Updated: Jun 23, 2019
Weightlifting is 90 percent mental and 50 percent physical, or something like that.
When our legs are weak we squat. When we can’t lock out we press. When our transitions are slow we work on speed. When we have a mental block we have no plan.
I wrote about the THREE REASONS ATHLETES MISS LIFTS a few months back. One of those three ways was due to a poor mental approach. Most of the responses I received were in regards to fixing the mental misses, and for good cause—not too many offer advice on how to help an athletes mental game in the sport of Olympic weightlifting.
We have all seen it, an athlete will miss a lift they are fully capable of making. They can pull a snatch above their eyes, yet fail to mentally transition under the weight.
We all know these mental misses exist, but there is little consensus on how to fix it.
Let me offer these two strategies.
The Wolf Within
First, remind yourself of what you do well. Stop recording every lift and replaying them over and over in your mind. If you want to watch video of yourself lifting, pull up your Facebook or Instagram and look at the videos you posted there. Chances are you are only posting your good lifts and you will have a chance to see yourself doing well.
If you are a really strong lifter and strength is your best asset remind yourself of that. If you are really technical remind yourself of that. If you snatch really well remind yourself of that.
Whatever it is that you do well—make that your inner voice.
Suppose you called up your best friend and told them about your lifting. You explain to them that you missed x,y, and z lifts. Then your friend responds with— “Yea why would you have made that lift, you are weak, slow, have bad technique, and you’re a little fat”.
How long would you continue to call and talk to this friend?
As it turns out this friend is no friend at all, rather this is your inner voice. In the simplest terms this is your negative self talk. Be careful the tone of this voice because as cliché as it is, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, and pretty soon you have a self fulfilling prophecy that leaves you mentally broken and a shell of the person you could be.
Although I am talking about this in weightlifting terms, I hope you can see how this applies to all avenues of life.
The solution to all of this is change your total mindset. In the past I have talked about two wolves living inside your body. One is positive and one is negative, one feeds on positive thoughts, the other on negative. Which ever one gets the most food will grow to be the larger wolf, which will have the dominant voice. If you feed the wrong wolf, subconsciously or consciously, you will be setting yourself up for disaster. However, if you feed the right wolf, you can become an unstoppable force.
Positive self talk is something that has to happen in all aspects of life if you want any carry over to your athletic life. You see you can’t just hit a switch when you go to the gym and become a positive person. You are who you are, so you should be who you want to be.
One thing that I respected most about the Chinese weightlifters was their total commitment to being a complete person before ever becoming a complete weightlifter.
Despite what everyone says about their socialist system of developing athletes (which there are plenty of negatives), they have a culture that puts emphasis on Tao Te Ching, which is an all inclusive mindset—meaning if you are flawed in one aspect of life, you can not perfect another.
The pursuit of this perfection in all areas is what leads to an optimal way of living.
We need to change your culture and general approach to life. We need to win. We need to believe in ourselves outside of the gym in hope that we can become something inside the gym.
Flow state is something I have been reading a lot about. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, coined the term and has written several books and published all kinds of research on flow.
Simply put flow is being in the zone. But it is much more complex than that. Through the research of Mihaly we know that people who achieve flow can produce 50 percent more work. Think about that—in a 5-day work week if you are in flow you could get all of your work done by Wednesday afternoon.
Flow state is a place that anyone can achieve that allows for optimal creativity and focus.
Sometimes being hyper focused has been considered a bad thing because people become
obsessed with a given pursuit.
Have you ever heard of anyone who was great who was not considered obsessed with their pursuit?
If flow is an optimal state of creativity and production, isn’t this something we would want to harness for the sport of weightlifting?
Yet no coaches are actively working on this with their athletes.
This is the million-dollar question. It appears that there are around 20 identified triggers to flow, they contain an element of risk, learning, and perceived success. Getting to flow state can be achieved through meditation, diaphragmatic breathing practices, and other various mental approaches.
In an attempt to bring hard science to flow state some researchers are now looking at the chemical make up of the brain during flow. Essentially flow is an altered state of consciousness—which is classified or defined as anything other than normal beta-wave state.
So for example when you sleep you are in an altered state as you have alpha and theta waves occurring in your brain.
Research has indicated that during flow state the neural chemical make up has a mix of dopamine and norepinephrine that is a little closer to your dream state chemical make up. Essentially if you were looking for a quick fix to obtain this neural state Steve Kotler suggests a 20 min light jog, followed by a cup of black coffee and joint.
Apparently this combination of activities produces a combination of norepinephrine and dopamine that mimics flow state neural chemistry. However, the exact mechanism for creating flow state neural chemistry is not entirely understood.
Further more, this advice may not work as marijuana is currently a banned substance, but if you look around the weightlifting community we know of a handful of elite weightlifters who regularly smoke marijuana.
I am not encouraging drug use, rather I am advocating that coaches arm themselves with approached to help athletes get in the proper mindset for training, competition, and life.