What Top Performers Know About The Human Body: Mindset Matters

Bryan Collins


I’m not the fastest runner in the world.

I’ve learnt, mostly the hard way, that it takes at least three months of hard training to build up enough physical endurance to run a marathon.

And even then, physical training will only take you so far.

I’ll never forget the year I almost quit the Dublin City marathon half-way through.

Despite months of hard training, I wanted to pull over and get a taxi home.

I would have too if someone from my running club hadn’t ran past at just the right moment. They began shouting my name,

“Hurry up Bryan.”

So I put one foot in front of the other and kept going. I didn’t want to let them or the club down. After training for months, I wanted something to show for all my hard work and training runs, even if every finisher got the same medal.

If I’m honest, I also didn’t want to face an embarrassing conversation with club members where I’d have to explain not finishing the race. They’d have understood, but failure would have haunted me all year.

It turns out mindset matters as much as talent and training. Since then, I’ve wanted to learn how anyone can push past their mental limits.

Who Has Mental Fortitude?

Why do some runners quit and others keep going?

I found some answers inside the New York Times best-seller Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by sports journalist Alex Hutchinson.

In his early twenties, Hutchinson competed with the Canadian Athletics Team while studying to be a physicist.

About 2006, as his running career wound down, Hutchinson transitioned into sports journalism.

His book blends his passion for running with scientific rigour while probing the link between the body and mind in top athletes.

It also provides insights anyone can use to set hard goals or push themselves past the point of discomfort.

“If you get into a race surrounded by thousands of people and…your goals are on the line, you find that you can usually achieve something that would have been impossible in training,” he says.

Mindset Drives Your Physical Performance

It’s popular in sports science to connect hard physical training with becoming more productive at work. If I run so many miles, I can write a better report.

Hutchinson is reluctant to claim that lifting weights or running dozens of miles will help an executive ace their next report. Instead, he argues our performance is capped by our minds.

“Think about sitting against a wall with no chair until you collapse. You might assume that if you had a perfect physiological measuring machine, you could measure the point where your leg muscles are about to fail or your lactic acid is too high,” he says.
“In fact, your breaking point is determined in your mind. It’s your subjective perception of how hard it feels that’s the master switch of the endurance. That applies well beyond the field of sport and athletics.”

Brain training is another popular way of becoming a high performer. While researching the book, Hutchinson subjected himself to a 12-week series of exercises as a supplement to marathon training.

He performed mentally draining tasks, like identifying rapidly changing shapes and numbers, before hard training runs. Hutchinson found brain training exercises arguably help some athletes become comfortable with physical pain.

“Being conscious of the way in which you’re developing your mental skills, your mental toughness…that’s important. Even if you’re not going to do what I did, which was sit in front of the computer for 90 minutes a day playing the world’s worst computer game,”

Practice Mastering Self-Belief

It’s not enough to just lift weights or run lots of miles.

Many top athletes craft and turn to personal motivational mantras during the final stages of an event. Ultra-runner Scott Jurek, for example, often tells himself toward the end of the race, “This is what you came for.” Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan is a mantra for the masses.

“When you’re in the heat of the battle, it’s like you enter an altered mental state. It’s so easy to find excuses. Then as soon as you stop, you’re like, ‘Why did I slack off? So having that reminder of the work you’ve done and why it’s important to you and why you want to keep pushing is a great idea.”

An entrepreneur can use a personal mantra outside of the gym or track to achieve more. A good mantra is memorable and reminds you of what you want to achieve and why.

Athletes sometimes write their mantra on their arms. An entrepreneur could memorise their mantra or leave it in a visible place where they work as a reminder to focus.

“If you go into work every day telling yourself, ‘I hate this job’…It just drains your energy and makes you less willing to do the hard work that’s necessary for any worthwhile goal,” says Hutchinson. “All you need is a cue to remind yourself, yeah, this is important to me, and I want to keep pushing.”

If you’re training for a big event or competition, you’re probably spending a lot of time working on technique, strength or endurance. But mindset is equally important.

I like listing five to seven reasons why a race, like a marathon, matters before really committing to it. I also keep a list of mantras on my computer, and I write one on my arm before a race. Knowing why you’re putting the body through so much pain will help you persevere a little longer.

The same approach is useful for challenging entrepreneurial projects too. Understanding the why will help you push harder towards the finish line when your competitors are ready to quit.

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Bryan Collins is an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work

Ireland, IN

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