“…Often times I would visualize failing…I imagined all the ways the lift could go wrong.” AJ Roberts, one of the strongest (and smartest) men on the planet, a 2X-world record holder in powerlifting replied when I asked him, “What goes through your mind leading up to a meet? What do you do to prepare mentally?”
“What? ” *straight, blank face of disbelief* (Is your response like mine was?) I waited for the “Just joking. I only think about winning and visualizing the successful attempt.”
It didn’t come.
Maybe you’re like me, and you think that in order to achieve your goals, you can’t allow doubt to enter your mind. “Doubt is a sign of weakness,” is a lie we have allowed the grinders of our society to instill in us as rock solid truth. This, frankly, just isn’t the case.
What makes you different than the world-record holder in the squat?
The answer might surprise you, and this is one of the biggest lessons I learned in 2015 (I mean, I always wanted to believe it, but this past year I really finally learned it and actually trusted it in my core.)
In the very essence of your value and potential as a human being, you are no different than AJ Roberts, 2x-world record holder turned top entrepreneur in the fitness industry.
We all have doubts, and that is OK, but what makes a failed attempt different from a world record? What makes us regular people different from the gold medalists and Olympians?
What I learned from allowing AJ’s words to bounce around in my head for hours (months?) is this – the greats all have three things in common:
- They know the difference between practicing and performing.
- They welcome doubt as a teacher during practice.
- They reinforce their mind into something unbreakable for when it’s time to perform.
Here’s the whole thought AJ shared:
“Going into the competition, I mean, I would visualize. In my mind I would go through the weights over and over and over again and often times I would visualize failing, and then what needed to be corrected in order for that not to happen in competition.”
1. The first difference between the champion and the layman is that the champ has the knowledge that practice is different than game-time; training is unique to competition.
This is what I lacked before chatting with AJ. I thought I always had to be “on.” I thought that if my mind wanted to visualize failing a lift, it meant that my mental game was weak and I needed to build a stronger focus.
What I actually needed was to learn the difference between a training mindset and competition mentality. Between walking up to a bar for a heavy set, or approaching it on a third attempt at a meet.
In our lives this means knowing the difference between practicing a speech and delivering it, between preparing for a job interview and actually sitting in the hot seat, and between talking with your best man about cold feet a few days prior to your wedding and physically standing at the alter.
Most of our life is practice – this is our first time at it, after all. We need to learn to allow doubt to enter our minds without judgement as a regular part of the process during training, and then how to show up fully unhindered in the moments when we need to bring our best selves forward in order to win.
2. The second difference lies in what we do when doubt enters our mind while in practice-mode. During training, the greats welcome doubt as a champion’s coach.
What do you do when you start questioning your abilities? For the speech, “What if I start crying and can’t deliver it?” About the job interview, “What if I can’t come up with a good answer?” And when it comes to the wedding, “What if I’m not really meant to spend my life with this one person?”
When you walk out with a heavy barbell on your back and uncertainty creeps into your mind, “What if I fail this attempt?” what do you do?
Do you let the doubt go on repeat in your head? “What if I fail?”
Let it spiral out of control and lead to new questions? “What if my knees come in? What if I let my core go?”
Start calling yourself weak for doubting at all? “Champions don’t doubt themselves.”
Run from it, and rack the barbell and call it a day? “I must be having an off day,” and entertain the thought no further?
I know I have had all of these things go through my mind.
Here’s what AJ did:
“I wanted to go through all the possibilities…so if I visualized going down with a squat and my knees coming in, ok, how does that need to go for that not to happen? …I’d visualize that and my body would be stimulated… I’d be thinking about that and I literally felt like I was on the platform at that point in time.
So when I was training…when my body started going into the position it shouldn’t be in I was able to correct it… and I really became aware of what muscles needed to be trained in order to make sure that wasn’t gonna happen on the platform.”
