elitefts™ Sunday Edition

While having the word psychology in something seems quite complex, we can break it down quite simply for sports psychology. The simplest and most appropriate definition for sports psychology is thinking right in sport. Okay, wow! That was easy! I could pull a Costanza right now and say, “I’m Out!” Yet, I think it would be more appropriate to stay around for a bit and further discuss this. The psychology of lifting is something that is not often talked about and is often the point that holds lifters back from achieving their potential. Fortunately, it is something that can be improved, and the whole aim of this article series is to become Strong(er) of mind and Strong(er) of body.

There are basically two types of thoughts when it comes to sport—right thoughts and wrong thoughts. And while there are a million different thoughts you can have (and have had), if you categorize all of these thoughts, they eventually fall into either of these two groups.

So, let’s get down to business. What are these two thoughts, and what are wrong thoughts? Well, wrong thoughts are negative thoughts—self-doubting, discouraging, and performance-hurting thoughts. How many times have you seen or heard someone say, “I can’t make that lift. That’s too much weight.” Or perhaps you hear, “maybe I should have made a more conservative attempt,” right as someone steps onto the platform (and consequently misses the lift). I would wager to say that a person is batting .900 for missing a lift when he says that. Here’s another wrong thought: “You better get this weight, or you’re a f&*$#!& p&**#!” While this phrase is meant to be a motivator, it can often spark a wrong thought in the lifter's mind...and self-doubt can creep in. Again, although the intent of the thought was good, the road to hell was paved with good intentions, and the outcome is not desired—a missed lift and someone believing that he must be a f&*$#!& p&**#!

What are right thoughts, then? Right thoughts are good thoughts—positive thoughts and performance-enhancing thoughts. Right thoughts are the difference between getting a lift or not. Right thoughts are the difference between reaching your potential or not. Examples of right thoughts include, “I’ve got this!”, “I own this weight!”, “This is mine!”, and “I will dominate this lift!”

So, we have to realize something before we go on: You control all of your thoughts. You choose all of your thoughts. You think all of your thoughts one thought at a time.

Yes, I said it. You choose your thoughts, and you can only think one thought at a time. For one moment, try to think of two thoughts at the exact same time—not going back and forth between two thoughts, but thinking of two separate thoughts at the same time. Go ahead, I’ll wait...

You can’t do it. It’s impossible.

Now that it has been established that you can’t think two thoughts at the same time, you realize that you control all of your thoughts. Your thoughts are yours and yours alone. I can’t make you think anything, and you can’t make me think anything. Every thought you have in your head is yours and yours alone. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make you think anything. Realizing this, if you have a negative thought—which is a thought that is detrimental to your performance, it’s because YOU put it there. Now, here is the great thing about all of this. If you put it there, and it's YOUR thought, and YOU control YOUR thoughts, then YOU can think a DIFFERENT THOUGHT—a positive thought, a performance-enhancing thought! That’s absolutely right. Every day, every session, every set, every competition—you can choose to have either right thoughts or wrong thoughts. Thus, YOU choose to have your best possible performance or a horrible performance. You choose to have either thoughts that will help you reach your potential or thoughts that will hold you back. You choose to be a champion or a chump with your thoughts. Your thoughts may be the only thing holding you back—nothing and no one else.

This can be a tough and bitter pill for some people to swallow initially—that they are what’s holding them back. It’s not the officials, it’s not their gear, it’s not their training partners. It’s only them and their own thoughts. There is no one to blame but themselves. But after the bitterness is over, it becomes bittersweet. And once the realization happens, it’s fantastic. Because once the accountability is accepted, it’s easy to change. Remember back to how I explained that I can’t make you think anything and you can’t make me think anything? Well, you can’t change the officials' thoughts, you can’t change your training partners' thoughts, you can’t change what your gear thinks (hey, sometimes I think my bench shirt has a mind of its own and is smarter than me on some days...but that's beside the point), but you CAN change what you think. And it’s fairly easy.

Let me use a friend of mine whom I used to handle at meets as an example. During one competition, he approached the squat timidly. He wasn’t sure if his training was on, how he’d do with the different bar, if the temperature was too hot in the meet, etc. And he was wondering what he should do if his hips shot up out of the hole on the squat. All of these thoughts were essentially self-doubting thoughts, wrong thoughts, and performance hurting thoughts. The end result was that he bombed on the squat. Every time he approached the platform, he did so with self-doubt.

Fast forward to the next competition. We had done significant work on thinking right, visualization, and being in the moment. We had also worked on strategies to change any wrong thoughts he had and replace them with right thoughts. We didn’t change anything in terms of his training, gear, etc. So what happened? He had a fantastic competition, going eight-for-nine and hitting a huge PR total. You see, he used his own right thoughts to get out of his way and achieve the performance he was destined.

I know that there will be people who are skeptics of this. They will think that this is soft stuff. Yet, they will also be the people who are getting surpassed by those who choose to work on their mental skills—their Strong(er) of mind skills. The mind can hold the body back, and it needs to be trained as much as any lift. The desire to improve lifting skills should leave no stone unturned, and this is a boulder. Once the boulder is rolled away, you find the key to unlocking your full potential. I have known several lifters who have gone from having a hard time just getting into meets to being able to go nine-for-nine on meet day. I have also worked with lifters who went from going three-for-nine on meet day (only getting openers) to improving their PR totals every meet. Here’s the bottom line: this stuff works. You have to move out of your own way to move toward your potential.

However, it should be noted that while it sounds easy when you first try to do it, it can become hard. You can quickly slip back into your old ways. But think about it this way—thinking right is a skill. How good was your technique the first time you squatted, benched, or pulled? Oftentimes, it wasn’t very good. But with a lot of time and practice in the gym, you got better. You improved your skill on the lifts, and you got better from it. Now, you’re form is much better and is almost automatic. Well, we want this skill of thinking right to become almost automatic as well—so you can become Strong(er) of mind and Strong(er) of body.