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Posted: July 25, 2014

Use this mental toughness skill ...

... to boost your training and performance

Dr. Haley Perlus

Sport psychology is the science of achieving peak performance. We all know any sport or physical activity, at its highest level, requires a great deal of mental toughness to make it possible to sustain motivation, confidence, intensity, focus and emotional control.

We think with our entire body. What we say (to ourselves or to someone else) affects how we feel. How we feel affects how we behave. How we behave affects what we achieve. Thus, we must learn to effectively talk to our bodies so we can optimize our performance.

In Sport psychology, we use the terms association and dissociation to describe two skills we use to control our inner dialogue, save and direct our energy as needed, and ultimately enhance performance.

The recommendations below are based on two decades of research in sport and exercise science and have been proven to work.

Applying the Skill of Association

Simply put, association is meant for you to tune into your training with 100 percent focus on one thing. By doing this, it actually blocks out any other distractions. For example, if you are on a bike, you can focus on maintaining your cadence. If you are completing the last few repetitions of your final set of squats, you can focus on your breath. The purpose is to become completely immersed in one part of your performance.

At any point, when your sport or fitness requires high intensity bouts of energy, use association. Tuning in to the work at this time and focusing on things such as your breath, time, heart rate, or stroke rhythm, can help you to cope with any discomfort while still providing the necessary energy and effort to produce positive results.

Think about your last high intensity training session. When you felt your body becoming weak, where did your attention go? Chances are, without a strategic mental toughness plan, you involuntarily switched from a mindset of determination, confidence, and pleasure to thinking about your fatigue and frustration.

Since mental fatigue often comes before physical fatigue, you must quickly apply your mental energy to focus on function, form, and technique so that your body can continue to propel you onward.

In moments of high physical exertion, experiment with focusing on a specific goal that centers on your breath, heart rate, footwork, etc. By focusing much needed mental energy to the task at hand, you’ll experience an incredible boost in your overall performance.

Applying the Skill of Dissociation

Dissociation can save energy during submaximal training. That is, how we can get the most out of our low to moderate intensity training.

To be blunt, if you can’t think positively, often the best thing to do is shut up! Dissociation is all about distracting yourself away from the exercises you’re engaged in or tuning out the work. The idea behind dissociation is to focus on anything that provides a mental detachment from the activity, but also turns that frown upside down and elicits positive emotions.

Research demonstrates that for training intensities below 75 percent of maximal aerobic capacity, distracting yourself by watching television, reading, listening to favorable music, or socializing with a training partner reduces your perceived exertion by about 10 percent. When you tune out the work, during moderate intensity training, your muscles and vital organs send a message to your brain saying that the task seems easier. As a result, you can exert more effort while simultaneously having a more enjoyable training session.

Be selective when you choose the songs, magazines, movies, and training buddies to distract you during training. Your goal here is to effectively replace emotional fatigue, boredom, and negativity with something or someone that inspires confidence and elicits positive emotions that help you to harness your internal drive and supercharge your workout energy. When you do this, not only will training become more fun, but your performance will also increase, escalating your results.

Dissociation is especially useful for people who find it difficult to stick to a regular training regimen. Utilizing dissociation can help to make training more pleasant and a regular part of your daily routine.

Recall, mental fatigue often sets in before physical fatigue. Thus, during low to moderate intensity activities, we must quickly engage in positive distractions so that we can continue to experience an incredible boost in overall performance and produce the best results possible.

With a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology, Haley Perlus is a professor, published author, international speaker and peak performance consultant. For more free tips, go to www.DrHaleyPerlus.com or call 303-459-4516. Learn more about the Vail Athletic Club Vitality Center at vailvitalitycenter.com.

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