Training For The Mind: Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

To the untrained eye, the reason that we exercise is to simply improve our fitness. We lift to improve our strength and build muscle and we go on long runs, swims or rides to develop our endurance. That is what, at the most basic level, training is all about – improving our athletic performance.

Sometimes I hear people disregard rest days and the importance of recovery. I usually laugh at this as the inner scientist in me cringes. At first glance, this attitude would seem to come from the false belief that improvements in our physiology occur in the gym and whilst exercising, rather than in our sleep and time spent recovering, and for the vast majority of people, it is likely to be true that they are incorrectly taking this ‘no rest’ approach with the aim of improving their fitness.

However, to some, there is more to training than simply improving fitness. To some, training is less about the body, than it is about the mind. Take David Goggins for example, he never has a rest day, and to many, this would seem crazy and futile. But, the most important thing to him when training is the development of his mental toughness. For some people, training is not about improving their body or fitness, these are just welcome bi-products. Instead, training is about the mind. Creating a high level of suffering to develop their mental toughness and themselves as a person.

‘Who on this f**king earth would be going right now? You are! I believed it enough to where my body said: “he’s not gonna stop”.’

David Goggins

I’m certainly not suggesting that you do go at 100% all the time, and you should give yourself time to rest and recover. But we can learn a lot from the mentality shown by Goggins: we should not be using science as an excuse for slacking. In that sense, you would only be cheating yourself. We should however use the science when it is correctly applied and take appropriate recovery for the our exercise. Indeed, by its very definition, you cannot recover without putting the work in first.

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

Marcus Aurelius

If we cave in to feelings of needing to stop we our losing an internal battle with our mind, and the mind is immensely powerful. Under conditions of mental fatigue our endurance performance is shown to decrease significantly (1,2). Yet, the science shows that using Brain Endurance Training over a 12-week programme was shown to yield 3x the improvement in athletic performance in a time-to-exhaustion trial (3). By putting our mind under uncomfortable conditions and testing our mental capacities we can break the boundaries of what was previously possible.

“That’s one of my big things too is, you know, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable”

Laura Kline – Rewire Athlete

To read more about the Rewire Brain Training System, click here.

References

1.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Manning V. Mental fatigue impairs physical performance in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 

2.        Lopes TR, Oliveira DM, Simurro PB, Akiba HT, Nakamura FY, Okano AH, et al. No Sex Difference in Mental Fatigue Effect on High-Level Runners’ Aerobic Performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2020;Volume Pub. 

3.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Merlini M. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brain Endurance Training (BET) to Reduce Fatigue During Endurance Exercise. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2015; 

Recommended Reading

Can’t Hurt Me
by David Goggins

Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius

The Obstacle is the Way
by Ryan Holiday

The Joe Rogan Experience #1212 – David Goggins

The Tim Ferriss Podcast: Ryan Holiday (#4)

Simple Ways to Improve your Sleep for Athletic Performance

The quality of our sleep has huge implications for athletic performance. Sleep is essentially the time when physical and mental recovery occurs. With good cognitive function and physical readiness being required for us to perform at our peak, it is obvious to see how it is important that we have good quality sleep to perform at our best.

Start listening to our circadian rhythms

“We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle. What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems”

Professor Russell Foster

Our sleep patterns our guided by circadian rhythms, which essentially act as our body clock and determine the appropriate time for hormone release, which in the case of sleep is melatonin. With the invention of the light bulb and screens has come the ability to overcome this natural body clock. The presence of blue light reduces the secretion of melatonin, increasing alertness and keeping us awake. This delays the onset of sleep and reduces the amount of time that we spend asleep. By cutting out screens as you prepare to go to sleep you can ensure that your onset of sleep is faster and thus your time in bed is more efficient.

Think in cycles not hours

“Eight hours sleep is an average amount of sleep people get per night, and it somehow seems to have become a recommended amount – for everyone. The resultant pressure put on getting this is incredibly damaging and counterproductive to getting the right amount of sleep that we individually need”

Nick Littlehales

To maximise the quality of our sleep we should quantify sleep in terms of cycles, not hours. One sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes and hence if we can time our sleep to wake up at the end of a cycle we can wake up at the lightest point of our sleep and feel refreshed and ready to start the day.

We should also not be too concerned about the amount of sleep we get each day but instead over the whole week. In his book “Sleep”, Littlehales suggests that we should be getting 35 cycles per week, averaging 5 cycles a day, which works out as 7 hours 30 minutes. This approach is much more achievable than consistently hitting 8 hours which can be quite pressuring and stressful and a cycle approach is reflective of how we actually sleep. Littlehales says that this approach reduces the stress hormones released from struggling to sleep and allows us to get effective rest and recovery.

Apps like Sleep Cycle ensure that your alarm wakes you up at the lightest point of sleep possible meaning that you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day.

Be more consistent

Our body adapts to the time we fall asleep and thus by being more consistent, we can fall asleep quicker and ensure the time that we spent in bed is efficient. Not only is our sleep more efficient when we are consistent, but we also get more slow-wave and REM sleep – the times when physical and mental recovery occurs respectively. This allows us to maximise the benefits of training and perform at our best. 

