Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Mental Athlete Evolution

I've competed in an array of activities since high school. The competition bug bit me when I was a sophomore in high school on the dance team.

I competed in a solo performances, self choreographed, and loved both the physical and mental prep leading up to the performance, the rush of being IN THE MOMENT, and the post performance review. I would get my judging sheets and pour over how to implement the critiques and get a better score the next time around.

Through this, the competitor was born in me.

I'm the one in white, thankyouverymuch.
When I started competing in judo it was a very different ball game. When you step on a stage, you know exactly what you are going to do. When you step out on a judo mat, you know what your strengths are and the strategies you want to implement, but you have to be ready for almost anything.

I knew a needed to approach this with a different mentality. And the most pervasive one is "Go Out There, Be Aggressive, And Tear Her Head Off!" I actually had someone say that to me. So I tried it. Over. And over. And over. And all it resulted in was tunnel brain, where I'd basically black out and suddenly it would be over. Usually with less than optimal results on my end.

It took me far too long to figure out why I would have such a good time and good outcomes in training and then totally freak out in competition. Luckily, when I moved to Houston after undergrad, I had a training partner who worked with me a lot outside of regular sessions. What helped me the most is his insistence that "Hey! This is supposed to be fun! Why do you stop breathing? You get too tight and project your movements before you do anything."

It finally clicked. The "rip her fucking head off" mentality isn't why I'm in martial arts. I do this because I enjoy it, I love the feeling of a technique falling into place, and again, that feeling of being IN THE MOMENT. So it began, while everyone I competed again would try to mean mug me, I would take a slow deep breath, and smile.

Then it was weightlifting and the whole journey started all over again. I was initially taught that you had to go after that weight like a pit bull. There is a shirt out there by Donny Shankle that says "Pull the bar like you're pulling the head off a goddamn lion." Pair that with a very competitive coach and my own competitive personality, and you have a mental state that falls apart quickly if things don't go just right.

You've have think I'd learn my lesson faster this time. Instead, it took a dramatic turn towards burnout, a couple shoulder surgeries (not really related), and a come back for me to really internalize that I do this for FUN.

So this time around I've
 - stopped looking at the starting attempts of other people I'm lifting with.
 - stopped sticking around for the final results after my session.
 - only focus on putting myself in a position to meet or beat my own previous performance.
 - keep wearing the attitude I want to lift with during warm ups. (It's easy to get sucked into the intense vibe others bring.)

And my competition performances are much more consistent now than ever before. Not being wound up about what the audience is thinking or going to think about me, I can channel any nervous energy into lifting stronger. It feel more like my days on stage, when the nerves lead to more impressive height on my leaps.

So I guess the moral of the story is to not let anyone else decide how you should approach a goal. Smiling during snatches is unconventional, but it works.

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