Achieving Mental Toughness: Tips so you can accomplish your best

Mental toughness can be characterized as our ability to resist disruption. 

When it comes to athletic performance, do you have the mental toughness to achieve your best?

If you think of performance as an equation, performance is our potential minus any disruptions that may occur during training and competition. With that in mind, mental toughness can be characterized as our ability to resist disruption. Disruptions can occur in many forms — for example, injury, the weather or a flat tire. However, at the elite level, the majority of disruptions are mental. Therefore, if you want to achieve your best, the key to preventing disruption is managing mental challenges.

Vanessa R. Shannon, Ph.D., director of mental performance for Norton Sports Health and University of Louisville Athletics, provides support, guidance and instruction to elite athletes. Her tips for achieving your best at Ironman Louisville include training your body above the shoulders and between the ears.

Expect the expected

It is impossible to expect the unexpected, so prepare your mind for what you can predict. Remind yourself of what is about to happen at the race. Most athletes are good about preparing for best case scenarios, but worst case scenarios can throw you off your game when you aren’t prepared. For instance, think about how you would handle a flat tire or a torn wetsuit. Be realistic and honest about what could happen, knowing that it is normal to experience struggle during a race.

Be the driver of your thoughts

Thoughts, emotions and performance are intertwined. While you compete, you can allow your thoughts to aimlessly race through your mind or you can drive them. Control the mental chatter and choose your direction.

Norton Sports Health

Whether you consider yourself an athlete or someone who just wants to stay fit, Norton Sports Health can provide you with the care you need.

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Welcome discomfort

We’ve all heard the quote, “Nothing worth having is easy.” Well, welcome to Ironman. If you are truly maximizing your athletic potential, you must get outside of your comfort zone. Celebrate that when you feel uncomfortable, it means you are working toward your absolute best and maximizing your potential for peak performance.

Ride the wave

In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Even if you do not encounter a need to use tips 1 through 3, at some point in the competition you will hit a wave that you will have to ride. Keep surfing. Remember that you prepared for this; the surfing is just a part of the journey.


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