Laura Kline, Rewire Athlete, tells us that by developing a consistent routine she has been able to ensure she gets adequate sleep. “By 8:00 I have my magnesium drink and try to limit my screen time. I aim to be in bed by 9:30 – I find that following a set schedule makes a difference as my body knows it’s time to shut down.” Laura says that by doing this she can typically fall asleep within minutes and on the inevitable days that she can’t follow her routine she notices a difference the next day. 

Optimising our sleep is not necessarily about getting more sleep, but about making the time that we spend in bed as efficient as possible. Only by working to improve the way that we sleep can we truly allow for sufficient recovery to develop our athletic performance.

Further Reading:

Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose dependent suppression of melatonin in humans
West et al.
Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011

Sleep: Change the way you sleep with this 90 minute read
Nick Littlehales

New Feature: Sleep Consistency – Why We Track it, How Do You Compare?
Whoop

‘Arrogance’ of ignoring need for sleep
James Gallagher

How to use Self-Talk Mantras to Effectively Increase Performance

Does talking to yourself really help increase your performance? Yes! According to numerous studies, including this one from 2013, using self-talk significantly reduced an athlete’s rating of perceived exertion (RPE) – essentially how hard you feel you are working. This in turn led to a significant increase in time to exhaustion (TTE) meaning that the athletes could continue to work at the same intensity for longer (Blanchfield et al., 2013). In essence this means that by using self-talk techniques, you can increase your performance in endurance activities (or at least make it feel easier!).

So how can you use self-talk effectively to improve your performance? Pick four mantras, either from the list (below) or ones that you have created yourself. They need to be meaningful to you, so take your time to think about which resonate with you the most. 

Pick another two for the late stages of the race or training session suited for times when you can feel the lactic acid moving round in your legs and all you need to do is keep pushing and take your mind off the immense pain. Kline, the former World Duathlon Champion, says: “I might start a race with a mantra in my head ‘Calm and focused.’ And then I’ll reach a point where there’s going to be a lot of climbing and I’ll say ‘Consistent climbing’ over and over in my head. Then I’ll get to a point in the race where it’s go time… I’ll say ‘Bring it home’.”

Early Stage

  • ’Calm and Focused.’ – Laura Kline, Former World Duathlon Champion and Rewire Athlete
  • ’You’re doing great’ – Ryan Hall, Olympian in the marathon
  • ’Stay relaxed’ – Tyler Pennel, Former U.S. National Marathon Champion
  • ’Calm Confidence’ – Annie Bersagel, Former U.S. National Marathon Champion
  • ’Swift and smooth’
  • ’Steady forward momentum’
  • ’Your race. Your pace.’
  • ’Keep this up’
  • ’One step at a time’
  • ’You’ve got this!’
  • ’Feeling good’
  • ’Going strong’

Late Stage

  • ‘Bring it Home’ – Laura Kline, Former World Duathlon Champion and Rewire Athlete
  • ’Tough times don’t last, but tough people do’ – Ellie Greenwood, Western States Record Holder
  • ‘Just keep pushing’ – Ian Sharman, Former Winner of the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run
  • ‘Whatever it takes’ – Ryan Vail, Former USA Cross Country Team
  • ’Never give up’ – Chrissie Wellington, Ironman World Champion (2007-2009)
  • ’Fortunate, Fearless and Fast’ – Payson McElveen, Professional Mountain Biker
  • Go faster. Push harder. Today, define yourself.’ – Deena Kastor, Olympic Marathon and Long Distance Runner
  • ’Beast mode on’
  • ’Breathe in Strength. Breathe out weakness.’ – Amy Cragg, Olympic Marathon and Long Distance Runner
  • ’Shut up legs!’ – Jens Voigt, Previous holder of the Hour Cycling Record
  • ’Push through this’
  • ’Consistent Climbing’ – Laura Kline, Former World Duathlon Champion and Rewire Athlete

The mantras that you have picked should be meaningful enough to you that you can remember them without any problem. However, you might wish to have an extra reminder. Write them on your hands or fingers if you need, or even engrave them onto the handlebars of your bike. The good news is with the Rewire system you can program your personal mantras right into the training app and they will appear during the most challenging points in your workout automatically. Throughout exercise use the phrases as and when you need, repeating them over and over, taking your mind off the pain.

Using mantras in the Rewire app

By using these mantras, your perception of how hard you are working will be lower and this will allow you to push yourself beyond the previous limit set by psychological factors, thus enhancing your endurance performance.

After a few sessions you will have become accustomed to using self-talk and will likely have naturally selected the mantra which fits the best for each part of the race, those being the ones that you repeat the most since they mean the most to you.

Keep pushing!

Talking Yourself Out of Exhaustion: The Effects of Self-talk on Endurance Performance
by Blanchfield AW, Hardy J, De Morree HM, Staiano W, Marcora SM
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2013