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Free Your Mind: How to train your brain for the big race

If you are ready to win the big race but your mind is telling you to slow down, then you may need to strengthen your mental fitness. Retooling your self-talk could make the difference of meeting those fitness goals or reaching the podium. Reframing the brain can help you through, negative thinking, workout fatigue, and pain, and help you excel during a workout.

The first way to accomplish your target time is to marry your body and brain. That might depend on how hard you are working out. Your endurance and resilience may be different than what your brain is telling you, via your RPE. According to Healthline, your RPE is your rate of perceived exertion, or how hard you feel like you are working during your fitness routine, due to your breathing, heart rate, and muscle fatigue.

David Rock, an expert at Psychology Today explains that the brain automatically tries to minimize any extra effort made when the metabolic system in the body is being taxed. It isn’t out of the ordinary to try to avoid pushing past your comfort zone – your brain is telling you not to do it. So your perceived RPE could be different from the actual amount of work your body is exerting. Your RPE could be complicating your ability to push past a mental roadblock.

Just as you can change your brain to get through pain (whether it be physical or emotional), you can find a way to help your brain change its attention. Doing your mental gymnastics are just as important as stretching your actual muscles to excel in your fitness routine. Some different methods include focusing on something else through redirection, going through a guided meditation, taming negative circular thoughts, and reframing through a positive thought swap.

According to mental coach Dean Hebert, M.Ed. in Runner’s World “You need to train the brain like you train the body.” Even if your body has been conditioned to go the extra mile (or 26), if your mind is telling you that you’ll never make it, you probably never will. This doesn’t mean you are weak, it means that all of us need to practice mental mindfulness the same way we physically practice for a race or competition. Just as building endurance for a competition, this mental resilience won’t happen overnight. Also, staying in the moment often helps yield better results. Instead of focusing on the prize, concentrating on the moment you are in and getting through each step is a better way to reach your ultimate goal. Confidence is also key. According to Minnesota State University Director of the Center for Sport and Performance Psychology Cindra S. Kampoff, who spoke to in Runner’s World, pessimism can add minutes to your time or even make you drop out of the race entirely. Remaining positive is important to getting across the finish line or beating your time.

Sometimes when you are trying to achieve a goal, it helps to picture it before it happens. Visualization is essentially rehearsing in your mind how the race or competition is going to go, so you are prepared for the real-life event. According to The Motion Machine, this is a prime factor in many wins for medaling Olympic athletes. However, being result-oriented isn’t necessarily helpful. A lot of competitors take themselves through the actions they will undertake during the event, rather than the actual outcome of wanting to win. This step-by-step action plan helps them go for the gold in the moment. Others use guided meditations to help them see the future competition. Sports psychologists have recommended this practice to athletes in competitions to help them focus on the task at hand and get in “the zone” before the whistle blows. Anchoring is one method used to recall a particularly successful race or experience. Then by setting a physical action in connection with this memory, you can recall the experience for a positive boost.

If circular thinking or pessimism is dragging your feet, then reframing your thoughts might help. Elemental points out that for some, reframing your previously held beliefs will lessen your stress level during a workout. Boston Marathon running coach Paul Crocket states that for many marathon training is simply “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Once that idea is accepted, then the resistance falls away and it can be easier to push through a plateau. For those who obsess over numbers, then it can help to look at the big picture. If one certain mile is off, then look at it as a temporary loss, and move on to the next one. Fixating on the results of each mile or workout won’t help you reach your goal and may damage your confidence. Training is often a marathon, not a sprint, and the process will include good days and not so good ones. Realizing this will free you up to improve on the days where you aren’t at your best.

Another way to help you beat your brain’s ability to self-sabotage is to find what helps you focus. For some, a mantra with a particular word helps them achieve greatness. However, note that the actual word you use can be important so it doesn’t trigger the wrong response. If you are the type to focus on the pain, you may want to choose a word that highlights how tough you are.  If you are ‘in it to win it’, a word that drums up your competitive spirit might be your motivator. Others find that running outdoors is a nice distraction as they can view the scenery, rather than disco lights or blaring TV screens in a gym. Exercising outdoors tricks the brain by providing a distracting, somewhat calming background thus makes it seem like a shorter and easier workout, researcher Daniel Machado reported to Shape. If you are more aural than visual, you may be like many who find that inspiring music is key to optimizing their workout. According to Shape magazine, a Brunel University research study found that having uplifting or favorite music helped runners on a treadmill find their workout 10-12 percent easier. Also, the brain gets lulled by the tempo. Author Costas I. Karageorhis, Ph.D. tells Shape that “Brain waves are drawn into common oscillation with the rhythmic qualities of music”. So if your brain is misbehaving, crank the tunes. Music really will soothe this savage beast.