You are either born with it or you are not.
Speak to any lifter worth their salt and they will tell you, just how important the inner game is to strength sports.
And you don't have to be an athlete to benefit from it.
From olympic lifting to strongman, there is no doubt that if you want to be successful in training and competition that you need to get a handle on your mental game.
But what is exactly is inner strength? And can it be trained in much the same way that we train our bodies to become stronger? Sure will power is a central component.
But does it really all just boil down to will power?
If you believe that's all there is to the inner game of strength, then you are missing out.
Why do we lift? (yes it's great fun. But why else?)
We lift to buid character, develop integrity, discipline, judgement, restraint, expression of raw power. We lift to become better today than we were yesterday.
It's in lifting that we can develop self mastery, which fortifies not only our physical, but our emotional and spiritual growth.
Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, bad asses.
Let me set the record straight.
Now I'm not saying that will power is not important. Of course it is.
But what I am saying is this: will power is a finite resource and there are other things that the smart lifter should take into account, if they want to master their inner game of strength and mind management for performance, and personal dveopment.
In this series of articles over the next coming months, we will explore the many different dimensions of the inner game of strength.
Right now, lets begin by looking at some of the fundamentals.
I'm sure you've seen the athlete or that person in the gym that gets so angry or frustrated that they lose the plot and screw up their lift.
Or what about the person who gets so nervous that their inability to focus and control their physical body ends is nothing short of disaster. You know the type.
Now by emotional control I am talking specifically about your ability to utilise your state of
arousal (keep it clean people. Keep it clean).
Lets look at two different aspects of arousal. Cognitive arousal, which can be positive or negative (the impact on performance determines whether it’s good or bad).
Then there is somatic arousal, these are the physical sensations experienced within the body, from elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, increased blood pressure, sweaty palms to increased breathing rate.
Nothing is achieved without a degree of motivation, which is a psychological need to achieve a goal. Motivation directs both intensity and direction of behaviour.
Have you ever heard of a peak flow state?
I talk a bit about it in my book Raw Strength: Wild Physique. Yuri Hanin put forward the idea that top athletes have an individual zone of optimal arousal in which their best performances happen.
Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself? Outside of this zone, performance either goes phenomenally pear shaped, or just not up to par. This peak flow phenomenon occurs when somatic arousal has reached an appropriate threshold, and cognitive arousal is low.
When you have a balanced perception of the demands of the situation and your ability to cope then you can slide into peak flow state.
So what does this feel like? Focus and attention is maximised. Self confident belief in your ability. The performance appears effortless and automatic, this is often accompanied by a sensation of feeling in control. The execution of the skill brings you enjoyment and satisfaction.
Now how cool would it be if you could achieve that state each time you workout? In your performance
or other areas of your life? Well it’s certainly doable. It just takes practice. While there are
many ways to do it, a key one (which we will cover) is kicking anxiety, anger and worry to the curb.
Anxiety or anger impacts performance and our ability to deal with situations successfully through various mechanisms. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman explains how the emotional centres within the brain, known as the amygdala are activated and kick start a series of events which lead to blood being shunted away from the higher functioning part of the brain known as the neo cortex.
This is potentially why you are unable to think clearly when you are anxious or angry, or get a foggy sensation. I don’t need to tell you the impact this can have.
So how do we short cut anxiety and get into an empowered state?
Imagery & Visualisation: Mental rehearsal prior to your workout, before you perform a set
or that situation that you need to be in a peak flow state for.
Visualise yourself completing the task successfully. See it in your minds eye in extreme detail. What sounds will you hear? What do you see? What are you wearing? Who else is there? What does it feel like when you successfully do that thing?
Combine the visualisation with breath work, and you are well on your way to shifting into an
empowered state and entering your peak flow experience.
Thought Stopping: Don’t believe everything you think. This requires you to stop when you
have negative thought and shift your focus to definite action you can take now, or focus on a positive
So if you think, “I can’t lift that” or “I can’t do that” STOP. focus your attention on the
process. Look at what you need to do to be able to achieve it. This feeds into the next part...
Solution Focused Thinking: Anxiety often comes from a lack in your belief in your ability to
undertake or achieve a task. Rather than thinking of why you can’t do it or what can go
wrong, break down the task at hand and what you can do to be successful in the task.
If you didn’t lift the weight, what went wrong? Perhaps it was your technique? What do you
need to adjust on the next rep? Is your stance too wide? Did you need to drive more from
your legs? This can be far more powerful than just saying, “I can’t do this.” or “I’m shit.”
Remember you are not your performance. Now think about how you can apply this
principle of solution focus in other areas of your life.
Positive Talk: Does what it says on the tin this one. The athlete literally talks to themselves,
positive or encouraging statements. Speaking aloud commits you to the task and can raise
confidence. When using positive mantras It’s a great way to raise confidence.
There are some great tools out there for mind management. In the next post we'll explore what, if anything, NLP (neuro -linguistic programming) can offer us in the road to mastery in the Inner Game of Strength.