Controlling your thoughts for more success
Do you wish you had the mental toughness of an extreme athlete?
Do you seek the confidence to deal with any threat, to steer any situation or challenge to a positive outcome? If so, you can now learn the secrets to Mental Toughness and to developing a never quit mindset from an Athlete/Business woman who has been there and done that.
The keys to the mind - Control your mind, control your destiny
The following are just a couple of the powerful key traits and exercises that I have learnt over my long ultra marathon career doing the most extreme events and expeditions on the planet and through pushing the limits in my businesses and in my personal life.
These will give you a taste of the lessons you can learn in my online academy, in“The Path of an Athlete” eCourse and insight in to your true potential if you control your mind.
Why do you need mental toughness?
Life is hard and you need to be harder to survive, whether that be in your sport, in the boardroom, starting a business or striving for excellence as an artist or academic. The competition in the world is fierce and if you want to succeed and beat the odds you better believe you need to be tough, persistent and willing to do what others are not.
If you want to be a leader, if you want to do good in this world and leave a legacy that has impact, you will need to beat the odds, you will need mental toughness and resilience or you will break.
Being an ultra marathon athlete is all about mental strength. It has, contrary to popular belief, very little to do with you fitness or genetic athletic ability, I didn’t have either of those and was below average and had to overcome major physical obstacles even to stand on the start line. b
What is most important for getting through the most gruelling training and races or surviving expeditions, is your mental toughness your ability to persist in the face of adversity, your ability to fight on when every cell in your body is screaming at you to stop, to keep going when everyone around you is telling you will fail, you aren’t good enough, you can’t do it, it’s too hard, the odds are against you. It’s having that relentless positive attitude that despite the fears, the doubts, the pain and the struggle keeps you putting one foot in front of the other.
Ultra marathons really test your mental mettle. They are designed to push you mentally to the brink, over and over again, until you are hardened and able to take on any task with confidence, regardless of the odds — These events can have you at the brink of physical and mental collapse, for days on end. With your body shutting down, dehydration, extreme heat, the dangers of the remote corners of the earth you are battling through, fatigue, extreme pain and fear are all constant companions.
Tip 1 - Positive self talk - Our brains chatter away at us constantly. There is never a let up. We have over 60,000 thoughts a day and not all of them are productive or even sensible. So how do we make sure to only let positive stuff spew forth and how do we cut the negative crap off at the knees.
It’s easy to give into the whining, negative mentality, the poor me victim mentality, the “it’s unfair mentality” or the “I will never make it through this “ mentality.
It takes a constant vigilance to recognise when our thoughts are spiralling downward to and to stop that flow. We can do that by distraction, just like you would a naughty child that is crying because he can’t have the lollies, distracting him by “ ooh look there, the kids are playing ball, do you want to join in”. The principle being distract your mind from the small focus of the negative thought, not by saying “You can’t have the lolly” to use our example but by saying “hey look there is something exciting over there”.
We have the choice to change each of our thoughts. Negative thoughts may flow into the mix but it’s a matter of not letting them take control, it’s about getting rid of them as fast as possible and moving onto the positive again.
Ask yourself many times a day this question. What are your thoughts doing presently? Are these thoughts uplifting and moving your forward or bringing you down. Are you thinking in terms of blaming others, giving yourself excuses not to do something or denying truths and not facing them or are you thinking in a way that is owning up to your situation, being responsible for your own destiny and being accountable.
By stopping many times a day and asking yourself this you can start to build a picture of whether you are improving your thought processes or not.
You may have heard the saying “You are what you eat” but equally “You are what you think”
We often defeat ourselves, our plans and dreams and goals by letting that negative voice win over and give us the easy way out which is only ever easy in the present tense but always leads to bigger heavier regrets, negative consequences later.
By disciplining our thoughts and being hyper-vigilant we control our eventual destiny.
Our minds though work on many levels and sometimes our conscious thoughts are the only thing effecting us.
We also have physiological responses to our conscious and subconscious thoughts and we need to learn to control these as best we can as well. Take for example the pianist who practices for months then freezes as they get on stage to perform or the man at the scene of an accident who is frozen unable to help as panic and fear seize him.
