Let's talk about the voice in your head. No, not the positive one that supports those peppy Pinterest quotes, but the voice that tells you to stop too soon or that it simply can't be done. It's time to get real with that unrealistic mindset and put a stop to it for good.
As one who's fallen victim to negative thoughts in workouts (and even races), I've learned throughout the years that there are a few ways to cope. As cheesy as they sound, techniques like claiming a mantra can be just the way to save a workout or finish a race. Sure, on paper they sound easy and rather trivial, but they can actually be very challenging to do under stress. With a little practice and a lot of trust, these simple yet powerful tools can help you achieve just about anything. After all, "tough times never last, but tough people do."
Find a Mantra
Sounds cliché, right? Hear me out. Mantras can (and will) help you move past any obstacle. Remember the old adage, "fake it till you make it?" If you tell yourself "stronger, faster, better," then you will eventually be stronger, faster, and better. The key is choosing a word or words you can relate to and find believable. Trust me: If you don't believe in the saying or find it forced, then it's not going to work.
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Stay Close to the Moment
Living in the present is good, but sometimes looking back or ahead will remind you what you're training for. If you're feeling defeated while training for a marathon, focus on the finish line. More specifically, focus on the feeling of crossing the finish line. Even if you've never completed a marathon, I can guarantee you that feeling of accomplishment outweighs the training aches and pains. The same goes for recalling a past achievement. Remember how great it felt when you reached your goal weight or achieved a personal record? Use that feeling to your advantage on days you want to skip a workout or stop early. In a slump, stay close to these moments because they will get you through.
Focus on the Unrelated
If thinking about anything even remotely workout-related won't cut it, focus on the exact opposite. It sounds silly, but when I'm having a hard day of training, I like to focus on random things such as what to have for dinner or my weekend plans (anything completely unrelated to breaking a sweat). Getting lost in a recipe or my latest discovery at Whole Foods gets my mind off the pain and motivates me to finish faster—I have dinner waiting! If a good beat gets you going (like it does Diana Nyad), then get lost in the music; this playlist should help.
Turn to Your Technique
Technique is a great thing to focus on because it's concrete. Pick something you've been wanting to improve (e.g., posture) or something that usually goes to the wayside under stress (e.g., breathing). Return to this concept every time you get negative or start to feel your mind slip. Whatever you do, don't focus on your overall technique or more than one concept at a time. I am proof: You will just become overwhelmed (especially under stress) and defeated. Take it one change, one stride, and one stroke at a time.
Be Your Own Judge
There's a fine line between "that voice" and your gut feeling. If you're experiencing the common training aches and pains, then it's likely that the discomfort is getting in your way. But if you are in significant pain, then seriously consider what your body is telling you. It may be that you really do need to rest for a better tomorrow. It comes down to how bad you want it. In some workouts that may mean stopping early to prevent an injury, and other times it may be pushing yourself to levels you never thought possible.