From being in the military reserves for 7 years, and for 3 years being a full time instructor teaching on basic level courses. I've seen people break, 90% of the time they breakdown mentally. They shut down, unresponsive they hit a point were they just don't care anymore. I've seen this happen in 15 min workouts and I've seen it happen in 3-5 days field training with minimum sleep and shitty conditions.
Those that are able to mentally tough it out pull ahead, they continue to preform under demanding and unrealistic conditions.
I always enforce that the military is 90% mental and about 10% physical. You can be out of shape and still pull ahead if you have the mental capacity to continue on. Fitness makes the job easier but mental toughness is what separates people.
I take the same aspect to training people in the gym, and once again I've seen people reach that point were they "quit" before they even attempt to lift something. Women in general (based on my experience) will almost always defeat themselves before attempting a PR attempt. They get in the mind set that "its heavy" and before they even approach a bar they can't do it. Most men will do the same, but it takes a little longer for them to be effected.
Time after time though some skillful manipulation of weights and just flat out lying I've seen this over come. Nothing beats telling someone that the weight they thought was 10 pounds under their PR was really 10 pounds over. But it only works once, maybe twice, then clients start to get smarter.
When I lift I shut my mind off, I would like to say it was the military that created my ability to shut down and still function when required. But reality I had that ability joining at 17. I greatly relate this to my ability to achieve over a 500 pound deadlift and a 400 pound backsquat while doing CrossFit. The mental block of "I can't do it" is not there.
While this post is starting to get kind of long, really what I am asking is how does one train the mental side of fitness? How do you learn to shut the mind off, or not defeat yourself before you attempt something? I've been thinking about this for the last 3 weeks when my GF told me she wanted to achieve that zen state like I do when I lift and during workouts.
And to be frank, I honestly have no idea without putting her though the stuff I put troops though, and if I did that I'm fairly certain she would not love me that much anymore.
Great question and very interesting topic indeed. My experience with the mental side of training has been mainly in overcoming day to day laziness and the excuses one makes to avoid pushing oneself beyond plateaus. Modern life is geared towards making life increasingly more comfortable and avoiding discipline at all costs. I made the decision, and it's a decision I have to make anew every day, that I don't want to make my life more comfortable (in the sense that more comfort equals becoming soft) - but rather, I want to make my life harder, so I don't become soft. Meditation (along the lines of zazen) has helped me learn not to get so caught up in distracting and discouraging thoughts, because really what it comes down to as you mentioned in the original question is learning to "shut off" the mind. To understand that the mind is very powerful, and it's very very easy to be dominated by it. But, it is malleable, and if you take the attitude of refusal to be dominated but rather to be its master, you will be amazed at how well it will serve you. Sometimes when working out I am inspired by music, and other times I like to have silence so I can really watch what my mind is doing while I am pushing my body. I try to focus on the active muscles during an exercise and re-locate my mind to that part by bringing my attention there and trying to fill my head with the feeling of it. The accumulation of small disciplines in daily life adds up: forcing yourself to wake up early, noticing when you are making excuses not to work out and be honest about it with yourself, battle your own mind's attempts to make you soft via the conditioning of the modern lifestyle.
The Chi tech I learnt in Akedo. E.g. During over head squats I imagine my hands touching the corners of the ceiling (unbreakable arm). During pressing and squating I focus on the ball of energy around my bladder growing brighter, drawing power from the universe around me and radiating energy up and out my legs and arms. It sounds flakey, but in the moment it really works for me especially in a comp when everyone is watching!
It is an interesting topic. If you've never pushed yourself to complete failure and beyond then you have no idea what your missing :). Just saying, many have never actually put themselves in that situation repetitively on purpose. I completely believe it to be a learned response.
In addition I think its easier learned at a younger age...I mean like junior high-high school sports type learning, not spartan children fighting to the death learning. And I feel its a great life skill that enhances your ability to "compete" in any form of adversity life throws your way. I learned it in wrestling. We ramped the room up to 110+ degrees, wore plastic bags under sweat suits and worked out until we passed out practically. A little intestinal fortitude goes a long way.
I lift not only because it make me feel strong but because it makes me feel competent.I schooled myself on all the equipment and know what muscle I am training,why and how to do it in the most optimal way. I always rack all my own weights. I tell myself that whatever weight I am lifting will be too light.In my 40's (my prime) I was pushing a 650lbs angled leg press with multiple reps.."light as a feather",everytime. Beyonce has her onstage persona Sasha Fierce,I have found that a gym alter ego is helpful for me. On days when I am calm,focused and grounded I am a Warrior Queen. On days when I am dealin with a heavier vibe I am the Ninja Bitch.I like her the best..she just brings it nasty.
Qigong meditation does it for me. It helps to get the mind in that state where nothing exists but the present. There's no I've never done this (past), I'll never lift this (future), it's all about detaching the mind and being in the present to let the body do what it can do. I sometimes feel like I'm sitting on my shoulder, watching my body go through all the punishment I put it through.
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