The CrossFit Open continues to grind on for another two weeks. Thousands of CrossFit athletes with varying skills and abilities are still vying for a chance to attend the CrossFit Regionals competitions around the world and many of them will fail. Though many of these athletes have spent months and years preparing their bodies for the competition, only the elite have spent time preparing their minds for the CrossFit Open.
The mind, not the muscle, is your most potent athletic asset. Therefore, training your mind to function in competitive scenarios is critical to your success of living up to your full athletic potential and breaking through on the CrossFit Leaderboard.
The first step in learning how to use your mind as an athlete is understanding the mindset concept known as flow.
Flow can be defined as a state in which people become completely absorbed in an activity. During this experience, the individual in the state of flow feels strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. They become fully immersed in whatever activity or action they are performing. Another phrase people often use to describe ‘flow’ is ‘in the zone’.
Though the concept of ‘flow’ has been around since humans have roamed the planet, the state of being was first named and analyzed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned hungarian phycologist. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow and characterized nine component states of achieving flow which include: challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clarity of goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, paradox of control, transformation of time, loss of self-consciousness, and autotelic experience.
Related to fitness, flow is a state of mind achieved when athletes feel completely engaged in their performance, lose their perception of time, concentrate on the moment, and perform at extremely high levels.
Countless studies have been performed on the theory of ‘flow’ as it relates to athletic performance. One such study took a pool of over Two hundred and seventy two athletes from various sport disciplines ranging from team to individual. This study found a positive correlation between an athlete’s experience with flow and their athletic performance capabilities.
Clearly, getting into this mental and physical state is crucial to athletic performance. Any athlete can get into this state through physical and mental training.
Simple. You train it.
Just as the body and muscles respond to training stimuli, so does the mind. This represents the concept of neuroplasticity; the brain’s ability to change its processes and patterns. Focusing on training your mind will allow you to reap large gains over a short period of time. However, such mental training must be introduced in a progressive and consistent manner to enable positive development.
Here are seven critical elements that must be present in order to achieve a state of flow:
Training should meet you where you are currently at. If you currently struggle to snatch 135 lbs as a male or 95 lbs as a female, then a workout with multiple 135/95 lb snatches under fatigue is NOT a good recipe for getting into flow, OR for experiencing good training. Without understanding your individual needs and capacities, your training won’t be structured in a way that maximizes your performance.
Being present is essentially being ‘in’ the moment by focusing everything on the task you are performing. After all, a small lapse in concentration at a key moment often leads to lost time. A few seconds can be the difference between success and failure in competitive CrossFit. Practice being present in your training, focused, and unwavering in your attention to the optimal outcome.
You should feel at one with every movement and forge mind-muscle connections. Essentially, you want any movement to feel like an extension of your body. This only comes with years of deep, mindful practice of the skills required for the sport. However, the process can be accelerated by having a professional coach help you understand how a given workout should feel. This professional should also know the intended physical response and whether things should feel easy and sustainable.
This is crucial to successful performance. It’s often tough to be objective on our own performance. Feedback from peers and coaches regarding your results is incredibly valuable to the learning process. There is truth in numbers. Therefore, it is vital that you are maintaining an accurate training log, as well as having a professional coach who can quantify your progression over time.
Being ‘unconscious’ of yourself can be perceived by some as a negative quality. However, it’s a common trait amongst high performers across a broad spectrum of sports and fitness. Becoming one with the barbell provides freedom from any negative thoughts and allows you to stay focused on the task at hand.
In training, there’s often a tendency to focus on the tangibles: the numbers, adding a couple pounds to the bar, or shaving a few seconds from a workout. This obsession on little details does not lead to achieving the state of flow. Flow happens when we focus instead on the process rather than the outcome. The pursuit of the process, not tangibles, is what allows you to enter a state of flow. Now that we understand what flow is and how to reach that state, it is time to discuss how your thoughts influence the actions you take in every situation.
The language we use internally shapes our experience of life, the way we interact with others, and our relationship with ourselves. This idea forms the framework of what’s known as the ‘Self Perception Theory’.
“We often believe what we hear ourselves saying, and are far more likely to follow the path of action we decide on, independent of the advice, in the long term.”
Self Perception Theory asserts that people develop their attitudes by observing their own behavior and concluding what attitudes must have caused it. The manner in which we use language reinforces these personal observations of our behavior which can negatively impact self perception. Start paying attention to the language and phrases you use either internally or when talking to others. You’ll likely find recurring phrases, or terms that can be changed over time to shift your mindset:
By using powerful language, it becomes easier for us to align actions with our goals. Mantras, incantations, and personal slogans have been used for decades by peak-performers in and outside of sport.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.” – Gandhi