“When you think you are done you’re only 40% of what your body is capable of doing. That’s just the limit that we put on ourselves.” – David Goggins
Reflect for a moment on this simple question…
“What am I capable of?”… “If the self-defeating attacks of my mind didn’t exist, what could I achieve?”
The answers to these questions open up doors of opportunities we may have never thought possible. It’s so common to see successful athletes as “different.” In our mind’s eye we place them in a different arena and then construct an arena for ourselves called “Not Good Enough” or “Could Never Do That” or (here’s my favorite) “I Just Don’t Have The Time To Practice That Much.”
We so easily justify our lack of performance and minimize our potential for greatness.
My Personal Battle of the Mind:
While I was running the other day I reached the moment where my body didn’t want to run anymore. Maybe I had hit “The Wall” and my glycogen levels were depleted (see here on how to overcome The Wall), maybe I was bored, or maybe I was just too stinkin’ cold (this is Michigan after all).
Whatever the reason, I started to notice an interesting phenomena. I became aware of the array of thoughts that were pushing me to quit. It was like I was in a court room and my mind was a lawyer creating a massive defense around why I should stop.
“You’ve run enough for today, you don’t want to over do it Todd. If you over do it today, you won’t be able to run tomorrow. And if you don’t run tomorrow, you’ll never become a great runner.”
and this one…
“Are you sure you want to focus on running as “your thing.” You have more experience in body weight exercises. You should go home and do your normal push up routine, then you could be a calisthenic master!”
Many more came…
The strange thing I noticed was that they were never direct negative excuses like, “You can’t do it.” or “You’re a lazy bum, you’ll never make it over that hill.”
These thoughts would have only challenged me and driven me harder.
The thoughts that came were more rational. In a sense, they were tricks of my mind to tempt me to focus on achieving greatness in an area I wasn’t currently devoted to.
And of course, if I were to switch activities once I became exhausted with the other one, my mind would trick me into switching again creating a never ending cycle of giving up.
Have you ever experienced the battle of the mind?
It seems when our workouts get tough, our mind goes into a self preservation mode. It tries all sorts of tricks to prevent our progression.
***To investigate this concept further I decided to ask the assistance of some of the greatest performers and athletes in the world.***
The people below have reached the pinnacle of greatness. Some were top Olympians, others athletic superstars.
I decided to ask them each this one, very important yet simple question. This question is critical because it is at the moment of our weakness, that our mind can decide if we continue on the path toward excellence or quit and stay in mediocrity.
Here’s the question I asked them:
“When you are training and reach a point where everything in you is telling you it’s too hard, how do you stay motivated to keep going?”
Their answers to this question are nothing short of inspiring. Take in each answer closely. I have learned a tremendous amount and hope you gain from their wisdom as well. At the end of the post I have put together a list called the 5 F.A.C.T.S. To Help You Win The Battle Of The Mind (An acronym to help you remember these very important principles). These steps are based on the below answers and can be used as a tool that you can pull out when you reach that difficult point where your mind is building a defense around stopping, yet you desire to press on.
Here are the answers:
“I say a mantra in my head that is both soothing and motivating…
After a deep breath i chant, DIE, DIE, DIE, I would also use this one, YOU CANT KILL ME, YOU CANT KILL ME.”
Accomplishments: Frank is credited widely as the #1 ranked pound for pound fighter in the world while reigning as the UFC Middleweight Champion. He has been named “Fighter of the Decade”, “Best Full Contact Fighter”, and three time “Fighter of the Year.”
Shannon Miller – 7 Time Olympic Medalist and The Most Decorated Olympic Gymnast in U.S. History
“I remind myself of the end goal. It may seem difficult in the moment but when you step back and look at the big picture, it will all be worth it.”
Accomplishments: Shannon is considered to be one of the greatest gymnasts the U.S. has ever produced. She was the 1993 and 1994 World All-Around Champion and was part of the Magnificent 7 (Title given in 1996 to the U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastic Team that won the first ever Gold Medal for the U.S. in the Women’s Team Competition.)
