March 9, 2015

Use Play & Positivity to Perform

Do you have fun when you head out for a run?  When you think about going out for a three hour ride does it bring a smile to your face and make you feel good inside?  These are some of the first questions I ask athletes that I work with.  Here’s why.

It’s tough to get good at something that you don’t like.  And since participation in triathlon is strictly voluntary, if you don’t enjoy the training then you have to ask yourself why you would take on such a time consuming, complex sport?

Now by fun I don’t mean “laughing at a good joke” kind of fun.  What I’m referring to is the smile that creeps onto your face when you race to the nearest sign post.  Or the positive feelings you get when you think about spending the day chatting with your friends as you ride through the countryside.

Fun Drives Frequency:  Frequency Drives Fitness

Triathlon fitness isn’t something that just happens to you or that you’re born with.  It’s a result of consistent, focused training over time so you’ll likely need more than the promise of an external reward like a finisher’s shirt to keep you motivated.  You need that fire in the belly that drives you to get out and train day after day and keeps you in it for the long haul.  The joy you get from training and the satisfaction you get from tackling hard routines is the path to performance improvement.

This positive mindset toward triathlon training and racing isn’t something anyone can hand to you in a training plan.  It’s an attitude that only you can create and cultivate from the inside out by finding joy in the process.  The more ways you can make it fun for yourself the shorter and more satisfying your path to success in triathlon regardless of how you define it.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
Vincent van Gogh

Mr. van Gogh may not be the best person to quote when talking about building fun into your training but his words are profound.  Finding ways to build play into your training and then taking a moment to connect with your positive feelings are small things that can have a huge impact over time.  Here’s an example from my own training to give you an idea how this works.

When I was a kid I loved to play outside and much of that outside time was spent wandering and skipping through the woods surrounding my neighborhood.  For me skipping is play because it brings back enjoyable memories of carefree times.  And as luck would have it it’s also a very effective strength-building running plyometric exercise.

That’s why I regularly build skipping into many of my runs, except for very easy recovery runs.  Sometimes I skip for height and other times for distance.  It’s a simple, playful activity that’s easy to work into a run and the best part is it doesn’t take any additional time.  Little by little the skipping builds run specific strength, which translates into faster run splits as the season goes on.  But that’s just the play side of things. There’s a second step that was missing that I now have added.

When I get to the end of my run I stop and take a moment to positively connect to the run.   This is a very simple practice that takes literally no time (10-20 seconds) and, in my experience, can noticeably step-up your desire to get out and train more often.

Here’s how it works.  At the end of your workout before you dash off to your next task take a few moments to let yourself feel good about the session you just logged.  Simply take a few deeps breaths, genuinely congratulate yourself, smile, and let yourself feel the satisfaction of moving one step closer to your goals.  That’s all it takes.

The positive effect of this small activity on your motivation will not be immediate because that’s not the way positive emotions work.  Unlike negative emotions that have specific responses, such as flight, fight, or freeze, positive emotions are much broader in nature and slower to develop.  And as such it will take more time for them to work their magic and build the neural networks that will in time connect your training to a positive mindset that can transform your motivation to train into a solid habit.

So if you only do one new thing this season practice connecting to your positive feelings for a moment at the end of each work out.  If you want to push the envelope, find ways to build more play into your training, like doing a little skipping during your run, and you’ll find it easier to feel more positive about your training and, ultimately, you’ll just have more fun.

The cost is minimal and the benefits are better fitness, higher levels of intrinsic motivation, and best of all more joy in your day.  Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

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