Building Your Mental Game

At the most fundamental level, CrossFit isn't very surprising. We know all the movements that will be thrown at us. We've practiced every combination of every movement, we've practiced each specific skill, and we've developed capacity in each movement. At the top of the sport, athletes have nearly identical strength numbers and can all do the same impressive feats when it comes to gymnastics. So what's the difference? Why are the same top few athletes constantly making the games, the same athletes constantly on the podium? On a local level, why can I beat someone who has way better measurables than me? 

The answer is it all comes down to your mental game. I don't think this is a secret. There are so many podcasts and books and articles written about CrossFit nowadays that we all understand how important the mental game is. The secret sauce is figuring out a) if we have a strong or weak mental game and then b) how we go about strengthening it. Its obviously not a skill we can hammer out like pull-ups or handstand push-ups. 

So, how do we build your mental game? Like most things, its not so simple as to say do X and Y will happen. There are underlying variables to take into account, there are different starting points and progressions along the way. The first step is to figure out where you currently are when it comes to mental capacity.


Your Current Mental Game

In my opinion, the most significant mental barrier is confidence - even hours before my training session starts, if I have a workout that has any of my weaknesses in it, I start to make up stories in my mind. I start figuring out how I can compensate one way or another, etc. Once the training session starts, if I have any doubts at all, those weaknesses turn into impossibilities. 

The second most significant mental barrier, again, in my opinion, is sticking to your game plan(s). Man, I can't tell you often I want to deviate plan as soon as it starts getting difficult. I start telling myself "I NEED an extra break here, and extra break there." And then after the workout being so frustrated at myself because I totally DIDN'T need to take that break. Anyone else relate?

The Path to Improvement

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to assume that you are average, like me, when it comes to your mental game. You doubt yourself every now and then, and aren't likely to stick to your game plan, especially when its a tough workout. So how do get better? How can we fortify these two aspects of our mental game? Easy - we need to build progressions.

A games athlete doesn't have to worry about if its going to be a good pull-up day or not. He's not stressing if the HSPUs are going to be too tough for him today. But most of us are. Maybe its not those specific movements, but most of us have a few movements that worry us a bit. We don't have the luxury of going into that workout with maximum output in mind, we just care about getting better at our weakness. So that's what we have to focus on.

Don't set yourself up for failure by thinking you've failed if you don't do good on that weakness today. Understand that modifications are ok, scaling is ok. Your mental progression for this workout is telling yourself that no matter what you have to do, you are going to do it 100% effort with no doubts. If you have to scale your HSPU's tonight, who cares. You won't get that fancy RX, but guess what, no one - I repeat, NO ONE - cares. Do what you need to do to get better. Whatever you decide to do, do it at 100% and crush it. Don't let a standard defeat you.

This is powerful because when you get used to approaching workouts like this, then you no longer stress out and worry about getting that standard. You're fine with modifying so you don't put extra pressure or mental fatigue on yourself. You're excited when you go the gym instead of being worried. And chances are you're going to perform a hell of a lot better, and hit that standard a lot faster. Excitement does A LOT for performance.

When it comes to your game planning, the mental progression is just being smarter when it comes to building your game plan. If you haven't had any success sticking to your game plan, then for the love of god don't think you'll stick to a Regional or Games level pace, that's just a recipe for failure. Create a game plan that builds in some cushion for yourself. For the first week or two, make your game plan easy.

The objective is to just start completing workouts according to plan. Start building that mental confidence that you can do it. After a week or two, then you can start SLOWLY increasing the difficulty of your game plans. Over time you will be able to make tough, gut checking mental decisions to stay on track, but you need to develop that mental capacity FIRST. Be smart and set yourself up for success, not failure. 

As always, I'm curious to know if you guys found value in this article. It's a battle I struggle with often, especially when I'm not as on point as I should be with my training, yet I rarely read anything on how to improve the mental game. I'd love to hear your feedback, and more specifically, what your biggest mental hurdle is.

January 12, 2018 by Jason Yule
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Holly Berry

Holly Berry said:

My Mental Game is by FAR the biggest Challenge/obstacle for me. If I BELIEVE I can do it (whatever “IT” is at the time)…I can and I will. The opposite also holds true, If I think for even a second that I can’t do something, most likely I won’t be able to. I have to fight this battle daily. I talk myself into/out of things throughout wod’s all the time.
The first time I did a headstand, I was in disbelief. I believed I couldn’t do it right before I actually did it. After I did that headstand, now I realize I can (and will) do anything and everything I put my mind to. I WILL do a HSPU. I WILL get T2B. I WILL kill some OH squats. It just takes time. I just have to believe it everytime and practice it. It’s all up to me. Just ME.

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