*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study

12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"It's All About How You Talk to Yourself"

Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was once out for pizza with his teammates. "Hey Yogi," the server asked, "Do you want this pie cut into 6 slices or 8 slices?"

"Better make it 6," Berra replied. "I don't think I'm hungry enough to eat 8."

Think about that for a second - a minute, even. Go ahead and chuckle (I do adore Yogi-isms...), but really think about what that means.

What and how you think really does affect how you perform - mentally and physically.

The past few weeks' classes have been rockin' the ever-so-important themes of coaching/motivating yourself, goal-setting, and connecting your goals, thoughts, and performance. My mission, as your coach, has been to try to help you think clearly and to use your mind effectively to accomplish your goals -- whatever those goals may be. Above all, what I've been hoping to instill is that you are in complete control of your thoughts and reactions -- and that this is vital to your training. From practicing coping mechanisms during boring Spinning classes, to mentally disciplining yourself to hold true to the challenge of training in your fat-burning endurance zone, to pushing yourself slightly outside your comfort zone in a killer Strength ride -- all of that directly relates to how you CHOOSE to see the world, and to respond to it.

As I am 4 days away from my own great challenge (leaving the comfort of NYC, where I've been my whole life -- to the far-off, strange land of Burlington... not to mention the parallel universe of actually starting medical school!), I thought I'd spend this posting addressing the things that *I* think are effective ways of working through the mental aspect of your training -- and how that can translate into all the other realms of life, too.

In my New Year's posting on goal-setting, I talked about the merits of always being "in training" for something -- even if that "something," is merely life! You don't need to be training for the Boston Marathon (which, parenthetically, two of my students qualified for -- citing their awesome breathing skills they learned from Spintastic! Awesome. Just awesome.) -- just have some sort of goal! Something that you can get a fire burned up over -- something that makes you want to DO something. I contrast this with motivational factors that make us want to AVOID something (i.e., "I go to Spinning class so that I don't get/stay fat." >> not an especially effective motivator!).

Is it easier to wake up at 5AM because you want to feel energized and refreshed to start your day? Or because you... uh.... "don't want to get fat?" It's a no-brainer.

Goal-setting is an art, though. Points you may wish to consider:
* Short, specific, measurable performance goals - directly under your control, with reasons attached to them!
- "I will remain below 80% MHR for 25 minutes today, so that I can become a fat-burning machine"
- "I will keep my heels down so that I can achieve the perfect pedal stroke, and get really toned legs!"
- "I will focus on my breathing so that I will fatigue far less easily."
- "I will interrupt my thoughts every time I think something negative, so that I do not undermine my efforts."

The reasons are key! Reasons behind goals make goals stick!

The shorter-term and more specific, the better. When we try to change too much at once, we often fall short. One of my favorite quotes of all time, part of which I often paraphrase in class:
"Mastery is made in increments, not in leaps. Be brave, be fierce, be visionary. Mend the parts of the world that are 'within your reach.' To strive to live this way is the most dramatic gift you can ever give to the world."
- Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs

Have a step-by-step game plan for longer-term, realistic outcomes goals.
- "I will lose weight... by training 4 days a week in x heart rate zone, to make sure I am burning stored fat."

* Know how to accomplish your goals!
- Read read read... from the Spintastic archives, to books/websites/journals. Empower yourself through actively learning!
- Ask questions to help you clarify and effectively sift through a huge volume of available sources (i.e., not all sources are created equal!)
- Get a heart rate monitor! Get precise feedback on your performance. Take the guesswork out of your training -- making sure to be working hard enough to have an impact, as well as not to push yourself when you are too tired to get the benefit. Measure quantifiable aspects of fitness training like recovery time!

"Discipline is remembering what you want." - David Campbell

Often we say that we like a particular instructor because he or she is "motivating." What we usually *mean* by that, however, is that we have the experience of really tapping into our OWN motivation -- that there was something about that instructor, or that music, that allowed us to inspire OURSELVES. The neat thing is that we can do that allllllllll the time - just by acting as our own coach, talking ourself through our challenges and achievements.

* Try to frame your words in "DO" format, as opposed to "DON'T"
This is something I find personally challenging as a coach -- "don't bounce" vs. "keep your hips level." Same thing, totally different vibe. The brain responds better to positive cues.
- "Don't look at the clock!" vs. "Close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing."

