Ian Thorpe provided a few subtle but valuable insights after his 3rd consecutive world record at the 2001 World Championships during the week at Fukuoka, Japan. I just wanted to mention these before beginning today's topic of breaking through mental barriers. After winning 200m freestyle in a fabulous tussle with his friend, the great Pieter van den Hoogenband, he mentioned how this race had been his main focus since the Olympics and that he truly believed that he would always be tough to compete against as his preparation was always so complete.
"As soon as I got back in the water after the Olympics (10 months ago), I've been preparing myself for this meet and focusing on every single one of my swims. I am usually the hardest person to race against. I try to do the best I can, no matter on what level. I didn't care what anyone else was doing, I just prepared myself to race" he said.
These are some unusually strong words from someone who normally shows very little - showing that he believes totally in his own ability, to the point that he did not worry about anyone else, that his preparation was thorough and that he knew it would always take care of him. Then, when the media began speculating about his chances of more gold medals and equaling Mark Spitz's record tally, he very cleverly dismissed this by stating "I don't think I can do it". There was no way Thorpe would have put additional pressure on himself by stating he was going for more gold, regardless of what he truly thought deep down inside. He prefers to let his swimming do the talking first, and if it happens, he'll talk about it then. Clever.
What you believe will always determine what you achieve. Ian Thorpe, Inge De Bruijn, Anthony Ervin, Petria Thomas, Matt Welsh, Natalie Coughlin, Giaan Rooney, Massimiliano Rosolino, Geoff Huegill....none of them could have won their events without knowing deep down that it was actually possible. That's right, before they went out there to race, they knew they could win. Not that they would win, but that they could. This is the first step - you must know that what you are trying to do, and know that it is truly 'possible'. So is it? And if not, what's stopping you? This is the information you need to know before you can move forward.
Secondly, you must know everything that you truly believe about this goal - by listing down on paper the very first feelings that enter your head when you imagine 'achieving your goal', giving special attention to any fears that come up in your mind. These fears are the mental roadblocks you must overcome to achieve your goal, as otherwise they can be the very things that prevent you 'turning it on' when you need it most in the pool.
Look at these fears you must overcome, sitting there on the piece of paper. Now, each day, you have to work positively on reversing each of these before your race arrives, by constantly instilling confidence into your daily visualization, your affirmations and your daily thoughts - steadily increasing your power and diminishing the fear.
Even some symbolic gestures can help achieve this, such as writing each fear down onto a separate piece of paper, and then, one at a time, throwing each one into a fire and watching it dissolve into a million pieces, gone forever and never to be seen again. Symbolism registers very powerfully in the mind, as this is the natural language of your very own subconscious.
Thirdly, write down in point form every single positive belief you have about your goal, including every single reason why you can achieve your goal - and then make sure you read through this list every day until the meet, or even better, just after awakening and just before sleep.
Doubts and fears are only thoughts, and they can be overcome - but you must work on these as otherwise they can honestly feel like they own you. Increase your own belief, confidence and personal power - and this will evaporate the fears. Now go forth and conquer!
The Mind controls the body, and the mind is unlimited. The best of success,
Breaking Through Mental Swimming Barriers
Mind Training Tips for Swimmers - Sports Psychology Tips for Swimmers
From Craig Townsend, http://www.swimpsychology.com