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home : health : health July 25, 2017

6/13/2017 11:56:00 AM
Overcoming barriers
By Andrew Loscutoff

There will undoubtedly come a time when the casual endurance athlete comes to a hill, a rocky segment, unbearable weather, or a desperate moment when it feels as if it would be easier to crumple up and sob.

There are several times when these situations have personally affected my training, racing and experience in cycling. Luckily, there are some key strategies one can deploy to improve these situations.

First the principle of self-efficacy: the beliefs a person holds regarding his or her power to affect situations. It strongly influences both the power a person actually has to face challenges competently and the choices a person is most likely to make.

How does one enhance their self-efficacy? An easy way is to become aware of the challenges that have been defeated, or knowing that training or abilities give someone the tools to overcome. If you come to a steep hill, you can compare it to another hill experienced beforehand.

Next, motivation: Is it easy to go outside when it's snowing, blazing hot, or when a good friend calls and asks to meet for a beer? Undoubtedly, no. Likewise, it's much easier to fall back to comfort and control. This isn't what a motivated athlete does or wants to do. When other things are pulling us into a different direction, how can we harness motivation? Usually people will recommend extrinsic rewards like a new pair of running shoes but these have proven not to have a lasting motivational effect. Consider intrinsic values, like the enjoyment you get from the activity. How pushing yourself beyond the limits makes you a stronger person. Or the stress relief that comes with a good bout of exercise.

All these are great ways to use internally focused cues to enhance motivation.

Positive self-talk or affirmations: The thoughts that creep into our inner dialogue can make or break performance. When things get tough, do the thoughts turn against your abilities and talents and persuade you to give up? Or rather do they offer support, encouragement, and engage in the process of successfully overcoming the challenge set forth. It's hard to squash the inner demon, but psychologists have proven that turning those thoughts around, no matter how artificially, can improve one's psyche. Think about the next challenge, think positive thoughts, imagine succeeding; know it's not going to be easy but nothing worth feeling proud of comes easy; have pride; and lastly enjoy the process. These are all simple ways to immediately improve the inner dialogue and subsequently performance.

This column has been written in the context of sport or exercise performance, but what about the carryover into everyday life? Our mindset doesn't know the difference between stressors, and the chemical reactions within our bodies are the same, no matter the trigger. This notion makes it feasible to use these strategies across all dimensions and challenges life throws in front of us. Use the above the next time the work is piling up and desperation sets in. When the car won't start, or when the snow piles up with little inclination to stop. Everyone faces challenges; how to respond is a personal choice.

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