“You have more than you think you do.”
“You can do more. Is this your best effort? You can do more.”
“Quick quick, cadence up. Lighter, faster, come on!”
“Push, pull, pedal, push, more, more, more, more”
These are only a few of the thousands of mantras that go through my mind on a given day. I view them as self-motivating, as they help me push my limits and dig into reserves sometimes I didn’t know I have. But when I write them down, I see another side of them; a potentially dangerous side where nothing I do is ever enough.
Throughout my years as an athlete, student, and businesswoman, I’ve met many likeminded people who have compiled their impressive resumes via a relentless pursuit for more. More focus, engagement, power, results, speed, strength, analysis, you name it! That constant driving force to be better each day than the last is without a doubt a key ingredient for high performance.
In my ITU training, all of my key sessions were done in group formats. So while I was motivating myself throughout these workouts, I could also alway count on my squadmates to push me out of my comfort zone. As a long-course athlete, the dynamic of my training has changed significantly. While my swims are still with the squad, bike and run workouts — certainly my hard sessions — are predominantly completed on my own. This magnifies the importance of my ability to push myself harder the more the heart pounds and lungs and muscles scream. It also removes any opportunity for comparison, because I am admittedly behind the times and still do my trainer workouts on a classic trainer—not quite on the Zwift train yet!—and I am the only long-course athlete on the squad.
On the one hand, I love and value these new dynamics. On race day, I am out there alone and the ability to be a master of my mind in every way is critical for my ability to perform. Additionally, the lack of comparison means that I am constantly focused on the only thing I can control—myself—versus having the temptation of looking around at how many watts other people are pushing or how fast they are running. I’m 100% focused on finding and expanding my limit, my best. This is such a gift, as it can be so easy to detract from your own performance, whether in the work place, in class, in a training session, or out on the race course, because you are too busy looking at what everyone else is doing.
But it also has a pitfall: nothing is ever enough. I have found that I have to be very self-aware of the line between being my own best supporter and pushing myself so hard that I break myself down. It can be so easy to always think “I need to be doing better” or “I need to be capable of more.” I realized earlier this year that too much of that line of thinking was leaving me anxious and lacking confidence when in fact I had a lot to be confident in!
Over the last month, I’ve integrated three changes that have helped me find a more sustainable, productive balance:
Own your thoughts and actions
One of the most impactful changes I’ve made is to hold myself accountable for my thoughts. Rather than letting that little nagging voice in the back of my mind chatter (i.e. complain) and be somewhat aware of it but also try to avoid or suppress it, I now take a moment to acknowledge the thought. Then I am empowered to say “No, I don’t choose to take that approach” and actively replace it with a more productive thought. Or, I welcome it and say, “It’s okay to dread a workout; I’m human!” Facing that dread when it arrises has helped me to process where that dread is coming from, embrace my insecurities and develop more honest, effective cues to overcome them when they rise to the surface in the future.
Be kind to yourself
As I’ve processed that dread, I’ve found that it comes from worrying about falling short of workout targets. And the biggest growth for me has come from learning to tell myself (and believe!) that if that happens, it’s ok. At the end of the day, if I gave everything I had to execute a session to my very best capacity, that is all I could do. Some people see this kind of internal conversation—being kind to yourself—as making excuses… I know I used to! But saying “it’s ok” doesn’t mean I’m okay not hitting the goal; it doesn’t mean I’m not hungry to achieve it. It just means I accept that I gave everything I had, and it wasn’t enough on the day. Some days, you are stressed and your patience is running short; your body is tired and you have to work harder than you want to hit that goal power or split; your mind is foggy from a huge week at work and you’re not getting as much done as you planned. On these days, sometimes the best thing you can do to yourself is give yourself a break.
Celebrate your wins
Alternately, when I execute a training session as (or better than!) expected, I have a tendency to shrug it off and say, “I only hit what was expected. Plus, it’s still not enough!” I will always be that way to a certain extent—that’s just who I am. But I have been working on taking a second to give myself a pat on the back when I have a good workout. To celebrate the little wins and baby steps forward! Hit a new benchmark at work? Went above and beyond to help your team make a deadline? Pushed through a wall to earn a new bike power record? Take a second to acknowledge the effort that went into that accomplishment—the grit and determination you’ve developed to earn that result that will catapult you to your next accomplishment. It’s something to celebrate!
At the end of the day, everyone will have opinions about everything you do—both positive and negative—but what matters is how you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror (cheesy, I know, but true!). I still hold myself to an incredibly high standard, but I’m working on being my own best cheerleader along the way, on creating my own rising tide. I hope you will too, and that these tips will help you on your way!