Playing the Mental Game

by Cat Hine

By using positive, productive and powerful language you can enhance your performance on race day, giving you a competitive edge.

The MX community have access to a range of experts, including Adelaide Goodeve, Mindset Performance Coach.  Adelaide specialises in neuro-linguistic programming and brain endurance training, helping athletes raise the bar, and excel in their chosen sport.

She recently ran a week long ‘bootcamp’ focusing on the use of language in performance.  Her goal: to 10x your performance through the language that you use, and the mind power you can harness. The underlying principle is, “You can be the best physically prepared athlete on the start-line, and still lose to the competitor with the better prepared brain.”

My initial thought was: how can 10 minutes a day for five days have such a big impact on my performance?

But it’s true; our brains can be ‘rewired’ in a split second.  We can re-train our thought processes and therefore the neural pathways that are engaged when we talk to ourselves.  The science around neuro-plasticity supports this.

So... how does it work?

Step 1: Visualisation

You can't tell your brain not to think about something.  Don’t think about your burning quads? Don’t think about how much it hurts as you push up a hill? Immediately our brains pick up on those states.  While sitting at our laptops, we can visualise those scenarios.  As athletes, we all know how to go to the hurt locker.

But what if it's not called the “hurt locker”? That feeling isn’t pain; it's just “not-comfortable”.  The connotations associated with being comfortable (or not comfortable) are very different to all-out pain and hurt.

In utilising the synonyms in our language, we can change our modality in a given instant. So, instead of feeling stressed and anxious about race day, we can re-frame the visualisation as, “I’m not feeling calm.”

Step 2: Positive, Productive and Powerful Language

In a similar vein to using visualisations, the integration of ‘life-enhancing language’ into our everyday forms Step Two in the process of enhancing our mental game.  Athletes that can do this will direct their mind towards thoughts which will be positive and helpful.

We have all looked at our Garmin and thought, “Sh*t, my pace isn’t fast enough, I need to speed up.”  When we’re not hitting our intervals or that PB is slipping away it becomes easy to fixate on the numbers -- to keep checking that pace / time.  But this is neither helpful or productive.  That inner voice can sabotage our performance.

So you can change the self-talk to: What will make me faster? Is my core engaged? How is my cadence? Have I eaten enough? What can I do to improve my form, which will make me faster in this moment?

In actively reflecting and integrating positive and productive language, you can make changes to what you are doing -- and that will improve performance.  You will stop stressing about how you could fail, and start thinking about how well you are doing.  How you are doing everything in your power to make progress, and be the best version of you, in that moment.  The language that you use to talk to yourself stops being a stick that you are beating yourself with.  It becomes a tool in the arsenal for high performance.

So, how easy is it to integrate this language into your life? Can we change the way that we talk to ourselves?

In the past I have notoriously self-sabotaged my efforts.  I am my own biggest critic.  But this weekend when I went out to race the local TT district championship, I didn’t set out to “try my best.”  I wasn’t thinking about how “I can’t compete with the UCI-sponsored athletes who regularly appear at these events.”  Instead, I was going to go as fast as possible.  I was going to learn as much as I could from racing X distance on X course.

And I did.  As soon as my brain started to say “F@&k this hurts!” I had another voice say “This is not comfortable, but I’m going fast.”

And what was the result? Well, it was a time trial, I went bloody fast for 26 minutes in some typically grim UK weather.  I picked up a handful of points.  But more importantly, I put in the best possible performance I could on the day.

There is still a little voice deep inside of me that says “you should be faster,” but that voice is quieter than it has been previously.  Because I’m making progress, and every day that I show up and stop myself from engaging in negative self-talk is a step towards enhancing my performance and winning the mental game.

Cat Hine is an MX Endurance Race Team ambassador.

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