Whether it be the disappointment of being pulled out of the water due to a shark sighting – preventing you from completing an Ironman you’ve trained months for, the rising fear that you haven’t done enough training, a panic attack in the swim, a bike mechanical or a bad case of nerves, any of these issues can potentially cause you to ‘choke’ and derail your performance. However you can overcome these setbacks by practicing mindfullness to manage your stress levels before and during your race.
To race well you need some stress. But you need to strike the right balance, to be in the zone rather than ‘choking’ before you get to the finish line.
As discussed by Robert Piper in The Mental Game: Why High Performance Athletes Should Meditate, just the right amount of stress puts you in the right mindset. However if under extreme stress your heart rate elevates and you began to lose complex motor skills and focus.
Being in the moment is key
“Not being in the moment is a mind that’s set in confusion,” says Piper.
He says that if you’re thinking about your setbacks or a past negative event, you’ll probably choke.
See some mindfulness exercises below to get your mind in the best shape for race season.
1. Focus on your breathing
One of the simpliest ways to ease stress and slow the heart rate down is by focusing on something we do all the often time without thinking – breathing. Controlled deep breathing helps to send signals to the sympathetic nervous system to slow down the overactive heart.
By slowing breathing from your diaphragm and including meditation, mantras and visualisation you can relax your mind and body to reduce stress and perform better.
Next time your feeling nerrvous at the start line, or in the morning as part of race preparation try this breathing counting exercise:
A.Breathe in for four counts and breathe out for four
B.Breathe in for five counts and breathe out for five
C.Continue and increase your counting– breathe in and out up to eight counts.
2. Add a mantra
A mantra is a word or phrase we say in our mind or listen to. It helps us to meditate as it gives the mind a focus, as our minds are often over stimulated and overwhelmed.
On the inhale say internally or verbally ‘sat’, whilst breathing from the lower belly all the way to the top of the ribs and, on the exhale, say ‘nam’ to calm yourself, advises the founder of Yoga Meditation Sound studio Alexis Hannagan.
You can also say your own positive phrase such as, ‘I’m calmer, relaxed and focused’ to ‘I am full of life and energy’ or simply the word ‘peace’.
“These positive words can change your outlook. When we put positive changes into our life we look forward rather than thinking how stressful things are and looking back at the past”, says Hannagan.
Watch this Deeprak Chopra video on how to meditatte to your own personal mantra to help attain a peaceful sleep.
3. Visualise your way to calmness
Try this Quieting Response mindfulness breathing exercises which can easily be done in the morning or the night before a race:
•’Smile inwardly’ with your eyes and mouth, roll your shoulders down your back and let go of your stomach muscles.
•Imagine holes in the soles of your feet as you take a deep breath in, visualise hot air gowing through these holes moving slowly relaxing your muscles, up your legs, through your abdomen and filling your lungs.
•When you exhale reverse to visualise hot air coming out the same holes in your feet.
•Repeat whenever you need to feel calm.
By documenting in a journal your goals, achievements, challenges, fears, training sessions and even what you’re eating you can identify patterns of behaviour you can improve on, enhance your motivation and even conquor your subconsious fears – be it an ocean swim or descending a steep climb.
Director of Corporate Edge, John Colbert says that 99 per cent of our behaviour is driven by the subconscious part of our brain.
“The subconscious brain is is the survival instinct designed to protect us from pain so we avoid doing things without realising it, which can be the enemy of personal growth” says Colbert.
If you want to overcome your subconscious mind to reach a goal, think positively and write down the answers to these questions:
- Why do I want to achieve this goal?
- What’s the upside of achieving it?
- What are the risks and the likelihood of those risks occurring?
Then list beliefs that you feel are stopping you from doing the things you want, the ‘but’ statements such as I want to do an ocean swim ‘but’ I can’t because I panic in the surf.
John suggests reframing these statements into empowering beliefs, so change the ‘but’ to an ‘and’: ”I want to do an ocean swim and I will do it by training in open water with a coach once a week and swimming in the ocean on the weekends.”
Self-talk can determine behaviour and beliefs so by changing those thoughts to be more positive and conscious, we can make positive changes.