category with the most answers is your favorite channel.
Coach: “Good Sandra, now I have a pretty good idea that you prefer kinesthetic and auditory input.”
Sandra: “What does that mean for me?”
Coach: “We’ll phrase your goal in such a way that it appeals to your preferred channels.”
Sandra: “And that works?”
“I run light-footed and hear my breath going in and out smoothly.”
Begin with small visions and enjoy the achievements you have made. This will help you build up self-esteem.