Performance-Limiting Beliefs

Nikki Donovan

CrossFit is hard, not just physically, but mentally too. It has such positive effects, making us mentally fit as well as physically. But It can be difficult to train in a sport with no real off season. Despite the highlight reels that we see on social media, it’s common to have bad days in the gym, whether you're an elite athlete or not. It’s easy to slip into an egative frame of mind if you're having a bad session, especially during lockdown when motivation seems to be at an all time low. 


With a background in Sports psychology I'm always interested in working on my training mentality and helping my clients too. I came across these points by psychologist Steven Schrago and could recognize some of them in myself at times as well as my clients:


Do you recognize any of the following patterns?
  • All-or-nothing thinking: black-or-white thinking with no shades of grey. For example, a single mistake makes you a complete failure.
  • Generalizing: words like “always,” “never” and “can’t.” For example, “I can’t resist eating bread.”
  • Selective focus: picking out a single, unpleasant detail and using it to colour your feelings about the whole. For example, “My hands hurt when doing pull-ups. I hate pull-ups.”
  • Jumping to conclusions: anticipating the worst outcome and convincing yourself that what you predict is a fact. For example, “That last lift was hard. I’m not strong enough to deadlift my body weight.”
  • Selective memory: exaggerating the importance of insignificant events (a missed snatch) and shrinking achievements (first kipping pull-up).


Mindset Training

Training your mind can be split into three areas:

Positive beliefs – programming your mind to expect success

Mental preparation – focusing your mind on the challenge ahead

Mental toughness – overcoming fear, pressure and adversity

Concentrating under pressure and with distractions is vital. There are three strategies that can be used to do this:


Dissociation - deliberately focus on one thing to draw its attention away from a preoccupation with pain or discomfort. For example, listening to music, focusing on technique or counting your reps.

Association - focus purely on the physical sensations of the body during exercise, using these sensations to occupy the mind. For example, focusing on breathing rhythms, fatigue in the muscles, how each movement feels.

Self-talk – repeating positive beliefs, encouraging yourself, counting reps and giving yourself positive technique cues all keep your mind focused and concentrated on the task at hand.


Preparing the mind

How can you better prepare your mind for workouts?

  • Identify what sort of mood you need in order to perform at your best. Relaxed, focused, angry – everyone’s different. Find what works for you.
  • Think about the last time you felt like that. Where were you? What was going on around you? What could you see and hear? Make this memory as rich as possible (sights, sounds, feelings) and start to relive it in your mind.
  • Find a physical cue that you can attach to this feeling (e.g., gripping the bar, clenching your fists, running hands through your hair, taking a deep belly breath, etc.). Again, everyone is different.
  • Now focus on the task at hand. Create a plan in your mind of how you are going to approach the challenge. Plan for the best possible outcome. Create an image in your mind of what this will look, sound and feel like.
  • Rehearse your successful performance for the movement or workout in your mind.
  • Think about the technique cues you will use to achieve this success (e.g. ‘head and chest forward’ for kipping pull-ups, or ‘jump to full extension’ for snatch). Keep the cues positive and focused on what you want to do rather than what you don’t want to do.
  • Physically rehearse these cues while thinking about them. Feel the physical sensation of the cues (e.g., tightening hamstrings as you settle into the deadlift position) while thinking about the cues for proper technique.

This type of training may feel a little strange at first, but stick with it and it will become more natural and the long-term benefits will be notable.

“Your mind can be your biggest ally or greatest component”

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