Mental chatter

The question actually made me smile.

It was an early morning in the pool and my swim workout’s main set consisted of timed 300 yard sprints but my coach left the final tally up to me — three or four.

He does this from time to time with pool and track workouts, giving me a range of sprints to do. And when he does, it presents me with a challenge. How many do I do? And how do I decide?

When given a choice, my mind immediately down plays my own abilities. My internal chatter goes something like this:

Should I do three or four of the 300s? Maybe I should aim for three. Better to do that than be disappointed if I can’t get to four. These are fast and hard. You don’t want to blow yourself up, do you? Do you even have time to do four of them? There’s that 30 minutes of pool running after the cool down and you’re extremely busy today. Don’t do too much. You’re not that good anyway.

Ah, yes. The internal chatterbox is so good at naming, describing and celebrating all my fears.

But as I start to pay closer attention to my internal dialogue, I  have found that I have the power to change the conversation.

And so, in the two-minute rest period after my third 300-yard sprint, I looked out at the water and asked myself if I wanted to do a fourth set. I smiled broadly. My mental chatter went like this:

One more 300 is easy. My times are faster than my coach gave me. Sure, I’m working hard, but I’m supposed to be. Let’s just see where I’m at. My arms are tired and I’m starting to feel winded, but that’s good. This is how I get better. What was it Apolo Ohno said about pushing yourself in practice? I don’t remember, exactly, but now I’m thinking of Apolo Ohno and zero regrets. What the heck. No. 4 here we go.

The very first thing I learned from monitoring my inner dialogue is that a big bag of weird resides in my brain.

The second thing I experienced was the power of changing my thoughts. Granted, I’ve had this experience before, but mostly from a white-knuckled approach. (I will think good things. I will think good things.) But as I start to understand the way in which I talk to myself (and we’re talking to ourselves all the time) the easier it is to direct my self-talk to ways which move me toward what I want — from a workout, from triathlon, from my job, from friends, from life.

The result of the swim workout? Four sets of 300-yard sprints completed. That fourth one was not my fastest, nor was it my slowest. It was hard. But just showing up for it made me smile and set the tone for the rest of the day.

I’d like to say I’m not as weak as I thought I was. But in reality, the flip is what’s true — I am only as strong as I tell myself I am.

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