I’ve recently been working my way through the sports psychology books often recommended here (such as Endure, How Bad Do You Want It? and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience). While I might just be drunk from the long parade of “mind-over-body” stories, I am coming around to the idea that mental fitness is at least as important as physical fitness.
So if this is the case, then where are the discussions/studies of how one training protocol affects mental strength vs another training protocol? Are the physiological explanations (energy systems, VO2max, lactate thresholds and so on) in the end just stories whose main purpose is to get the athlete to “believe in the process” independent of whether the physiological claims are true or not?
Maybe its the physiological bias of my path so far (Friel’s Training Bible, Coggan’s Training and Racing with a Power Meter, TrainingPeaks and for the last few years TrainerRoad), but I have not yet been exposed to a training framework that explicitly integrates physical fitness goals with mental fitness goals. Makes me wonder if there is a reason for that.
One reason that I can imagine (although I’m not at all sure of its validity) is that focusing explicitly on mental strength implies that you are attending too much to your internal state (which increases perceived effort) when that attention should be focused outward (which decreases perceived effort). Douglas Adams gets to the root of it much more elegantly (and with humor):
This is an excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy .
How To Fly
© by Douglas Adams
There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, [ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ] suggests, and try it.
The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt.
That is, it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.
Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.
One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It’s no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won’t. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.
It is notoriously difficult to prize your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people’s failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.
If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinty, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.
This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration. Bob and float, float and bob. Ignore all consideration of your own weight simply let yourself waft higher. Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of “Good God, you can’t possibly be flying!” It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.
Waft higher and higher. Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.
DO NOT WAVE AT ANYBODY.
When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly easier and easier to achieve.
You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your maneuverability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it were going to anyway.
You will also learn about how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly screw up, and screw up badly, on your first attempt.
There are private clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few genuine hitchhikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.
I have so many questions around the integrated implementation of mental strength training (assuming that is possible in any explicit sense) that I do not even know where to start.