Last week in Friday FatBlack #16, Kristian  and I spoke about Self-Belief and how easily you can turn a negative situation into a positive one. This can have brilliant outcomes on your training and racing progress.  I really do think that this is the way forward in athletic performance. Imagine how awesome you could be if you could learn to shut off the negative-noise and remain focused on what you are doing.

That is a game-changer.

And it’s worth exploring in a bit more depth.

So firstly lets just clear up what is meant by “internal dialogue”: it is the little chat (good or bad) that you have with yourself on a daily basis. It might be during a session, when things start to get hard. It might be before or after a session when you are tempting the mind with excuses, or looking to beat yourself up over a ‘bad’ day.

— Just quickly, there is no such thing as bad session. If a training day doesn’t go as planned, it isn’t the end of your illustrious career as an Age Grouper. It is merely a lesson that you need to acknowledge and understand.

Ok so back to your internal dialogue. It is something that we all deal with.

Have you ever talked yourself out of doing something new, different, or crazy? That is your internal dialogue right there.

It is easily influenced by rational thought: using logic and conscious thinking to assess your situation (and ignoring emotions). If you let your inner-chatter become negative and emotionally charged, you subconsciously create a mindset that tricks you into believing that this thought process is factually true. If you are basing these thoughts on irrational thinking – ignoring logic and reason, then you are very effectively sabotaging yourself.

Let’s say that you do have a bad training session: you bailed halfway through for some reason, you didn’t complete all the efforts, or you didn’t train at all.

Irrational thinking (your internal dialogue becoming a Negative-Ninja) will start to tell you that it’s all over, you suck at life, and that you will never ever be as fast as you want to be. Might as well quit now.

Rational thinking (using logic and reasoning) tells you that one missed, incomplete or subpar session, DOES NOT unhinge the hours of work that you have put into developing your craft. It’s simply impossible for that one insignificant (to the bigger picture) session to completely trash your ability and render you incompetent. That is simple logic.

But how many times does that little voice get inside and start messing you up, confusing your logic and making you think the worst?

It can happen a lot.

IF you let it.

And if you let it trickle in a few times too many, then BOOM – all of a sudden the flood gates burst open and you are flailing aimlessly in the river of despair.

The constant drip drip drip of negativity can ruin your performance. More so than the session you miss, or do not complete.

Every single time you tell yourself that you are incapable of doing something; you add a layer to your self-conscious. The more layers you add, the harder it becomes for you to accurately and honestly assess your performances. This downward spiral can take you straight out of great form and into that ugly unmotivated state that we all dread. And is precisely why people struggle so much more when they are not motivated: The layers of negativity are too thick.

It might not always affect your performance in an obvious way. I can remember several situations where I trained like an absolute demon, and I was ready to race the house down. My ability was at an all-time-high. But when thing started to get uncomfortable, my head started talking me out of my ability, and I started to question what I really could and could not do. There was physically, absolutely nothing wrong with my ability. I had banked hours of quality training. BUT my head was open to negative thoughts and influence; my performance, under question, began to drop and went from hero to zero.

Sound kinda familiar?

We have all done it.

Building up that positive internal dialogue is something that sporting greats have mastered throughout time. Muhammad Ali is possibly the finest example: was he the greatest when he said he was? No, but he became the greatest because he constantly told himself he could, and would be the greatest. He was a true master of his internal dialogue. He was also a master of the external dialogue too. He had control over both.

The way to beat this is to learn to separate the chatter – distinguish what is good necessary feedback and what is simply useless but harmful junk. And look, it will not always be super-positive and warm fuzzies. Sometimes you do need to give yourself a kick up the backside. It can be a good thing.

Learning to separate the noise requires you to continually provide yourself with open and honest feedback:

Was the session good? Why was it good?

If it was ‘bad’, why? And what can you do to change that session for next time?

That is good internal dialogue. Stripping the crappy thoughts allows you much greater perspective and better judgment of where you are at with things. It is clarity. And, if you can’t separate the positive and negative reinforcement internally, you have NO chance of distinguishing the external either (the friends who love to tell you that you can’t do something).

You life isn’t, and should be, completely separate from the sport. The two influence each other. If you are negative in other aspects of your life, these thoughts and behaviours will influence the sport. And if you are negative about your ability as an athlete, you begin to negatively impact other areas of your life; work, family, finances etc. It is a state of mind that is not isolated to just one aspect of life. So if you are going down a positive path in one area, you have to do the same in all areas.

I recently watched a documentary on an Ace jet fighter squadron. These guys are known as the absolute best in their business. What I found interesting about these guys is that before they flew, they sat in a group with eyes closed and “rehearsed” their manoeuvres for hours until they were 100% certain that they had each created an extremely form visual map of what they needed to do. Now these guys fly military jets at stupendous speeds, less than a meter apart whilst doing all sorts of crazy rolls, loops and twists. In unison.

That requires some pretty solid internal dialogue. They key is that they set themselves up before every flight to ensure they know and understand everything that is required of them. This positively enforces their mindset, and greatly reduces the capacity for errors or poor judgment (which would be bad).

You might not be a fighter-pilot, but you can spend a little bit of time each day re-enforcing the mental imagery of your sessions, focusing on the movement specifics: how you breathe, what your body is doing and experiencing. Be realistic about it. Don’t simply close your eyes and imagine yourself riding at 45+km/h with a huge smile on your face, no pain in the legs and a HR of about 70bpm. Not exactly a realistic situation.

Racing is hard, it demands a great deal from the body. So when you spend time visualizing your training or racing situations, you need to include the element of pain and suffering. This will help develop your tolerance for the real pain that you will have to go through during a race.

Don’t treat the pain as a negative though. Embrace it. Absorb it. Focus on it and make it become part of your (good) internal dialogue.

We are all human, and it unrealistic of me to expect everyone to remain positive all of the time. Things happen that can throw you off, but the better you are at dealing with this internally, the quicker you will recover and get back to task. Stop wasting your time on the negative crap. It sucks all of the enjoyment and fun out of what you’re doing and will eventually ruin your racing.

Focus on the positives, and you will increase your performance.


Coach Pete Lever