In my previous post on the mental approach to achieving elite goals, I suggested that we can use similar techniques to achieve our personal fitness goals.  In contrast to Mind Gym, which discusses goal achievement through visualization, The NYT article I read discussed the psychology used by high achievers during their performance.

According to the article, elite level performance not only requires a high pain tolerance (obviously) but also a specific mental approach to the pain.  In the words of Mary Wittenberg, an elite runner quoted in the article ‘The ability to manage and even thrive on and push through pain’ is one of the key secrets to becoming an elite runner.

There are different tactics for coping with physical discomfort, two of which are dissociation & association.  Dissociation means to think of something other than the task at hand in order to distract yourself away from the pain.  While many athletes do this, top level performers tend to associate.

Association is the more difficult of the two and is the act of focusing directly on the act you are performing.  This means concentrating, focusing, and even thriving upon the pain, the exertion, the actions your are taking, and the competitors.  It seems association tends to produce the better performance.

My opinion in working with & speaking to high performing athletes
The psychological aspect of performance is the most important factor of performance in my opinion.  Sure, everything requires certain talents, genetics, and physical ability.  But  in the athletes I work with and talk to, one thing comes through loud and clear:  the absolute faith and confidence in oneself and their ability to achieve.

Athletes have faith in themselves, their ability, and the time and effort they’ve put into their training, and they have an approach to dealing with the pain and discomfort of performance.  Whether that’s for a workout or for a race it doesn’t matter.  There will be pain and they don’t care.  They want the pain because they want the triumph.  They train hard and put forth maximum effort, they teach themselves to put everything on the line, even when it means potentially missing the game winning shot.

Basically, if you are an elite athlete, you will be doing a lot of drooling all over your own face, sh*tting your pants, busting your teeth, breaking your nose, and burning out your legs until they want to fall off.  That’s how bad they want to win. You’ll be given not only the gift of physical ability but also the mentality it takes to use these gifts.  And you will achieve it.

How can you use this information to achieve goals
While the NYT sited association as a method for elite performers, it may not be the best method for us normal people.  In applying this information, what is important is to have A method.  You must have a productive mental approach to achieving fitness goals.  No, we aren’t all trying to be elite runners, but people who have goals such as say losing 100 pounds, are relatively speaking, attempting a goal similar to training for and running a marathon.  It’s a long term goal that requires will, dedication, and pain.  There is really no easy method for achieving this goal just like there is no easy method to being an elite runner who wins marathons and half marathons.  It’s just a different version of the same thing.

If you are interested in using this information to achieve more, my final piece of advice is to know yourself and your capabilities.  Be real with yourself about what your mind allows you to envision and believe.  Use that as a starting point and then begin to push yourself forward.  Try different mental tricks and see if they help propel you forward or hold you back.  Find the ones that work for you and then continue to refine and fine tune your own personal mental approach.