A sports psychologist tells you how to overcome the most common psychological road blocks and unleash your true triathlon potential.
A big misconception about elite triathletes is that they’re mentally tough.
In reality, many of them get just as nervous as you, are equally anxious about not meeting expectations, have low confidence and do absolutely nothing about it. Here’s a rundown of the most common psychological hang-ups that plague us all—from triathlon newbies to seasoned pros.
I don’t cope well with injury.
I’m amazed at the number of triathletes who are so goal-oriented when it comes to their training but suddenly become unfocused and apathetic when dealing with an injury. Refuse to become a passive patient by applying a “training mindset” to rehab. Hustle. Accept that the rollercoaster of emotion is a normal adaptive response that shouldn’t be ignored or ridiculed. Research suggests that many injured athletes experience a “grief response” (see five steps of grief below)—this is normal.
Denial: “It’s not that bad. I can train through it.”
What to do about it: Use third-person thinking. What advice would you give to another athlete in the same situation? Focus on how a small hiatus from your training could keep you from losing your entire season.
Anger: “Why me? I can’t believe this is happening now! I’m so pissed!”
What to do about it: Let yourself get mad. Verbalize your feelings with intensity and gusto. For some, meditation works better. Either way, give yourself permission to embrace the feelings and process them.
Bargaining: You try to cut deals. “If I do 20 percent more than my PT suggested, I’ll be back even quicker. If I can just find another specialist who …”
What to do about it: Recognize when you’ve started to shop around for medical advice that agrees with you. There’s a fine line between hustling and refusing to accept facts.
Depression: You might feel incredibly sad, irritable, pessimistic or unpredictably anxious. The difference between this and clinical depression is that these feelings should go away when the injury has healed. For long-lasting or chronic injuries, athletes are susceptible to lingering in this stage the longest.
What to do about it: Become a scheduling ninja. Get jobs done that you’ve been putting off, focusing specifically on the time when you know you’re going to be vulnerable. Reward yourself with feel-good treats like a massage or spa treatment (avoid using unhealthy food as a reward).
Acceptance: We’re at peace with our injury and we’ve come to terms with what’s wrong and what we need to do about it.
What to do about it: Nothing. You’re home free.