Should you ‘Psych Up?’
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 27th, 2013

Just two weeks ago, in a previous post, I pondered the wisdom of advice in the NY Times “Well’ blog which suggested you keep telling yourself “This workout feels good” . . . even when it doesn’t.

That section of the Times continues to offer tips about how to ‘psych yourself’ through an exercise session.

This week, the post The Workout: A Woman in Nascar featured an interview with Christmas Abbott,  one of the first women to become a full-time member of a Nascar pit crew–where the job description includes changing two 90-lb tires in less than 15 seconds.

Christmas Abbott at the gym

Christmas Abbott — ‘the baddest person in here.’

Ms. Abbott owns a CrossFit gym and has signed an endorsement deal with Reebok.

Here Ms. Abbott describes her self-talk routine when preparing to lift a heavy weight.

Q. How has your approach to exercise changed over time?

A. I used to think negatively about myself when I worked out. But then I got tired of listening to that little voice inside my head. So I started talking positively to myself, and it’s transformed my workouts.

Q. Can you give us an example?

A.  If I’m fatigued and I have to lift the bar again, I used to say to myself, “Come on, why can’t you just do it?” Or, “What’s wrong with you, you should have been able to do that.”

But now I quiet that voice and I stoke my own ego, even if it’s a lie at the moment. I’ll tell myself: “You’re the baddest person in here. All you have to do is take a step back, breathe, and now let’s lift it.” I just tell myself that I’m the best in there and I’m rocking it and nobody can touch me.

Anyone who practices improvement-minded swimming, particularly when that improvement involves training to swim faster times, has done training sets that culminate in a highly challenging effort on the final repeat.

When doing such sets I used to just try harder. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

In the past few years,  as I prepare for a supreme effort, I visualize how my stroke will feel if I swim at the very peak of my ability. Usually it’s a very specific sensation I visualize–such as feeling myself powered by my core, not my arms and legs. Or perfect syncrhonization in all my movements.

And virtually every time, I come very close to the sensation I visualized and match or exceed the time I’m aiming for.

The main characteristic of this approach to mental prep is that it focuses on specific critical actions the body must perform well–drawing on memories of having performed them at peak efficiency previously.

This is an example of process-oriented thinking, a central attribute of Deliberate Practice. It’s self-talk that really works.

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