Inner Dialogue: Why You Need to Toughen Up

Article written by Ali Peterson We’ve all been there. One hundred sixty-some reps into Filthy Fifty or Murph or any grind of a work out and it starts. “No one will know if I shave off a rep or five.” “Why did I sign up for this?” “This place sucks.” “Maybe I’ll just get halfway and call it a day.”

That’s negative self-talk. The insidious voice that tunnels out of your subconscious when you start to get uncomfortable. Cut it out. Now. I’m going to help you realize why it’s hindering your performance.

WHY DO SOME ATHLETES EXCEL WHILE OTHERS DON’T? If you’ve spent any time in a high intensity training facility, whether a CrossFit gym, a garage gym, or a group exercise class, you’ve probably seen the high level athletes that continually crush their workouts. You’ve probably also worked out alongside these people and wondered how the heck they do it. There’s many moving parts to a great athlete, one of the biggest pieces being mental toughness. This toughness goes beyond going against what your body is telling you and jumping back on the pull-up bar after ripping your hands to shreds. That’s not mental toughness. Mental toughness is when you feel like your lungs are collapsing but keep moving, no matter how slowly. Mental toughness comes from the ability to filter out your own negative self-talk. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” I think about that quote often, especially when going for a PR on a lift or a benchmark work out. It’s true. The thoughts that you choose to listen to will define your performance.

HOW DO I GET MY ACT TOGETHER? Start Meditating I’m not sure why people are so terrified of meditation. The common misconception is that meditation requires you to sit and think about nothing. Fortunately, that’s not true. Meditation is a challenging skill, and one worth adding to your recovery and regeneration routine. The simplest way to start a meditation practice is to set aside five minutes every day. I like to meditate at the end of the day as it helps me unwind and decompress after being around people all day. Begin in a comfortable seated position. This can be on the floor with your back against the wall or a chair or seated in a chair. Avoid laying down as it’s tempting to fall asleep or get distracted. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes and toss it to the other side of the room – no distractions, people. This means music too. Music will distract you from the thoughts you’re trying to tune into. Close your eyes. Start to notice your breath. You don’t have to ‘om’ or make any special breathing noises, just breathe naturally. Notice the sensation of your breath as it goes in and out through your nose. Notice how your body feels in this seated position. Start to bring your awareness to your senses. Create awareness of the way the air feels on your skin, on how the back of your eyelids look, on any sounds you might hear. Tuning into our senses in a controlled state help to develop a better sense of intuition and of your body. Your relationship with your body is one of the most important ones you can develop. This simple practice of sitting quietly can help you discover your thought patterns. During your meditation, allow thoughts to travel through your mind, as if they’re a breeze coming in an open window. Allow your thoughts to surface at the front of your mind, acknowledge them, and then set them free. If you find yourself wanting to dwell on something, observe that. There’s no wrong way to acknowledge your own thoughts. Once your five minutes is up, treat yourself to any comfortable stretches you feel like taking. You’re already on the floor, so I recommend taking a few rounds of cat and cow stretch. If you don’t know what that is, use this thing called google. I hear it’s pretty great.

Practice Yoga If you give a hoot about your body and your joints, you need to have a yoga practice. I’m not saying you need to take an hour long class every day, but try to roll out your mat at least twice a week. It doesn’t matter what kind of yoga you take, as long as it serves you. If you need to get a workout in, try a hot yoga class. If your body hurts and it’s a rest day, take a Yin or a restorative yoga class. I love yoga as a method of recovery because it encourages blood flow without being too hard on your body. Yoga is a practice of breath. One of my favorite teachers likes to say, ‘Yoga is a breathing practice first, the postures will follow your breath.’ How does that help you? You’re breathing right now, yes? How about during Fran or Grace or a 200 meter sprint? Yoga classes are great because it is an environment that allows for you to be an observer of your body and learn how to control your breathing. Learning to stay calm in the face of adversity, or in our case an elevated heartrate, will only help to improve your performance.

Start Paying Attention to the Way You Speak (To Yourself and Others) We’ve all met a person or two that is chronically negative. They’re a pain to be around because all they do is complain. Don’t be that person. You have so much to be grateful for. The next time you find yourself wanting to say something negative, keep your dang mouth shut for once and see what happens. Better yet, try saying something positive. Compliment someone. Smile at a stranger. Pay for the person behind you at Starbucks. These acts of kindness will make you feel good, which then leads to positive self-talk. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Something I’ve recently started trying is practicing gratitude when I’m faced with a challenge. Whether that’s a workout, or a challenge at work. Next time your mid-workout and you hear that little voice starting to pipe up with things like, “Ughhhh I HATE running! This sucks!” Try taking a step back and approaching it with a thought like, “Man, I’ve got these two legs that I can run on, I’m thankful for that.” Find gratitude for your able body! You’ve found yourself in a place with health and fitness professionals that want to help you get better. You already have everything you need. The motivation you seek is already in your brain. It just takes time to train to get yourself thinking positively in the face of adversity.

PUT IT ALL TOGETHER Before I sign off and send you out to be a more effective human, I have some suggestions for putting these recommendations into practice. Pick one thing from the list above to focus on for the next week. I recommend starting with meditation. It’s the most time friendly and straightforward option. Commit for the next week to set aside five minutes a day to meditate. I promise you can do it. Five minutes. That’s about a half hour total for the next week. If you keep a training journal, which I highly recommend you do, jot a note or two by every workout this week about your mentality. It can be as simple as, “Stuck in my head today,” or, “Smiled during box jumps and it made my workout easier.” Whatever. That stuff will stick with you. Going forward, remember that everything you do or don’t do today will affect how you look and feel tomorrow. Go workout, stretch, meditate and smile.

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