Mental Health Tips for Type A Triathletes

Merging ambition with action can get mentally messy.

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Mental health coach Mark Freeman, author of the recently published brain-training book You Are Not a Rock, A Step-By-Step Guide to Better Mental Health (for Humans), has a few tips for keeping your sanity while you try to reach this big-time goals.

Drill Down

Approach goal-setting by first acknowledging your successes. Then ask yourself, “What do I want to build on?”

From there, work backward. If the goal is to take three minutes off your 5K, think of what might be preventing you from achieving this now. For example: perhaps you skip workouts because you aren’t eating well and are too fatigued to train.

Peeling back the layers, your primary goal should be to focus on meal prepping each week. That seemingly small goal will help you stay healthy and energized, which means more training sessions logged and improved 5K times.

This goal-setting tactic can be applied to any endeavor—dig deep to see what immediate goal will help you achieve the big one.

Meditate on the Go

Freeman knows triathletes are pressed for time, but he also knows that triathlon is a “thinking” kind of sport. Harness this love of thinking (or even over-thinking for some of us!) the next time you’re on a run by asking yourself: How do your muscles feel? What do the surroundings look, sound, and smell like? These guiding questions give the mind direction, which encourages mindfulness, focus, and calmness.

Knowing how your body feels, thinks, and reacts in different scenarios is a form of meditation, and the best part is you can practice this during a training session.

Stop Judging Yourself

One of the biggest challenges triathletes face can be the constant cycle of judgment: Am I training enough? What are my competitors doing? What if work runs late and I can’t run?

Nonjudgement is the ability to accept situations at face-value and take action to achieve success. Freeman believes anxieties start by judging thoughts as good or bad. Anxiety in open water, for example, is magnified by labeling anxious thoughts as bad, which sends the mind down a rabbit hole of worst-case scenarios.

Instead of defaulting to paralysis by analysis, try flipping the situation to action-based responses. Acknowledging the existence of open-water anxiety will help the mind realize it’s OK to feel this way. Then commit to taking small actions that will lead to success: putting on your wetsuit, wading into the water, taking smooth, even breaths.

Staying in touch with those actions and praising yourself for each one (“I put on my wetsuit, good job!”), even if it feels cheesy, will give your mind a chance to relax into the situation. The best part? These tri-strategies can be applied to work and relationships too.

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