Why being Mentally Tough is Crucial in Your Performance

As I sit here writing this, I am just 4 weeks out of heading to Las Vegas for my first World Championships in Powerlifting. Forget the fact that it’s Powerlifting for a second.

 
Let’s say you’re me 4 weeks out from a huge event that you’ve been preparing for: a speech in Executive Office at work, an Olympic qualifier, on a game show to win a million bucks, your first time saying “Hi” to a girl…

You get the idea.

What you have done is what got you to this point. But hold up…now you start thinking differently. Why is that?

Wouldn’t it make sense to go into it as confident as you have been this entire time?

For quite a few of us that isn’t the case. There’s a difference in the thinking process of those who aren’t as experienced and those who are. Let’s address those for a moment.

 

The “In-Experienced”

“I can’t do this. I’m going to get demolished.”

“What if I fail?”

“What if I don’t lose the weight/body fat?”

“When will I succeed?”

These are all questions and concerns that I hear from other competitors and the clients I work with on a regular basis. I know for sure that I have had these thoughts running through my mind at various points in my Powerlifting career and otherwise. We all have.

The one thing that I find consistent is how those who have never been on their biggest stage don’t know what to expect or worse, have expectations.

The latter is the one thing that could really mess with your head. In competition, your first time out should always be to have fun and remember to follow through with what got you there in the first place.

A lot of us may suffer with what I call the “Rookie of The Year” complex. That is to try to win or be beyond amazing your first time out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good positive attitude and great approach to your sport or event, but having these high expectations might set you up for a big let down.

I try to tell my clients that you’re going to fail. A lot. Heck, if you don’t, you’re either not trying hard enough, are really lucky, or haven’t even started yet.

I’ve only have been competitively lifting for 4 years. I have multiple records, rankings and championships. You better believe that I’ve lost too. Not just on the platform, but in the weight room. I’ve been a trainer for over 6 years and some know the story, but I failed my certification exam 3 times before passing finally passing it.

Fortunately, it is ingrained in me to fight for what I believe in and have a stellar work ethic. Perhaps being introverted and finding confidence within or being around really supportive people is what helped. Maybe it’s all of it.

I know that focusing on what you CAN do and have done is a great start. Only will you get better with more experience and become mentally tougher.

 

 
“The Veterans”

For the less experience, these are the people you want to hang around. If you want to get better, work with those that have been in your shoes.

These may not be those who have gotten the best results or won a ton of awards. They’re the ones that are consistent. They’re the ones that if they fail, they’ll comeback with a vengeance rather than breaking down.

I have a client that wanted to have better health. Her name is Kim. She’s literally half the woman in size and weight that she was 3 years ago. She’s had her mouth wired shut, been through dozens of diets. It was only then did she have go to go through lap-band surgery to help her lose the weight.

She reached out to me to start exercising. She’s been told to do this over and over and over again and it wasn’t until the surgery that exercising and eating better was the only way to stay that way.

2 years later she shows me a photo of her in 2010. I see her a few times a week and I can’t believe it. It’s a lot different when you see transformations like that on TV, but when you’re involved it’s a bit surreal.

We started 30-minutes/day, twice a week. Then we got to 3 times/week. Then started to do 45 minutes and then hourly. Today, she’s gearing up for her first Powerlifting competition in October (I have no idea where she got that from; P).

It sounds great and all, but we haven’t been training consistently over the years. She’s had her body break down a couple of times. There was even one point when she was out for 3-6 months. As you can imagine she was discouraged.

When she came back, she was very hesitant about what we would do. The moment that pain would come back and she’d be out for a week or so.

But she had been down this road before. Knowing that becoming more and more inactive and being afraid to move on was going to lead her to more weight gain and bring her right back where she started.

Kim has had experience. We’ve been pretty consistent training ever since then. When ever there is an injury or an ache, we train AROUND it and work on something else that wouldn’t keep her from being out of the gym. We’re 6 weeks out from competition and she’s looking strong and staying positive.

 

That’s what mental toughness is.

 

It’s never giving up and focusing on the bigger picture ahead: That if you stop the journey, you will fail 100% of the time.

 

Can you teach it mental toughness??

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Some people don’t think so. Some people think you just have it. Some people think you have to grow up being around it. But I believe it can be taught.

I’ve had the pleasure of training a young lady who coming out of Junior High was on a State Championship winning volleyball team. She didn’t start, but has wanted to continue playing on her high school volleyball team the following year.

With 60+ athletes trying out for the squad every year, your chances of making the team isn’t a walk in the park.

She wasn’t the best jumper when we started, wasn’t the strongest or most coordinated. It was going to be a long summer.

I explained to her mom that while she’s training for this, she’s going to have to accept the fact that she may not make it. Having been there I knew this from the start.

As I mentioned earlier, to not have the expectation that you’re going to make the cut is going to help you recover from it and focus on working harder next year.

Now that the talk was out of the way, we could start focusing on her training and nutrition.

Knowing full well when one is consistent with their training and keeping up fairly well with how they’re eating and hydrating, the next thing I wanted her to work on was visualization and mental preparedness.

I wanted her to write down on a poster board where she can see it every single day of when the tryout date was. Everyday she came in, I asked her when is try outs??

 

“August 14th!!!”

 

We got into the routine of this every training day; making proper hydration and adequate nutrition a habit.

Once you do the little things and feel more confident about them, you’ll automatically start to feel more confident about your chances of achieving success.

 

                        “There are no secret for success, there are only patterns.”

 

I know for me when I prepare for competitions, I watch videos of other competitions and getting psyched up. I go to bed dreaming about what I’m going to do the morning of. I also accept that I may not win, but I will make damn sure I go down swinging.

The week of the girls tryouts came and I could tell on our last session she had it on her mind. Day came and she made the team. I couldn’t be a happier coach.

I don’t care what the circumstances were of her making the team, fact is she made it. That means everything that we have done over the summer was worth every second, every medicine ball slam, every goblet squat, and every sprint.

And guess what?? Even if she didn’t make the team…it’d still be worth it.

She’s never worked that hard before and never had so much confidence and learned how to be mentally prepared for things like this.

 

Closing Thoughts

You can be the most physically gifted individual known to man. At some point we all know someone who has had “the potential”, but potential is wasted when never realized.

We all are so physically capable of doing so much and could be so far along than we are now. Our worst enemies aren’t the people you’re going up against for the job position or the title. It is our mind.

Those who crap out and don’t come back are not quite ready yet, and never will unless they revisit what defeated them in the first place.

Embrace the reality of defeat for you will also find success if you chose to continue on. If you do, you’ll be better off. You’ll be stronger (mentally) as a result.