“I really never had trouble with my training in the past – always was in shape for my Ironman and Boston Marathon trainings, even after my heart attack in 2003. But people have to remember that I am now 71 years old and have been at this for 33 years. So of course now we are slowing down a bit with our times at races, and my workouts are getting to be a bit more difficult. But I try to stay focused and work through the pain and keep at my workouts. Our 30th Boston Marathon is in April and that is our goal right now; so I stay focused on that and will not give in to the pain during training or the race – I get through it somehow with determination and staying focused.”
Accomplishments: Dick and Rick Hoyt may be one of the most inspirational stories I have ever heard. Rick was born with cerebral palsy yet together with his father, Dick, competes in some of the hardest races in the world. They have run the Boston Marathon 26 times, 6 Ironman competitions and in 1992 ran and biked across America completing a full 3,735 miles in 45 days. Click here to see a video of their story.
Learn more about Dick and Rick at TeamHoyt.com.
“Break the distance into small segments and never forecast how you’re going to feel looking up the road…… do what you can do at the moment.”
Accomplishments: Dave is the first human to win the Ironman Triathlon six times. He has raced the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii a total of 14 times.
William Trubridge – World Champion and Double World Record Holding Free Diver
“I remember that it gets worse just before it gets better. I also remember the value of rest and remind myself that it’s the process, not the goal that’s important. As long as I am applying myself efficiently and with intensity then the results will come.”
Accomplishments: William is the first human ever to break the 100m barrier unassisted. He holds many records in the disciplines of Constant Weight without fins and Free Immersion. You have to watch these two videos of William. One is him diving The Hole and the other is him breaking the world record.
“I tell myself “you’ve been a down and out suicidal crack head at one time that was the epitome of the word “loser.” Never again! No matter how bad it is quitting is NOT AN OPTION! Don’t think just f++king do! Become robotic!” Then shut down the control buttons and go on autopilot.”
Accomplishments: Joe is acclaimed as the “World’s Fittest Man.” He has completed the Badwater Ultra-Marathon, a 150 miler through the Sahara desert, and a ton of other extreme races. Joe has also won the infamous & insane Spartan Death Race two times.
Pete Thomas – Season 2 At-home Winner of NBC’s The Biggest Loser (and close personal friend)
“When things look difficult I personally have to work very hard to overcome my negative thoughts so I practice different techniques. One simple trick I use is to turn on a special very loud hard driving ‘Anthem’ type song on my iPod to literally drown out my negative thoughts.
I also rehearse things I have overcome in my past as a way of remembering my potential. I can remember my first Olympic distance triathlon and I was swimming in San Francisco bay. I had not trained even once and had not swam in 26 years (I know, stupid right?). Well, I literally had thoughts that I was going to drown. I switched my thoughts from imminent death and started thinking about all the things I ‘had’ accomplished in the last few years including 100 mile bike rides and full and half-marathons and most indelibly working out 4 hours per day at a starting weight of over 400 lbs in order to lose 185 lbs in 9 months and keeping it off. I keep rehearsing over and over again, ‘I’ve done harder, I will live and finish.’ I also have to admit that I thought ‘ Jillian Michaels (my friend and trainer on the Biggest Loser) will KILL me if I die out here”.
I also thought of the other swimmers who were in the water with me and the teammates of mine on the Biggest Loser Ranch and I mentally used their energy to pull me through. The combination of using my teammates and rehearsing my success helped me get through the 1 hour swim and the rest of the triathlon was a walk in the park (albeit a slow one :-)”.
Accomplishments: Pete was the at-home Winner of Season 2 of NBC’s The Biggest Loser. He lost 185 lbs and now is inspiring folks around the world to lose weight. He is also a close personal friend of mine.
Mike Wardian – Top American Marathoner and Ultra-marathoner
“I usually think of my goal(s), be that to win the race, set a World Record, or run a personal best and just to keep pushing because eventually I know that voice in my mind will subside and I will be able to overcome the discomfort and pain and breakthrough and it will be worth the sacrifice.”
