One year ago, I wrote about the lack of motivation many athletes experience during December. You can read it here: http://http//hodska.blogspot.com/2007/12/off-season-blues.html (I am not great on the computer and don't know how to make just the word "here" the link, so bare with me.)
I feel it's worth revisiting. In this post, I want to discuss mental attitude a bit more.
I always try to be dead honest with myself. I get nervous going into big events and experience self doubt sometimes. I remind myself of all the hard work I put in towards the upcoming event, and ask myself these questions: A) why am I doing this and B) what are my expectations? I then break B down a bit further asking myself what result will I truly be content with? Sometimes this can add to the nerves, but the main thing I try to avoid is making any pre-race excuses in case something goes wrong. Once we start doing this, we begin to set ourselves up for a disappointing race before we even get to the starting line. It's easy to feel outside expectations besides the ones that we place on ourselves. I feel them. The key thing is not try to justify anything before or after races. I remember posting a race journal and a friend and athlete I coached commented that I was awfully hard on myself. I went back and re-read my journal and found that I was being honest, given my expectations. When I was younger and first began racing, I had some good results in local races quickly and started placing race pressure on myself. If I had any set backs in training, something we all encounter throughout the season, I'd begin to make excuses in my head in case I didn't finish where I wanted to. My ego was getting the best of me which happens easily when you are young and naive - or stupid. I caught this quickly and thought that this negativism and focus on petting my ego was not only silly, but that it was going to sap the enjoyment and learning process out of racing. Another young friend of mine couldn't let this go and dropped out of triathlons back in the mid 90's. I saw him a few years ago, fat and bloated and regretting that he ever fell out of the sport.
After spilling all that out, the only thing that truly matters when I break it down is that I'm enjoying the process, testing myself, learning, and making friends. It's great to have high expectations. I certainly do and I think that setting high expectations, one's that we really need to reach for, is the way we'll learn the most about who we are. Remember that the higher the expectations, the higher the pressure will be that you place upon yourself and the more you will feel pre-race nerves and question yourself as to why you are doing this in the first place. But this is where, if we follow through, we take big chances and maybe reap big rewards in self discovery and fulfilment.
I recently asked the athletes I coach to complete some written homework in the form of listing their top ten limiters (a nice term for weaknesses). I have a few who listed mental toughness as their strength, where as I had listed mental toughness as one of their limiters in my personal notes/files on them. After thinking more about this, I realize that many of them are mentally tough in the fact that they won't give up or quit when the going gets tough in a race. When you are testing yourself by racing and being tested in that race by that little devil on your shoulder convincing you to quit or ease up or walk or lie down, not giving in exudes mental toughness. So after re-evaluating their mental toughness, I changed my notes to "lack of belief" for these individuals. They are very talented physically, yet train and race at a level that is within their safety zone. They are capable of racing at a higher level and yet don't believe they belong at that higher level. Guess what? The body follows the mind. You gotta believe!
I know it's only mid December and motivation may be a bit low right now. Re-evaluate your 2009 goals, or begin evaluating them. Write them down, set high standards and begin to believe that these standards are where you belong. Then get your ass out of the couch and out the door.