* Include positive affirmations -- make them in the present tense, and make them as powerful as possible
- "I am strong."
- "I WILL do this."
- "I am smooth, like a well-oiled machine."

Make your affirmations personally meaningful.

* Include imagery -- tune into not only the thoughts, but the images, that empower you.
- You can experiment with the viewpoint of your imagery. I personally like to imagine watching myself as a third party; other people like to visualize from their own viewpoint (i.e., what they see as they climb a masterful hill).
- Visualize your form -- elbows lowered towards floor, upper body loose, dropping heels to dig into a seated climb for powerful strokes upwards. Whole body working fluidly together on a standing climb.

I did a combination of these today while getting my VO2 max re-tested (I've been training deliberately to increase my aerobic base and lactate threshold - where I switch from fat-burning to sugar-burning) ... I had to maintain 85% MHR for a sustained amount of time, with no music and nobody speaking. Daunting for sure -- but I chose to see it as an opportunity to a) build confidence, b) practice these techniques I rant to all of you about. I really can't tell you how good it felt to accomplish that. I visualized what I looked like, felt my form as perfect, breathed my way through it -- but it was those empowered self-cues. I'm big on the "smooth machine" affirmation - but whatever works for you!

Get to know yourself. Do you speak negatively? ("I can't do this!" "This is boring." "I hate this.")
Do you allow yourself to get distracted?

If you identify your mental weaknesses, you can formulate a specific game plan to turn those weaknesses into strengths.

4. SUBSTITUTE BAD THOUGHTS FOR GOOD THOUGHTS!Once you identify your thought patterns, you can start to banish the undermining, counterproductive ones.

"This is hard, there's no way I can do that."
"I'm not good enough for that."
--> all of that stuff limits our breathing, and makes us shut down.

Instead, every time you detect that you're having a thought like that, use that as an instant trigger to STOP the thought and SHIFT the focus. Instantly replace it with one of your positive

I do this ALL the time -- when the downtown 4/5 ruins my life and forces me to BOOK IT at the speed of sound so as not to be late to teach a class (I am *not* a runner); when I have to carry Triumph up the stairs of my 4th floor walkup (he's lucky he's so pretty...); any time I have to execute some sort of medical activity that I'm technically qualified to do but scared as hell about (i.e., Spinning mental-speak totally got me through my first time drawing a patient's blood!).

At first, this requires a lot of deliberate effort. Over time, however, you will get better and better at it -- and you will build confidence in your ability to control your own destiny.

The mind is incredibly cool in that it can focus on all sorts of negative, irrelevant things -- and then, just like that, it can be re-directed in a productive, meaningful way.

With that, I will close with a quote that is personally meaningful. I came across it last week in a fantastic book I read (“Mind Gym” by Gary Mack) and appreciated that it completely summarized the way I see the world.

“Act the way you want to become... until you become the way you act."

Just as your thoughts determine your actions, your actions can influence your thoughts, too.

Case in point: Contrary to public opinion, I do not bound out of bed at 4:45AM oozing with enthusiasm and passion for life and Spinning and all things worthy of bouncing around the room. I wake up wanting to be asleep, and to stay asleep -- all day if I could, really. But I tell myself that I will act energetically and accept the responsibility of motivating other people to act energetically – and soon enough, I start to genuinely feel it. I do this not just at 6:30AM (or, more significantly, 8:15PM) Spinning classes – but during meetings, interviews, tedious social events, etc. It works for me, at least.

Give it a shot…


Courtney said...

Mel i couldn't wait to tell you that i went running while i was on vacation, and totally wanted to quit after 2 miles, but used stuff you do in class and ran 4 miles! a lot for me.
and this piece is amazing, i am totally printing out to get me through work outs once youre gone (though i am still totally in denial that you're going :(...)

Charles said...

Thinking about doing a "mindfulness" class at my club. It's going to be a huge shift for the members that don't take my class but this info is awesome. Do you mind if I use some of this verbiage? You ROCK!

Melissa Marotta said...

CHARLES! It would be an honor if you borrowed my language. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to know that you're going to be starting a mindfulness class -- this has been such an important, formative development in my life as a coach and as an athlete, and I can't tell you how rewarding it is to know that what I've written about it has in some way contributed to your efforts. YOU rock.

Lorelei said...

Just wanted you to know, that your inspiration lives on. I came across your blog about 4 months ago and have been teaching for 2 years. Your mindful coaching has brought new life to my classes...I thank you dearly!