This year has been challenging. Work has been challenging. Projects with the home renovation have been challenging. And committing and training for a triathlon has been challenging.
Disclaimer: This isn’t intended to be a dark post – if you can make it till the end, you’ll see the marshmallows in this bowl of Lucky Charms.
I could elaborate – but the point is, life will always present challenges. Life will throw you curve balls, disappointments and derail you. But staying focused on the end goal, the overall benefit or the “finish line” helps to keep you going. And to be honest, that isn’t always going to be enough. You’ve got to develop a new level of perseverance and for me, if I’ve had to do any training this year its been on developed my mental toughness.
One of the most common questions I get when people hear that I’ve been training for a race (which some might consider cruel and unusual punishment) for almost a year is “Why?” And frankly, my “why” keeps changing. Some days it’s because I started this whole ordeal because it was a bucket list goal. Then it became a science project to see what my body was capable of. And some days it was because I’ve gotten this far so why stop now… But ten months into this process my answer today would be “to see what else I can learn in the process.”
In this process, I’m learning that mental toughness is a muscle that needs to be exercised, fueled, flexed and also given time to recover.
When the alarm goes off at 5:30am to workout from 6:00am-7:00am, 49% of me says “GO BACK TO SLEEP…” But the 51% says “You’re working towards something bigger.” And some days, its 75-100% “Lets do this” and 25-0% “You’re warm and comfortable – you’d be crazy to jump in a swimming pool… it’s ####### January!” But I’ve had to train myself to see the cost and the benefit and put my faith in the latter.
This same practice comes to play when you’re on a bike for what seems like forever, your butt hurts and your legs are cramping… You have to rely on that toughness to tell you to keep your cadence up, switch to a lower gear and that “little old” hill climb will be over soon.
…and when the hill is greater than your push that day – you walk your bike up the hill next to speeding cars honking at you… and you use the time to hydrate, eat whatever nutrition you packed for the ride and tell yourself every honk is someone who thinks you look damn good in bike shorts.
It’s not the outcome you wanted like powering over a tough climb, but you didn’t stop and made the best use of your time and effort – and that’s still a win.
That mental toughness is telling the voices in your head (and in the outside world) that your smarter, stronger and bigger than the obstacle in your way. Sure, you’ll get knocked down and failure is always a possibility. But toughness means getting back up and continuing to move forward and learning along the way.
There are a million Instagram posts, quotes and stories that reinforce this – but not enough dots to connect you from where you are to where you want to be.
For me, I connect those dots by fueling my mental toughness – and I do that in a lot of different ways.
I try to celebrate the milestones and forward momentum no matter how big or small they might be. I post almost all of my workouts on my Instagram Story (because posts on FB or an actual IG Post would be way more annoying than my posts already are). I do this, because on long rides on my indoor bike trainer, I love watching my IG Story highlights and seeing my times, distances and training that got me to where I am today. I am far from where I’d like to be, but I can 100% celebrate how far I’ve come. Using IG Stories has helped me do that and after 10 months of training, I can smile and laugh at the posts – which burn about 12 minutes (and growing) of time on the bike! (@MattthewCGoto on Instagram)
Selfishly, everyone likes attention – I’m not going to say I don’t like compliments or praise received on social media. But the reason I like the comments (and don’t act like you don’t) is because I’m my hardest critic. I’m the first person to compare the watts from todays workout to yesterdays. I can tell you if I’m getting faster or slower in each discipline down to the second, yard and mile. And I have a laundry list of thing I know I can do better or be better at… But I’m not as quick to give myself a pat on the back or praise – which is worth its weight in gold when someone who you care about, respect and trust leaves you the comment “I’m proud of you” or “You’re killing it.”
Narcissistic? Maybe. Reinforcing Mental Toughness? Absolutely.
Another way to build your mental toughness is by finding a community of support who can hold you accountable and cheer you on. I train mostly by myself because of my travel schedule, but I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky to have a local gym/studio with caring, passionate and supportive people who always ask me how my training is going. Not just to be polite, but because they genuinely care and are cheering me on through this journey. I can’t count the number of times I left a hard workout feeling physically depleted – but fueled spiritually and mentally because of the advice, support and energy my community shares with me.
And I have some amazing friends and mentors who send me random and unexpected messages of encouragement – who I can never truly thank enough for their support. And my Plus+ for life has been more understanding and supportive than I deserve – especially with the 5:00am wake-up calls and the fact that I’m always wearing running shorts in public. #WhoWearsShortShorts #ItsMe
And I also fuel my mental toughness by leaving myself positive affirmations. For me, this comes in the form of post-its (so many post-its) to remind myself how many days I have till my next race – or to be confident with new projects at work or during tough decision making. Sometimes it’s setting a playlist with music that puts me in the best state of mind to crush a workout, relax or sometimes hits so hard I’m ready to go to war. And sometimes it’s as simple as a bag of gummi bears (Haribo – everyone else to the back of the line) waiting for me in my stinky gym bag as a post workout treat. #TreatYoSelf #GummiBears #HashtagsAreStupid
But what I have found to be the one of the best ways to reset, put me in the right mentality to take on challenges and to fill the mental toughness tank in my brain is to take a step back and come up for air… (and unlike everything else in triathlon, air is free)! The “time out” to breathe helps put things into perspective, slows down your heart rate and allows you to re-evaluate the situation.
If you get anything from my 2,000 words of rambling, I hope you can take these traits to build your own mental toughness – or at least gain some understand as to why other people do the things they do..
- Celebrate Milestones
- Be Open and Appreciate Praise
- Find a Community of Support
- Positive Affirmations
- Come up for Air
And if you are one of the lucky ones who have these tools, please help provide these for others. Give the compliment, ask what you can do to help someone else breathe easier and take the 2 seconds to give someone praise – you never how how impactful that can be. Sure, I’m talking about triathlons which most people will never try – but these principles speak to challenges in general – and we can all agree that we appreciate all the help we can get when life gets challenging.
So when things get challenging – like this mornings swim workout that I felt would never end, my neck mobility was non-existent and my coffee wasn’t kind to my stomach – I came up for air (literally – I soooo need to write Dad Jokes). I looked at my mental toughness checklist and appreciated the fact that I’m healthy, spending time on my personal growth and development, and have so much to be grateful for. Then I put my goggles back on my face (and awkwardly smiled at the old dude splitting my lane – he didn’t share my joy… but I’ll win him over eventually) and started playing one of my favorite songs in my head, and got back to swimming with the rhythm of the song in my head keeping my pace – and pushing through the neck cramps by switching lanes and being grateful for clean restrooms conveniently located to near the lap pool.
Once I finished the workout, I took a 6:48am selfie with goggle lines on my face and smiled – not just because the workout was done – but because I dipped into my mental toughness to go head to head with this mornings challenge… and I came out ahead.
I am still learning – every single day I’m learning. And in being open to learning I hope that I am growing in this process.
That you for reading – I hope you were able to cash in on the metaphorical Lucky Charm Marshmallows of positivity I hoped to share in this post.
I’m excited to share more of my triathlon journey with you and all that I’m learning in the process. If you have any training tips, advice or even general feedback – please send it my way – like I said, I’m always learning and would love to learn from your experiences too!