I recently finished reading Chris McCormack’s book, “I’m here to win: A World Champion’s blueprint for peak performance”. The title grabbed me. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I am glad I did on this occasion because I wasn’t disappointed. I found this book enlightening, reflective, and awe-inspiring. Chris is renowned in triathlon/ironman circles, but for those of you who aren’t familiar &/or aware of who Chris McCormack is, he is a 6-time Ironman World Champion! Last year he won the Ironman Hawaii, Kona: the most grueling event that puts even the toughest and strongest individuals in the sport through their paces.
His book provides insight into the inner workings of an elite athlete. I want to share with you a snapshot of what I learnt from Chris. He talks candidly about the importance of the mental game in his performance. “At the elite level, the physical difference between athletes in any sport is microscopic. What separates the people on the platform from the rest is what they do with their minds.” Your mind is a tool that you can use to help you succeed. “If there’s a magic bullet to my success, beyond any doubt it’s my ability to dominate the mental game.” Your ability to control your inner voice, especially when you are emotionally and physically drained is important to your performance. Think of a time when you have felt emotionally and/or physically drained. It may have been after a long day at work dealing with difficult clients, giving a presentation to win a new project, or running 10km in your training program leading in to the Bridge to Brisbane. How did you perform? Did you notice unhelpful thoughts pop in to your head? Did you notice whether your body felt like you were pushing through hummus? We need to train your brain to make it as difficult as possible for you mind to take you that “dark, negative, defeated place”. To help make it difficult for your brain to go down this path, Chris explains that he creates folders in his brain to control his inner voice.
“Think of your mind as a computer desktop. In it, you have folders labeled things like “Kona Lava Fields.” Then I fill those folders with the thoughts I want to be thinking if I start to find myself in trouble in those circumstances. If I’m running the marathon in the lava fields in Kona and I start to cramp, I can mentally click my “Lava Fields” folder and know exactly what to think to keep myself going..The file in that folder might read, ‘You’ve hydrated and have the nutrition strategy to deal with this, so don’t worry’.”
Chris recommends working out solutions to problems (hydration, heat management, nutrition, managing colleagues etc.) and putting them in one of your mental folders so when you need it (perhaps when you are feeling that pain, or worry creeps in) you can click on the folder. This will help with confidence and focus because you prepared for it by detailing what you are going to do when this particular event/situation happened. It is important to not only create these folders but to also use them during training! Prepare them. Make them the habit. So when those negative, unhelpful thoughts creep in at the start of a race/event/presentation, you can wipe them away with your more helpful, balanced mental folders. These folders will help with quieting any self-doubting thoughts such as “Have I done enough to prepare?”, “I haven’t trained enough”, “Do I have what it takes?” that can arise when you are under pressure.
In sport psychology we are interested in knowing the WHY behind our actions. Knowing your WHY behind what you do helps create and maintain motivation. I often hear people ask, ‘why does Roger Federer continue to play tennis when he has done it all?’ I believe that Federer has a greater purpose to his sport. He has his own foundation, ‘Roger Federer Foundation’ which supports education, sports, and leisure activities in places where there is little or no funding at all. He also continues to support charities such as the ‘Humpty Dumpty Foundation’ (raising medical equipment for children’s hospitals). Chris came to the realization that he needed a new purpose (after a particular race where he thought he would feel more) larger than himself to keep him motivated and refusing to quit but to also raise awareness and funding for a cause. He started the ‘Macca Now Foundation’ to raise money and awareness for breast cancer (the disease that took his mum’s life) and to help his daughters know about their grandmother. Chris strongly recommends finding a purpose to what you do and it can be raising money for charity, honouring the death of a friend or relative, earning publicity for your business, keeping a promise to your children, or completing your own personal list. Once you have identified your WHY, remind yourself of it. Have reminders around you to keep the WHY in mind.
Again this is a snapshot of what I took away from Chris’s autobiography. It is worth getting your hands on this book and reading it. I believe it is a useful resource for those involved in the sport of triathlons but I also strongly recommend it to everyone as a tool for squeezing more out of life. As Chris has said, “you are the CEO of your one-person company” so you are responsible for your own performance and setting up support networks to help you achieve your goals. His knowledge, experiences and skills can help your own performance in sport, work, school or any other aspect of your life.