Thursday, August 14, 2008

Contagion

Good thoughts are contagious, know what I mean?

Every day I log my thoughts and comments about each workout to my coach. I include everything - the good, the bad, all of it. Last week I announced I would put my SRM out for garage sale, I broke up with my GPS, I cursed mother nature. But if you look at those conversations and comments over time, what I’m starting to realize is those conversations very much control the outcome of the workout.


The other day my coach said when I tell him I had mostly positive self-talk in my head, I have my best workouts. When I list the 100 things that went wrong – the workout doesn’t go as well. Imagine that? Sometimes it takes someone outside of you pointing out the obvious for you to really get it. Then to look inside ourselves and admit how guilty we are. How often do we sit there and tell ourselves the one thousand reasons why the workout won’t go right, why we feel like crap, why obviously there is something wrong with the training plan?

Probably a lot.

For example: Last week I had a tempo run. It was the day after track. There were more than a dozen reasons why this workout should have felt like crap. Rather than let those fill my head, I stood at the starting point of the run and pictured myself typing the words NAILED IT. From there I knew I was screwed – because I would have to nail the workout. I’m stubborn like that. And I was also screwed because I knew to nail it would really hurt. My legs weren’t happy but I got it done and I nailed it. Got home, typed those words and called myself a success for the day.

What I’ve really found is that successful workouts are most often a result of saying successful things in my head. And there is NO good reason why I can’t say successful things in my head for EVERY workout. NO GOOD REASON AT ALL. Fatigue? Deal with it. Cramps? Take a Motrin. Hot, humid, sticky, windy, sunny, cloudy? Get over it and move on already.

So I’ve been making a bigger effort to say only good things in my head. And what better time to practice than yesterday during a 90 minute bike ride with some time trial efforts. I decided to ride from home. This was not the wisest decision. There are probably 10 stoplights between home and Fermilab, 100 construction barricades, limited shoulders and loads of squirrely lunchtime traffic. But with all of that, I decided to make the best ride for myself. I would ride strong, ride like someone was right on me, use the stoplights to push me and once free to do the time trial efforts - find the rhythm in my legs.

I get to the lab in record time and then begin my TT efforts. The legs are moving, pedals are turning, eyes are scanning the environment – but the real work is in my head because the entire time I’m talking to myself:

You are strong rider.
You are tough enough to ride with the big boys.
You can hold this pace.
Can you give it a little more?
Focus on what is right ahead.
Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.
Dial it in and hold it there.


What a great conversation! But occasionally a bad conversation would enter my head. Who said it? Me. I am only human after all:

This hurts.
My quads hurt.
This road is bumpy.
Why is all of this gravel here.


And that is when I launched my conversational counterattack. Every bad thought I quickly snapped back. I had a response to kick it out of my head.

This hurts – No one said it would be easy
This road is bumpy – Imagine how fast you will go when the road is smooth
Why is all of this gravel here – Focus on staying in control & riding right through it

Positive thoughts, negative thoughts, counterattacks…by the time I set out on my way home my head was like a loaded weapon of nothing but good energy. I had kicked all of the bad stuff out and filled it with nothing but thoughts of being fast and strong. And that’s when I realized how contagious a good thought is! All of a sudden I was having the best ride ever and I’m telling you it isn’t because I have fresh legs! Good thoughts, good self-talk are like contagion in your head.

What is contagion? It’s a term often used by social psychologists:

Social contagion is a copycat effect, imitative behavior based on the power of suggestion or word of mouth influence. It operates on three levels – emotional, behavioral and ideational. Emotional contagion is often filled with infectious moods or feelings. Behavioral contagion could be laughter with a group friends. Ideational contagion is exemplified in urban legends, rumors.

How can we as athletes use the contagion effect? Become contagious to ourselves! Make our good thoughts and positivity something we can’t help but catch. Emotionally start your workout with excitement, giddiness and zest for the possibility of what you can achieve. Behaviorally – talk positive to yourself, encourage your efforts. Ideationally – create a rumor in your head. That you are a force to be reckoned with, that you are a powerful athlete, that you are known for having _____ as your strength. Become your own legend! You don’t have to tell anyone but yourself – and that is the only person that needs to know. It doesn’t matter how big something is that you say in your head. It’s your private conversation with yourself and it can be as big as you’d like. No one censors, judges or listens in on what you say in your head.

Make yourself – your conversations, your energy – something you’d like to catch. There is so much negativity in our world, so many judgments and pressure on ourselves. Don't become yet another negative force. Why? Because negative forces attract negativity. When you think you can't - you're right, you can't. When you think your legs hurt, they do. When you think you can't keep up, you won't. But if you become the positive force that you can't help but catch you will attract all of the possibilities for doing what you can.

7 comments:

Wes said...

I love this!! I so rarely find myself being negative in a workout. The time just tends to all blend together, and I get done what I have to get done. I think I can be better by practicing this. Not a better time, but a better over all experience, which will ultimately make me a better triathlete.

I was going to say something about the "social contagion" as well, but you nailed that one too in your usual thorough manner.

Have I ever gotten anything from you about what you would like to see in our athlete's comments? I'm thinking "done" may not be enough :-)

BreeWee said...

I am SO glad you are FINALLY starting to put it all together... NOW the fun begins and all those BEAUTIFUL outcomes (good races) are about to start piling up... especially since you are getting on the coco-juice and off the sugar wagon!

Michelle and Scott said...

Hi Liz,
I'm a friend of Rachel's in Hawaii... been reading your blog and really like your thoughts! This post reminded me of my self-talk while racing in Kona last year. It was my first time racing there and when it got really windy up toward Hawi, I just kept thinking how cool it was that I got to experience the lengendary wind at Hawi! What a rip-off it would have been had it not been windy and I didn't get to experience it. :)
Enjoy all your training. I'm pregnant this year so taking the year off, but can't wait to be out there working hard and pushing myself again at some point!

rr said...

You're too happy today. Have you been hanging out with Bree? Can you send back the sarcastic girl please?

It's good Coach has you to make up for having me.

E.L.F. said...

I can't help it. I've been off the sugar and all of these happy lollipop thoughts are filling my head instead. I should probably start drinking more coffee. Add a little more cynicism to my day.

E.L.F. said...

I can't help it. I've been off the sugar and all of these happy lollipop thoughts are filling my head instead. I should probably start drinking more coffee. Add a little more cynicism to my day.

Anonymous said...

Coco Juice? Crap, after my week, I need SOMETHING - send it my way, please. OFF the sugar? Hmm, that is a novel concept for me this week - I am ON the full sugar after being off last week - my body is rebelling against my undecided-ness. Not sure I even know where to buy coconut juice - Illinois is not busting out with coconut trees. Jen H.