Accomplishments: 1st place winner of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 US 50 km championships and 2008 winner of the U.S. National 100 km championship.
“I don’t think I’ve ever reached a point in training where I”ve said, “it’s too hard”. What’s hard about being out in the mountains with no cars, people or any real cares in the world? During 100 mile races or 2000 mile adventures we just tell ourselves, (at least I do) that it’ll be over before I know it. Or a quote that’s hard to post. “Shut the fuck up Karl, and get it done.” That’s pretty much what I’ll say to myself if I’m having a bad section. Or, I just laugh and keep moving, cuz I know it’ll be over tomorrow. Bailing out is only an option if injuries prevent me from running. Mental toughness in ultramarathoning is the most important asset one can have. If it’s not in all there between your ears, why bother.”
Accomplishments: Holds the record for most 100 mile trail race wins on earth (30), 55 race wins; 47 of them Ultramarathons and 8 trail marathons, 2006 Ultrarunner of the Year.
“Best way to say it is that optimism and creative license go a long way. Hard = fun, harder = more fun, in a type-2-fun sort of way. If I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing, I’d not do it. Finding some part of the process to enjoy, even when your body is screaming out for mercy, seemed to be the ticket for me.”
Accomplishments: 1st place winner and set course record (3 days, 6 hours) in the 2005 350 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational (One of the hardest extreme winter races in the world), record breaker for 2004 Great Divide Race, 2004 Kokepelli Trail Race and the 2003 340 Grand Loop.
Learn More about Mike at Lacemine29.com.
“Here’s my trick – I am always signed up for something. It can be a triathlon, a 10K, a marathon, a tennis match, a YMCA fitness challenge – it doesn’t matter. The simple act of having something on the schedule is able to drive you to get out of bed or go when the going gets hard. It’s called “extrinsic motivation” when something outside of you is driving you to perform. So while “intrinsic motivation”, such as “wanting to be healthier” or “wanting to look better” is a worthy goal, it’s often not enough to push you when the going gets hard.”
Accomplishments: Ben is a multiple Ironman Hawaii finisher and author of several books on fitness, metabolism, and diet.
“The best way to keep going is to really want what you’re going after. Not just kinda want it – really want it. You have to remind yourself that whatever you want is worth whatever you’re going through at the moment – because sometimes it will suck. Most people don’t really quit – they just give up too soon. If you really want to keep going when things get tough, do something that’s worth the pain to start with.”
Accomplishments: Joel is the superbly inspirational founder of Impossible HQ and daily challenges thousands to get out of their comfort zone and do the impossible. He is also an accomplished marathoner and triathlete.
“Before you go to the gym have it in mind what you really want to do.
Just one peak-performance by your personal standards.
It is natural to get control in that way over your performance and not find it out when coming across a limit you forcefully have to pass.
It is a lot easier to do it when “”programmed”” before.
If you want to get through at a lacto-acid moment, endurance and will can overcome this chemical state in the physiology.”
Accomplishments: Wim holds 20 world records including longest ice immersion (1 hour and 52 minutes and 42 seconds). He has also completed a full marathon above the polar circle in temperature close to negative 20 degrees C. (that’s freakin’ cold!) Gotta check this video out by him.
“I train like I’m going to race; with no excuses, no time outs. I’m not planning to quit on race day which means there will be no quitting today. I have to know what to expect, I have to prepare my body for the pain and fatigue that will come and the only way to do that is by embracing it now when it is just me, alone, with the the long stretch of road ahead.”
Accomplishments: Kelly holds both the 200m and 800m world records for amputees. She also won gold at the 2008 New York Triathlon and ITU World Triathlon Championships in the amputee division. She is an incredible inspiration. In 2010, she was also one of the contestants on Survivor: Nicaragua.
Learn more about Kelly at KellyBruno.weebly.com.
Rob Powell – Professional Athlete and 4 Time WFC/Guinness World Record Holder
“Jack LaLanne always said he woke up with that little devil on his shoulder every morning telling him to sleep in….
And that’s true….If being in shape was easy, everyone would be….
