Great athletes know the power of the mind to influence performance. They know the hallmarks of success aren’t just brawn or speed, but inevitably are concentration, intensity and relaxation—each of which requires mental focus to achieve. When you’re working out, especially when you’re exercising outdoors, you need to be able to draw on all three types of mental focus skills. You practice concentration in your moment-to-moment focus on the task at hand, blocking out distractions. You practice intensity by your mental commitment to the exercise you’re involved in, and by giving yourself the mental stimulation you need to complete your task. You practice relaxation by performing your workouts without tension and anxiety. Intensity, concentration and relaxation are learned skills. You train for these skills just as you train for strength and speed.
There are several simple techniques that you can rely on during a workout to help find your mental focus, and that combination of intensity, concentration or relaxation:
• Give your mind a warm-up. Familiarize yourself with the tasks of your workout and its purpose. Just as your body needs time to prepare for the physical task ahead, your mind needs warm-up time to acclimate to the job ahead.
• Pay attention to your inner voice. You know how common negative self-talk is, and how damaging it can be. Gently acknowledge the negative judgment as it arises, and replace it with a positive affirmation. As you breathe, think: “Positive (energy) in, Negative (energy) out.”
• Use your environment to relax. Open yourself up to your surroundings. Nature is a powerful relaxation tool. Feel through your feet. Listen to the sound of leaves rustling. Smell, taste, and feel the crashing of the sea nearby.
• Remind yourself of mindfulness! Remember the simple truth of mindfulness. Allow your mind to be full of the moment. Practice a quick PMJ exercise to rid yourself of distracting thoughts. Use a positive moving mantra—I am strong! I feel alive!—to keep yourself in the present.
• Smile. Definitely the simplest, and maybe the most potent! The physical act of smiling has in immediate and positive effect on your body and your mind. You can’t help but feel better when you smile (Try it now.) Use this when you feel you need a boost.
• Use Power Words. Finding a few meaningful and inspiring words to use during clutch moments of your workout can help you ramp up your intensity, focus your concentration, or relax your body. “Dig deep!” “Low and slow.” Create your own power words to help trigger your mental focus.