I'm going to tell you about a little strategy used by Olympic Champions to help them reach peak performance. The best part is, you don't need superhuman-sonic speed in order to have this strategy work for you.
As track season is swinging into full gear, us track geeks are treated to Diamond League events, National Championships, State Championships and NCAA competitions on the TV and internet every week. Did you know that many athletes put just as much emphasis on their mental preparation as their physical training in order to perform at the highest level?
For example, some athletes listen to certain songs, while others relax by listening to guided meditation. Some athletes get moody and snappy, while others like to be around friends and family: There is no one universal method. Each athlete develops a routine that enables them to get into their IZOF (Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning) and perform at their highest potential.
In order to “win the game upstairs” many professional athletes use a little trick called Visual Cues.
“A visual cue is a signal and reminder of something. Aiming to be self–explanatory and pre-attentive, it brings to mind knowledge from previous experiences providing a framework for its own interpretation.”
A cue has a powerful ability to act as a reminder and evoke a thought or emotion that is conducive to an athlete’s performance. It thus gives the brain something to focus on in stressful situations. We all know racing can create extreme nervousness (often ensued by doubt and anxiety). As irrational, self-sabotaging thoughts begin to creep in, visual cues help refocus your mind and bring it back to a place where you are ready to achieve your best. Your internal world affects your external reality!
If you happened to catch the Pre Classic last weekend, Alysia Montano was wearing her signature flower in her hair during the women’s 800m race #flyingflower. Alysia sells her flowers on her website, and has designed each flower to have a specific power word associated with each color. Alysia has said the flower reminds her of her youth when she would play with her brothers. It also reminds her of feminine strength. This American record holder and US Olympic finalist embodies feminine strength in every race! Good luck this season, Alysia!
Olympic Champions use them, so why don't you?!
Other big stars of track and field have been spotted with their “cues.” Olympic champions and medalists are no strangers to the benefits of this effective mental strategy.
Felix Sanchez from the Dominican Republic won the men's 400m hurdles in the London Olympics. He crossed the line and immediately took a photo of his grandmother out of his uniform. His grandmother had passed away during the Beijing Olympics and her death was devastating for him, causing him to drop out of his race. Four years later he won a gold medal in London wearing spikes with "abuela" (spanish for ‘grandmother’) written on them. Read about his win here
Mesert Defar is a two time Olympic Champion and multiple World Champion from Ethiopia. Last summer in the London Olympics, she won the gold medal in the 5000m. Upon crossing the line, she fell to her knees and pulled out a photo (again from inside her uniform) of the Virgin Mary. She proceeded to kiss the photo, show it to the cameras and put the picture on her face. Obviously this image meant a lot to Defar, and its symbolization helped her during her gold medal winning performance.
Not just runners do this
Chrissy Wellington is a four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion, and has talked a lot about the mental strategies she uses during her races. Chrissy has said she writes mantras on her water bottles and on her legs! Read more performance tips from Chrissy here and more on her mental preparation here.
The birth of Believe I Am
And, if you really want to know, it's not just the Olympic champions that do this. As two professional runners, we started this company in order to share our mental techniques that allow you to achieve your best with as many people as possible. Lauren Fleshman has admitted to thinking about the image of a Lion when she's racing, as a reminder to embodying its courage and finishing ferocity (I recommend you to listen to her talk about this on Flotrack ).
I myself draw a heart and smiley face on my hand while racing. These symbols remind me in those last few moments before the race begins that despite the nervousness in my body, I am doing something I love, enjoy and have worked very hard for. It serves as a reminder that I'm truly happy to be competing. I love this strategy because no matter how motivated or how fit I am, in those final few minutes before a race, my mind can play all sorts of self-sabotaging tricksand doubts can flourish in an instant. This strategy reminds me to ignore those thoughts and remember the truth—that when I run free, I run fast and I have fun!
You can do it too!
With our favorite mantras and power words we’ve created a performance shirt and temporary tattoos to help you remember your power words. It's our sports psychology power pack! The shirt has a great racing mantra (Free, Fast, Fun) and the tattoos have the "Joy" tulip, "Courage" ninja star, "Strong" flower, "Free Fast Fun" heliconia, and the "I am Fit, Courageous and Love" butterfly.