When you are training really hard and it hits you that you got nothing left, you have to decide how bad you want it.
It’s all your own discipline….
It can’t be taught, it can’t be coached….
It’s all up to you if you want it or not….
No one will give it to you….
You go and get it for yourself,
or you don’t….”
Accomplishments: Rob is a Four Time World Record Holder, Four Time World Fitness/Condition Champion with over 150 Records. Here are just a few: 1,250 Push Ups, 1,250 Leg Lifts, 20 Mile Row and 3,250 Sit Ups, He was also a professional athlete and is widely considered as “The World’s Toughest Man”.
“I remind myself that no one who ever achieved any significant level of success did so by being comfortable. When training, it is necessary to be uncomfortable if you are to have any chance at pushing yourself beyond the level where most people acquiesce. It is at that point you break through that mental barrier and enable yourself to enter a world of possibilities not accessible to the average person or athlete. That is all the motivation I need. I learned to love that challenge.”
Accomplishments: Chris competed as a wide receiver in professional football with the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs. He helped lead the St. Louis Rams to their win in Superbowl XXXIV in 2000. He is also a top financial adviser with Merrill Lynch.
Learn more about Chris at Merrill Lynch Financial Adviser.
“I’m human just like everyone else. So I have highs, lows, good days and bad days. Staying positive just seems like the best place for me. It just works. Yet, there are times when staying positive is tough. When I’m in therapy working to move forward and my body just doesn’t want to cooperate dark thoughts start creeping in. However, I don’t let them stick. Tomorrow is another day. This day is about to be gone. I may not have been able to bend over today, but whose to say I cant do it tomorrow?
I guess I’m an eternal optimist. But I’m happy there. I try not to dwell too much on the “what ifs” or “what nows”. I don’t have a punch card. Things are going to happen when they happen. When times of frustration or giving up present themselves, I just have to remind myself that. :)”
Accomplishments: Nicole has an incredible story of overcoming one of the most difficult challenges anyone could ever face; an incomplete spinal cord injury and prognosis of being an ambulatory quadriplegic. Her story is a must and will bring tears to your eyes. Click here to read it.
“Invariably, when we are training at our maximum level, we will reach a point in the middle of a workout where we feel that we just can’t go on. This can happen in the middle of a set of squats when we have hundreds of pounds on our back, or it can happen at a moment where you run out of gas, in other words you run out of blood sugar when dieting for a competition. It’s at those times that it becomes mind over matter. What always kept me motivated when I was training for the IFBB Mr. Olympia was keeping my eye on the prize. I imagined what my accomplishment would be: a perfectly sculpted body. I imagined myself on stage looking better than I had ever looked before, receiving the Sandow. What also motivated me was testing my outer limits of physical and mental strength in the gym. I made it a game to test just how far I could push my body and once my body began giving out how far I could push my mind. In other words how much pain I could take during a set. Now to some people that might seem masochistic, but to me it was a test of internal strength and fortitude. I knew that once I pushed myself to that new limit that my mental outlook would never be the same. I’d say a prayer right in the middle of my set, asking God to help me, and to protect me against injury. From that point on I could reach new heights in my training and hence my development. At the end of the day, you have to want the results that you have pictured in your mind more than anything else or you won’t be able to block out the pain, this is what keeps a star athlete motivated.”
Accomplishments: Lee is one of the greatest body builders to ever live. He has been at the top of the list in every major body building competition and in 2004 was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame.
“When the difficulty kicks in and my muscles are on fire in an exercise – the fun is just beginning for me. I call this the challenge in exercise. I crave challenges. When I put myself up for a difficult challenge it brings out the qualities that I would not normally notice – Commitment, Focus, and Determination. The greatest sense of satisfaction comes from accomplishments. I make a goal everyday to do something I never did before either athletically or mentally (and sometimes both)!!”
Accomplishments: Alicia may be the World’s Fittest Woman. She has set over 50 world records and is the only woman to ever by inducted into the Pushup Hall of Fame. You can check out her records by clicking here RecordSetter.com. She is also a top competitor in 15 different sports. Here is a list of her competitions and results.
