Mindset: How to use training to overcome mental barriers

Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash.jpg

It's the next big thing and it's logical that it comes after improving technique and hitting PR's. After a while, it's normal to reach a plateau. What also happens if we tend to train with a partner and we have become equally strong is to begin wondering if there is something else we can change in our training to beat our opponent other than lifting heavier weights.


We face mental barriers daily, whether it's in a workout, at work or in our personal life. The same scenario occurs: the inner voice runs a monologue which seems to dictate our actions. We end up slowing down on the treadmill, putting weights down, giving up on a promotion, missing deadlines, or turning away from sticking points in our relationships.


Working on mindset during training has the advantage of isolating us, facing ourselves instead of involving a third party. It's easier to pinpoint when we are flinching and therefore get out of a rut. The work we do on ourselves is then translated in other areas of our lives because after all, we deal with the same brain, emotions, and mind daily.


What is mindset?

The Collins dictionary refers to mindset as "Someone's general attitudes and the way they typically think about things." 

In training, it's how we approach the workout, what we tell ourselves during the exercises, how we race through the finish line, but it's also how we behave outside the gym. Spending perhaps two hours maximum at the gym per day is not enough time to fully explore ourselves. Tom Foxley, mindset coach from the Mindset RX'd explains in his article that the foundation rests on self-knowledge. "How To Develop Self-Knowledge: Learn what self-talk is best for your performance, know which mindset model you reside in, learn the beliefs you hold about your potential." Working on mindset is an on-going process.


When do we need mindset in training?

In training, we focus on performing, and what works for someone will not necessarily be valid for another person. That is the reason why when we open a book or listen to a podcast about mindset, and try to apply it in training, most of the time we feel demotivated. We choose to go back to our original thoughts because that's what feels natural and sustainable in the long term.


The way our thoughts emerge in a tough workout probably resurfaces in the same manner when given a difficult task at work or facing adversity in life. It seems complicated and unsettling but it really follows the same pattern over and over again. If we can untangle how our thoughts interfere with our actions in a workout, there is a good chance we can apply it in our life outside the gym.


What kind of mental barriers are we talking about?

Mental barriers can be defined in different settings: at the gym while feeling physical pain and having to push through, when doubting before a public speaking event, or being assertive in an interview. Due to their intricate nature, mental disorders and chemical imbalances do not take part in the mental barriers mentioned above in this article.

The internal growth of a gym member, an athlete or a professional competitor touches on their abilities to alter their mindset, elevate themselves from where they are now to where they want to be (which we will discuss further below). 




Do all sports have mental barriers?

In sport, what differentiates two athletes of the same physical caliber is what is going on in their minds. Although it is possible to copy paste a training and scientifically come close to a dietary regimen and recovery process, it is however more complex to replicate a mindset. That is why a champion is praised and acclaimed.

Other than inherent qualities acquired from birth, athletes' thought process lies on life events, resilience to bear physical pain and enough confidence to believe that they can be the best.

It's not arrogance, but in our society, it is often considered rude to be overly confident when it's really about gathering each part of the body and the mind to resonate with the end result which is to win.

'You can't correct what you are not aware of' states Justin Su'a in the Brute Strength podcast below. In order to develop a thought or eradicate a belief, one has to be conscious of that element.


The Body Achieves What The Mind Believes - Ep. 42



How to build mental toughness?

What does it mean to train the brain? It implies creating new habits in regards to adversity. We will always face stress, obstacles, and unsettling situations, how we react and bounce back from it is improvement. As those recurrent hurdles arise, the feeling of discomfort and pain lessens.



The same way we plan to focus our best intentions toward a workout, we need to pay attention to the automatic responses disrupting our concentration during training. Writing them down and avoiding getting rid of them is crucial because what we least want is to be indifferent.

Mark England founder of Procabulary invites us to "change the conversation in our minds". We do so by modifying thoughts when they first reach our minds. It is not about rainbows and unicorns but a proven fact that by switching some words in our language, we can actually influence our actions. It's powerful. The video below illustrates how the conscious manifestation of positive language impacts our feelings, emotions, the world around us, and our future. 


Identity vs. Process: Reinterpreting Failure | Mark England | TEDxRVA: Identity vs. Process: Reinterpreting Failure | Mark England | TEDxRVA



What is visualization?

Visualization is the process of foreseeing oneself through imagination in the future, positively accomplishing tasks in order to seek success.


It is not a one-off exercise but a repetitive effort of the mind during which a mental image of ourselves is drawn in an upcoming specific context. Each movement pattern, each thought, and even each sound is seen, heard, and felt by individuals visualizing their process.


Morghan King, 2016 Rio Olympian explains in a California Strength article how she has learnt to practice her "mental reps" numerous times before lifting. The action doesn't have to take place in the next 24 hours. The longer we work on it, the more details we can gather to create the most positive and successful performance.

When facing difficulty during a lift or a wod, remembering that we have done it previously usually soothes our nerves and allows to reset our mental state. The intend is the same when we visualize.


Everything that is mentioned above is applicable to everyday life, even visualization. It won't probably be about reps and weights but rather about time, location, job, and personal status. At the moment, there is some controversy regarding visualization especially when it comes to foreseeing a radically different situation than the one we are in now. Visualization is not day dreaming. To get to the mental image we create, an immense amount of work to has to be put in. It won't happen by finger-flicking. Going back to Morghan King's example, as she envisions her reps, she works simultaneously on technique, strength, and anything else that will get to her objective. Creating a vision in the near future allows us to retroactively plan all the steps which are needed to get there.


How can mindset transfer from training to everyday life?

What we learn to achieve during training is manifold.


-Facing adversity

-Reacting to unknown scenarios

-Holding onto pain and discomfort

-Rapidly switching from an unfavorable to encouraging positive self-talk

These are some of the basic benefits of experimenting with mindset at the gym. Note that none of these facts are only applicable to a gym setting environment. We could take any of these and think of them at the workplace, or at home.


The mind won't remember the place and time where it last trained, but recall the process. Just like when training our muscles to be functional, we are able to mimic the motion when lifting a suitcase in the overhead compartment of a plane. Although we are not at the gym anymore, we can transfer as much power and intention as if we were.


As amateur athletes, we have the chance to experience growing our mindset when practicing sports requiring dedication, adaptability, and self-belief. We watch professionals work on their form and technique but what we rarely observe is how they train their thoughts. We, too, can reach our best self by practicing daily, perhaps not to be the best in the sport, but to become the best version of ourselves in our daily lives, surely.



Photo Credit: Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash, Mindset RX’d and Procabulary