I have been wanting to write on this subject matter for the last month however I have only just made peace with my disappointing 5th placing at the Arnold Classic strongwoman world titles.
Buddha stated we are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. Let me share how I witnessed this over the past 6 months. As an athlete I truly realised and witnessed the power of the mind in achieving goals and KNOW categorically that the mind is the single most powerful tool to train, as a person and athlete.
I have previously briefly mentioned my preparation for the 2013 Strongwoman Fitness © World championships held at the Arnold Classic, in Columbus Ohio. Approximately 5 weeks out of contest, I realized how tired I was – physically and emotionally. I was tired of single minded focus on one date in the future and shunning life, friends and even at times family for contests. I concluded at this time, that I was no longer prepared to focus purely on training. I don’t know what happened to change my focus (certainly my love and adoration for my beautiful nephews played a part in this) but what I do know for certain is that I did not care if I competed or not, I was no longer prepared to miss life opportunities because I was competing and I was no longer prepared to put my family and friends second to my sport.
This mind set made preparing for the world titles the single most difficult contest preparation of my life – it certainly was not the heaviest contest but because my mind had shifted focus, I was required to grind the hell out of the last 5 weeks of training; from memory the most excruciating preparation of my life. I really have Jill Mills, Alanna Casey, Maya Winters and Kristin Danielson Rhodes to thank for pushing me to even get on the flight to Columbus to compete.
Through those last weeks I was in contact regularly with one of my best friends and favourite athletes Alanna Casey. Now here’s an athlete with ABSOLUTE confidence in their ability to thrash every other athlete in the field. I saw Alanna compete at the 2011 Americas Strongest Woman national titles and knew from there on, she was a fierce competitor. She KNEW in her mind she was going to win she spoke of it, desperately wanted it and suggested that second place was still up for grabs. This was a girl with a very clear goal and vision and she knew in her mind she was going to get it. This is what won Alanna the inaugural world title (that and the fact she is ridiculously strong and trains like a beast).
Jill Mills asked me the most simple yet profound questions while we were at the Arnold “When you are training what are you focused on? at work, what is your focus? and when you are with family where is your focus?” My reply? For a long time my focus was on my next training session and/or my next contest. Jill’s response – “focus 100% on what you are doing in the moment and find balance, Sue”.
Balance is so so hard when competing at an elite level however Clinical Psychologist, Edward Dreyfus (http://www.docdreyfus.com/psychologically-speaking/as-you-think-so-shall-you-become/) discusses the power of the mind in (sports) in terms of Black belt thinking. Dreyfus suggests that we can create and develop a clear vision of the person we intend to become. Dreyfus’ black belt thinking raises the question of “what values will you honour?” Black belt thinking is about living a principle based, purposeful life. It is more about living a meaningful life and making a difference in the world than it is about fighting. Black belt thinking emphasizes the idea that choices and behaviors that enhance one’s human potential will eventuate in life-long happiness rather than momentary happiness.
Dreyfus’ theory focuses on six inner values; integrity, discipline, persistence, humility, confidence, and courage:
Integrity: doing the correct thing because it is the correct thing to do, honoring others, living according to the principles of fairness; honoring commitments, keeping promises, accepting responsibility for ones actions.
Discipline: doing the correct things, correctly, every day, even when you do not feel like to doing it. Discipline teaches you to focus, avoiding distractions, and maintain a vision of your goals.
Persistence: when approaching a challenge in life, you go over it, under it, around it, or through it; quitting is not an option. No matter how times you are knocked down, you get up and move forward.
Humility: the willingness to learn from anyone, whether they are above or below you, whether you like them or not, you recognize that everyone has something to teach you. Modesty and respectfulness of others are central.
Confidence: self-esteem based on knowing that you are able to handle all aspects of life with calm, poise, and wisdom. It is an internal belief that indicates that you can and will accomplish the task before you and effectively cope with your circumstances.
Courage: standing up for what you believe even in the face of criticism; confronting challenges even when frightened; facing the day even when the obstacles seem daunting.
Dreyfus states that these values constitute one’s core; they become the internal compass that guides one’s actions. When engaging in the world, these values determine manner in which actions are executed. These are the qualities that I respect and adore in other athletes and these are the values that I want to exude as an athlete and person.
The above are values that we can shoot for. there will be times where we loose sight of these however as Dreyfus suggests as long as we hold these values in our mind, they will influence our behavior. With practice, with mindfulness, they will become part of who we are. Thinking in this way takes work, I would suggest almost as much work as the physical aspect of training however, As You Think, So Shall You Become!