By learning to control some aspects of our thought processes and our physiology we can minimise the chance of this happening to us. Breath control is a good place to start, diaphragmatic breathing that is controlled can help stop the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline from taking away our control and letting our nerves get the better of us or take control of our biochemistry/physiology.
You can see each scary goal you have as a challenge or you can see it as a threat. If you see it as a threat on a physical and chemical level you will get very nervous, start breathing very shallow, cortisol will be released into your blood system and your adrenaline will go through the roof and fear and stress will start taking over and your performance will be less than optimal.
If you see the event or goal as an exciting challenge and opportunity then you will be, on a physical level geared to optimum performance, optimum strength and creativity, will have faster reactions and be more mentally alert. You will still be amped up but testosterone will be released into your blood which will make you feel stronger, better and more confident and confidence is the key to success and bringing your best performance on the day.
It's getting into a STATE to succeed. If you do things like deep breathing, controlling your thought directions and focus on things that will help not hinder, on positive outcomes, not fear, if you can visualise the win, your physiology will mirror that and help you get there.
Try this next time you are nervous, find a private spot and do a few minutes of deep breathing with your eyes closed, breathing into your stomach not high in the chest - this tells your body you aren’t in danger (the fight or flight syndrome) so you stop producing cortisol and adrenaline and this calms you down.
Now visualise success (do these also in the weeks leading up to the event), visualise you killing it, you winning, you feeling great be as detailed in your visualisation as possible, see it, feel it, smell it). Now get your body into the game by power posing.
Stand up tall, chest out arms pumped in the air (like Rocky Balboa at the top of those steps), feel the power course through you. Go through in your mind all the preparation you have done. Now leave the fear behind, squash it, kick it out and put your game face on envisage yourself a warrior, strong and powerful, use whatever image you associate with confident, capable and powerful.
Come out now on fire and ready to take on the challenge, whether its public speaking or running a marathon or facing a difficult board meeting. Feel the force as they say in star wars. It works.
Now I wanted to take you on a quick journey with me. Picture this scenario you are lost in the Jordanian desert with only half a litre of water left. You are surrounded by a pack of wild dogs, it’s pitch black and all you can hear are their snarls and all you can see are their eyes reflected by your torch light, you have been battling through the desert for over 40 hours without any sleep, our are fatigued in the extreme, your resources and energy, your mental focus and will power are waning and you are dehydrated and have extreme pain on top of that you have diarrhoea.
This is the sort of situation I regularly found myself in throughout my career as an ultra athlete. I would often end up in unforeseen situations where I had to control my mind or end up in dire straits or worse. In those deepest and darkest of moments you learnt there was no where to run to, no one to hide behind and no one but yourself you could get you out. Controlling your mind and your thoughts was the only chance you had of making it out.
Such lessons, as hard and as horrible as they are set you up for success because no matter the situation you face in that boardroom, that speaking engagement, that marathon or that obstacle in business you know there is a way through and it begins with you .
You’ve set yourself a daunting challenge, something bigger than you have ever achieved before. Maybe it’s running your first marathon, starting a new business or getting a qualification or nailing a deal in the boardroom.
Whatever your goal is doesn’t really matter. Your main concern is that it is scary and daunting and you are feeling a mixture of fear and apprehension.
As the first seeds of doubt creep into your mind, it doesn’t help that your friends and family think you’re a bit nuts and are calling you crazy or your colleagues don’t think you can do it or your best friend thinks this plan is doomed to failure.
Before you know it, you’re waking at 2am, gazing at the ceiling, questioning yourself. You end up oscillating between days of excitement and confidence, and days of doubt and despair.
Take a deep breath, it’s okay, this is completely normal.
When that doubting voice in your head is screaming disaster and doom, seek out that quiet inner voice that set you on this path in the first place. That confident, strong-willed voice full of self-belief that knows you can reach your goal.
Sometimes it’s just a whisper but it will be there - listen closely.
Think about your motivation, what got you inspired to chase this dream? Why are you doing this? What will you achieve? What are the benefits – for your health, your mental well being, your confidence, perhaps even for your loved ones? Think really hard about this.
In those motivations you’ll find reasons to fight and overcome the fear and the doubt. It is there you’ll also find the strength you will need to plough on through the middle section of the battle, to jump over any obstacle in your path and reach the finish line and conquer that big scary goal.