“I try to stay focused on doing what I can do at each moment. That
keeps me focused on the present task at hand, keeping my thinking
positive so that negative thoughts don’t enter the mind.”
Accomplishments: Adam is an inspirational Multisport competitor. In 1994, Adam successfully competed with Team USA in amateur Triathlon World Championships. He then moved up to the level of professional and went up against some of the best in the world. He is now a multisport coach, personal trainer and fitness consultant.
“You set a goal before you start and you don’t stop when you get tired or it becomes inconvenient, you stop after you complete the mission. Establish your purpose and base your decisions and effort around your purpose. Ultimately there is only one reason needed to be successful and that’s because you want to.”
Accomplishments: Cael is considered to be one of the greatest American amateur wrestlers of all time. He was an Olympic champion in 2004 and was undefeated all four years at Iowa State University. Sports Illustrated named his college careers as the second most impressive college feat in history. He is now head wrestling coach at Penn State University.
“There are many things that keep me practicing and teaching Jiu-Jitsu. First of all, the feeling of continuing the traditions that my Dad started is what gives me the most satisfaction. The second thing is how Jiu-jitsu can change people’s lives in every aspect. Another thing that keeps me doing this is my family, my friends, my students and my fans and the fact that this is something that I love and am I’m passionate about doing.“
Accomplishments: Royler is one of the most popular fighters in the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Family. He and Marcelo are the only people to win the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship 3 consecutive years. He is a 4 time World Jiu-Jitsu Champion and is considered one of the best technical Jiu-Jitsu fighters in the world.
“Even when those inner gremlins are telling you it’s ‘too hard’, you’ve got to believe there is always more within you. Because there is. There is always one more inch, ounce, oomph of effort. We all have that part of us that wants to quit at times, but we also have the choice whether we listen to that idiot or not. Choose to amp up your power voice instead. Find a mantra, phrase, command or word that snaps you back to your reality of being tougher than any challenge, bigger than any obstacle and fiercer than any foe. Like Sir Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going” (cuz there’s no point in staying there)!”
Accomplishments: Chris is a mental performance coach and author of 8 ½ Steps to Making 2011 Your Best Triathlon Year Ever! and Race Faster Now. He is also designer of the Five Forces Formula program and contributor to 220Triathlon magazine, the UK’s biggest selling triathlon magazine, ESPN, Active.com and Runner’s World USA.
“When things get hard I tell myself not to give up. I believe that tough times do not last but tough people do. Winners do not give up no matter what. I feel that if you have given it your all during training then when it comes to the attempt it is basically another training session. The mindset being not to focus on the outcome. Just let the chips fall where the may and the results will come in time.”
Accomplishments: Roy has certainly earned Muscle & Fitness Magazines’ title of “Mr. Push Up.” In 1998, he broke the world record for push ups in one hour by completing 3,416. And in February of 2004 set a new Guinness World Record by performing 138 push ups in 60 seconds.
Learn more about Roy at MrPushup.ca.
Michael Ricci – Ironman Competitor and Level III USA Triathlon Certified Coach
“I think of pain as an emotion. It’s something I can dwell on, like disappointment, or I can choose to ignore it. I choose to ignore it. Finding comfort in the pain allows me to push to the next level.”
Accomplishments: Mike Ricci is a Level III USA Triathlon Certified Coach and has been coaching endurance athletes since 1989. Mike founded D3 in 2000, and has slowly added top-notch, USAT certified coaches each year to handle the demand for high quality triathloncoaching. In the past six years, D3 Coaches have coached hundreds of athletes to their first triathlon and hundreds more to become Ironman Finishers. From 2002-2008, D3 was awarded the job of writing the training programs for the USA World Championship Teams. Mike has coached top ranked pro triathletes as well as National Age Group Champions, Ironman Kona Qualifiers and Xterra World Champ Qualifiers. Currently, Mike coaches the University of CO Triathlon Team who are the two-time defending National Collegiate Champions.
***5 F.A.C.T.S. To Help You Win The Battle Of The Mind***
(F)ix in your mind the exact thing that you want to do.
