During my ride yesterday, my ipod died (go ahead and chastise me for riding with music) which left me ample time to just think.
What percentage of our outcome of events in life is determined by ones mental state versus their physical state and proper preparation? I know - this is a quite vague question, but think about this; Tiger Woods is still the same physically and physiologically as he was before his "behavioral outcoming", yet he's no where near the golfer he was pre-outing. I'm positive he could bench press just as much, swing the same way, hold his breath for the same time, ... So why is it that he went from being nearly unbeatable to becoming an average PGA player just trying to stay in the mix? Look at Monica Seles as well. She was on top of the rankings in tennis, then some nut job tries to stab her and since that event, she spiraled downward and into retirement. With both these examples, the only change came mentally, that created their descent.
I have athletes I coach that deal with chronic conditions. When they are alone and out training, they are constantly aware of these chronic nagging "injuries". However, get them in a group scenario with communication taking place putting their mind elsewhere and they train basically pain free. I've experimented with my personal training clients often, creating a mental image that either boosts or hinders their performance. I have some that just by having them focus on the wrong things prevents them from doing one or two reps of an exercise, and then by placing them mentally in a different place, has them banging out sets of 10+ reps of that same exercise that was impossible for them. I have athletes who are trained unbelievably well, talented and extremely fit and prepared, and yet they will do themselves in on race day. Then I have others that toe the line maybe not as physically prepared or not as physically gifted yet they are gamers and get amazing responses from their bodies on race day. I work with two people who are the same age. One of them outperforms the other in training all the time. He trains faster, longer, more consistent, ... Yet the other one will be faster on race day nearly every time.
The point I guess I'm getting at is that we can swim, bike, run, lift, stretch, row, jump, ski consistently and smartly, training our bodies to perform unbelievable tasks yet if we don't also spend some time training and conditioning the mind, it may all be for naught. For some, mental toughness comes naturally. Ego is a big part. I typically despise dealing with egos at my camps (who enjoys it?), yet look at someone like Tiger, or Lance, or Aroid - these guys have HUGE egos and are at the top of their sports. But the majority need to train their mind and condition it - to find the right catalyst that places them in a state which allows and almost premeditates optimum performance. Based on the above examples, don't feel you need to become a major prick to perform near the top!
Often times, when something isn't working well, we give up on it. We decide that maybe we just aren't cut out for a certain situation and accept that. I am a bigger guy from a northern climate who has had two awful races at St. Croix 70.3. The first time there, I dnf'd. The second time, I finished, but it was ugly. At first, I told myself that at least I finished and that this race wasn't for me and there are plenty of other races to choose from. That is me running away from or giving up on a particularly tough challenge. Mark my words; I'll go back there soon and take that course on again. After two tough races, I feared this race. Now I'm angry at it. Anger works well for me. I can control it and use it productively, to stay more consistent with my training, to get more out of each tempo or interval training session, to rebound on race day when something may go wrong, ... Anger makes me more alive and positive actually. It prevents me from feeling sorry for myself in a tough situation and slipping into an abyss of defeat. The key is to control it. If an unfortunate situation happens to you during a race making you angry to the point where you go on an uncontrolled rampage to make up time or ground quickly, well this is reckless and typically ends bad. There are some though who won't let anger creep in and instead remain too mellow and accept certain situations too easily. They need to release their inner Leslie Chow trapped in a trunk with a tire iron.
Give some thought to where you perceive yourself in sport and in life and ask honestly if you are content. Then ask if contention is a good thing? Is it OK to never be content? I think so. As long as you think positively, and are in a good place mentally. The main thing is to treat the mental training as serious, if not more so, than the physical training. And not close yourself off to anything.