There’s something magical that happens when you stand on the start line or wherever it is you take on your goal. You’ll be surprised what resources you can pull out, you will be able to do things you could never do in regular training.
You will find reserves and strength you never knew existed if you are just brave enough to start.
Stand up, feel the fear and go for it anyway. Every big achievement in life requires discipline, persistence, preparation, fortitude and flexibility.
It will be worth it. You just need to take that first step. And then the next one
Why it's important, and what your brain does when you set a goal?
When you set a specific and clear goal that is attached to a time limit or a particular event, you set a number of things in motion.
Whatever you focus on, you will retain.
In your brain, you have something called a RAS filter, or the reticular activating system. It is the portal through which nearly all information enters the brain. (Smells are the exception; they go directly into your brain’s emotional area.) The RAS filters the incoming information and affects what you pay attention to, how aroused you are, and what is not going to get access to all three pounds of your brain.
For survival’s sake, your RAS responds to your name, anything that threatens your survival, and information that you need immediately.
But when you set a goal and hold it in your focus daily, your RAS begins to search out things that you see, hear or learn that could help you achieve your goal.
You will recognise opportunities, learn and retain pertinent information and even develop social contacts that will help you on your mission.
Set long-term, short-term goals and sub-goals or milestones that you can attain on the way.
Read over your long-term goals. Make sure they’re still pertinent to your vision. Change, delete, or add goals as necessary.
Read or create your short-term goals. Determine the timeline for each. Change them according to current needs, trends, and modifications in your mission or vision.
Your RAS helps you keep them in mind. Even when you don’t realise you’re thinking about these goals, your brain knows that they’re important and makes note of anything that might relate to them.
For example, let's say you make a goal to buy a red Hyundai SUV. Now everywhere you go, you will be seeing red Hyundai SUV's and you will think, “Gosh, I don't remember seeing them before! Maybe it's meant to be…” But what's really happening is that your RAS filter has taken note of the fact you want a red Hyundai, and then every time one passes your vision, where before you would have let it go, you now catch that thought and bring it into your conscious awareness. That is one way goals can work for you.
When you set a goal, there are a few things that can help you keep disciplined enough to achieve them:
• Tell everyone what you are going to do and achieve. By putting it out there publicly to friends and family, you will more likely be committed to that goal and you will be more likely to do the necessary hard work to get there, like getting up early to go for a run in the cold dark morning instead of staying cosy in bed—because you know if you don't get up, you won't be fit enough to do that race you have announced you are doing. We don't want things to reflect badly on us, and that is a strong motivating factor to keep you on track.
• Sign a commitment contract. It's might sound a tad naff, but if you write down your clear and specific goal and get it signed by a friend or family member that will witness it you are more likely to honour that contract.
• Set sub-goals. Running marathon in six months’ time under 4 hours is good and specific, but it would be beneficial to have some smaller measurable milestones along the way. Let's say a half marathon in two months’ time in under 2 hours. Then even smaller sub-goals, like: “This week I will complete my 5 training days as written.”
• If you stumble and don't do the thing you set out to, get back on the horse fast. Don't grumble how you didn't achieve your training goals last week, or how you couldn't finish the race over the weekend. Move on quickly and get rid of any negative connotations about it as fast as you can. By dwelling on the niggling injury that stopped you running the last two weeks won't help you reach your goals. Just get back into it when you can and get on with the job at hand. Looking back won't help. Look forward.
• Seek out like-minded people who will support you on your journey. Join a group or club or coaching team that will understand your goals and not put you down. Who will be positively accompanying you on your mission?
• If you fail in your goal. Try again and again. Improve, change, tweak but don't give up. Tenacity and stubbornness and a willingness to fail, grittiness and courage are what makes a leader, an achiever. Strength comes from struggle, so see a silver lining in every struggle you have.
I hope this brief insight into a couple of the skills you will need to develop your mental strength and your resilience, has been beneficial and I would love to continue this conversation with you inside my academy and on “The Path of an Athlete” course which you find more out about here.
Invest in yourself and in controlling and educating your mind and you will reap the rewards of success whatever the goal or dream you have.