This is a must-do first step. Before you begin any activity know exactly what you want to do. Visualize yourself achieving the goal. Visualize the surroundings. Be as realistic as possible. Then while you are training hold fast to this image. The mind tries to create an alternative ending to your story. Don’t let it.
In 2005, a study was performed using 41 college athletes. The researchers wanted to discover the relationship between mental toughness and isometric endurance. They measured many factors that possibly contributed to higher scores. What they found was that a participants level of confidence had a significant relationship to a higher endurance level. Read the study by clicking here.
What this means is that if you visualize yourself achieving a goal, it will help breed confidence in yourself. And with this increase in confidence, you are more likely to achieve it.
(A)ffirm yourself with strong mental statements.
Use the Mental Toughness Inventory to help you through the difficult times. This criteria is used to judge the “mental toughness” of an individual. You can learn more about the inventory here and actually take it by clicking here: Mental Toughness Inventory. Basically there are 13 areas that make up mental toughness.
Self-Efficacy. “No matter what the pressure, I still believe in myself.”
Task Value. “This activity is one of the most valuable parts of my life.”
Potential. “I feel my future in this area will be good.”
Task Familiarity. “My experience makes me stronger when performing.”
Personal Bests. “To have done my best is the most important thing to me.”
Stress Minimization. “I am good at minimizing the effects of stress.”
Mental Self-Concept. “I excel because of my mental strength.”
Positivity. “When things are bad I try to turn it around into something positive.”
Perseverance. “I keep working at things until I overcome them.”
Positive Comparison. “Seeing the opposition feeling the pressure builds my confidence.”
Task Specific Attention. “I get absolutely focused on the task, nothing distracts me.”
Goal Commitment. “No matter what, I remain committed to my goals.”
Global Mental Toughness. “Overall I am mentally tough.”
(C)reate a challenge or game out of it.
Perception is everything. A very revealing study performed in 2002 sheds light on this important step in defeating the mind and overcoming difficulty. 67 male and 40 female athletes completed a “mental toughness” measurement tool and then a Test of Performance Strategies to measure psychological strategies in practice and competition. It was found that athletes that ranked high in “mental toughness” had a lower rating of perceived exertion and performed better than similarly conditioned athletes. It attests to the slogan “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Click here for the study here.
We can learn from the above insight. When we reach a point where the activity seems too much, view it as a game or a challenge. Don’t perceive it as a monumentously difficult activity. See it as a game that you would like to beat. Enjoy the challenge.
(T)ime is now – don’t project feelings into the future.
An interesting phenomena occurs when we reach a point in our training that becomes difficult. We begin to focus on how crummy we feel and then project these feelings into the future. We think, “If I feel this crappy now, I’m going to feel 10X worse in about 20 minutes. I can maybe handle this but there’s no way I could get through feeling worse than this. I think I’ll just stop now.”
In reality you have no way of knowing how you’ll feel 20 minutes from now. You could have a surge of energy and feel better in 20 minutes than you’ve felt during the entire activity. So here is the lesson: take each step at a time and don’t project how you’ll feel past the present moment.
(S)ee the prize.
What do you really want in life? If you could leave a legacy, what would it be? Sometimes we don’t see the forest from the trees. We get so short term focused and caught up in the pain of right now that we don’t see that each action we take is actually a piece of a greater whole.
Start thinking about what you really want in life, whether that be good health, a World Record, or to inspire millions. It helps us keep things into perspective and diminishes the pain of the now.
Tony Robbins frequently states that there are only two driving forces that govern every one of our behaviors: avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure. By focusing on the pleasure of winning or doing something great, we learn to not think about the pain of right now.
Well there you have it. You should now have many tools to help you when that little devil pops up on your shoulder during a long run or a hard workout and says, “Buddy, you can’t do this. You’ve never been able to and you never will.”
You’ll immediately jump into action and beat the living daylights out of him and be well on your way to achieving greatness in your chosen endeavor.
Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic or if you know of any other strategies along with the above.
Post your comments and strategies below.