Mantras have long been used by athletes to help them get through the most challenging moments of their competitions. But they aren’t just for athletes; they can help anyone get through a physical or personal challenge by utilizing psychology. Mantras are optimistic self-talk that help to control and calm the mind. In Sanskrit, mantra translates to “instrument of thought.”
Columnist Gigi Douban wrote for Runner’s World: “Mantras—those short power bytes you play over and over in your head—can help you stay focused and centered. They can be your inner motivation when you need it most. Finding a mantra isn’t hard: It can pop into your head as you’re listening to your iPod, chatting with training partners, or flipping through a running magazine. But having one that suits you…is the key to making it work.”
In her article she quotes Sean Lloyd, a 30-year-old computer analyst and marathoner from Round Hill, Virginia. He has about a dozen mantras he keeps in rotation, and settles on one at the start of a run based on how he feels that day. Lloyd says he tried a number of motivational sayings before finding a few that worked for him, including “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.” He’ll experiment with them during a tough stretch of a training run. “When I can’t keep focused on a mantra, I know it’s not right,” he says.
There are many goals of a mantra. It can help create a positive transformation within the person, and it helps take the mind off the pain of the workout and focus on the moment at hand. Mantras help you stay focused and committed, and can transcend physical sensations. The sheer act of repeating the word or words prevents the mind from focusing on the negative aspect of what you are doing (the discomfort) and channels your energy into greater good. This repetition is what makes it so powerful in sports performance. It’s very helpful to tie the repetition of your mantra to your breath, which is usually connected to your stride in running or your pedal stroke in cycling. When I repeat a mantra to myself, it’s usually every two or four pedal strokes, depending on how long it is.
In my first Strategies of Strength, I spoke about counting the pedal stroke, alternating seated with standing positions on long, epic climbs. Counting is essentially a mantra itself. While riding my bike around Europe and New Zealand many years ago, and on some of the longer climbs here in the Rocky Mountains, in addition to counting my pedal stroke, I developed a personal mantra that I still use to this day when I feel especially challenged. It helps me when I have feelings of doubt. My mantra is:
I Can. I Will. I Am. I Did.
These four inspirational statements move me from possibility (I can!), to commitment (I will!), to the present moment of performing the task (I am!), and finally to completion (I did!). I first used this in a session at the 2007 CanFitPro conference entitled “Strategies of Strength.” (Yes, it was the inspiration for this series on ICA, but not as in-depth as we are going here). I’ve used this mantra while leading indoor cycling fund-raisers. I’ve had it inscribed on my Road-ID, which is attached to my bike shoes. I’ve written it on my hand. I relied on it extensively in 2013 while climbing Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez while cycling in France during the Tour de France.
Indoor cycling application: How to inspire your riders to find their own mantra
Have you used mantras? Have you seen a transformation in your students when you do? Do you have one you would like to share? Please list them in the comments below!
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