The champion lets doubt walk right in and does not throw up arms as if an enemy has just arrived, but welcomes it as that coach whose candid critiques force you to see things in a light you never would have if you were only encouraged.
You need to find a safe space to think through your doubt. Everyone has doubts, but the greats don’t run from them or let them spiral out of control. They let them happen and experience them fully in practice, and then think or talk through overcoming them so they will never possibly fail during battle.
3. The elite develop strategies to make their mind unbreakable at game time.
This is how AJ practiced a strong mentality in competition:
“I had a kind of verbal script that I would read:
My bones are made of titanium.
My tendons and ligaments steel cords.
My blood liquid iron.
I am unbreakable.
I am unstoppable.
There is nothing and nobody that can stop me from accomplishing my goals.
There is no weight I can not lift.
No number I can not achieve.
This is my time.
This is my day.
I will succeed.
I will conquer.
I will be victorious.”
Are you jacked up? Because I am! And not only because of the reason you might think! Yes, those words are powerful as ****, but here’s the real reason they hit me in such a profound way:
Because I go through a similar process. This is the one part of my mental game that has been strong since I started lifting. Yes, I didn’t know what to do with doubt when it came up in training, but I knew that when it came to my self-talk at a meet, I wasn’t so different.
Here’s my process: I have always loved a hot Epsom salt bath as a recovery method after a day of training. On days leading up to my meet I started saying to myself before I got in the bath and as I poured the salts in under the running water, “This isn’t just water, I’m bathing in a superhuman elixir,” and as I stepped into the tub and submerged myself slowly I imagined the water as something more than it was – and I visualized it seeping in through my pores, entering my tissues, and reinforcing my bones with, you guessed it: titanium.
Maybe my little ritual was the girly version of AJ’s, with candles and relaxing music and a hot tub (mind you, Kelly Branton, a Canadian world-record holder in powerlifting is promoting bath time recovery hard on social media right now, so maybe it isn’t girly at all).
But if that wasn’t, I guess this next part might be. My mantra at my last meet was, “I am a titanium-reinforced butterfly.”
(The butterfly to me represents mastery. It represents going through a time of learning and growing in a cocoon, when you aren’t very pretty and aren’t noticed… but the butterfly? It means it’s time to shine and to show off all the hard inner work you’ve been doing behind closed doors.
And a titanium-reinforced butterfly? That means… it’s time to **** shit up, but not to forget to smile before and after.)
What does your mind do when it’s really time to show up and perform? Do you crumble under the pressure and allow doubt to enter just like it does on a tough training day, or do you have speeches or mantras you can turn to to reinforce your belief in your capabilities until it’s stronger than titanium?
What happens when you approach that microphone to deliver a speech? Does a squeak come out and you shut down, or does your passion bubble from within because you’ve practiced this and psyched yourself up (or calmed yourself down) to be ready to deliver it from a focused frame of mind?
What about when you get to the job interview? Does your mind draw a blank or do your lips spew out a rehearsed answer with added verve that comes from being in the moment?
And on your wedding day? Do cold feet stop you from walking down the aisle to meet your bride at the alter, or have any doubts you had already been worked out as you stand there, waiting with anticipation to see your beautiful best friend step around the corner and raise her eyes to meet yours while your heart leaps knowing you get to spend the rest of your life with her?
There is no difference in the inherent value or potential of you or a world champion. The difference in achievement lies only in the way we see our world and the way we work through (or don’t work through) our doubts.
Know the difference between practice and show time – between training and competition.
Allow yourself to doubt in rehearsal – even the greats like AJ actually visualize failed attempts in their minds.
Find a safe space to work through your questions and uncertainty.
Choose the words or techniques it takes to make your mindset bulletproof on game day.
Then show up, unhindered and confident, ready to experience your big win.
You can succeed. You’re destined to conquer. The world deserves to see you victorious.
If you need help through this process, check out my program, Projekt Possible (all about helping you discover what’s really possible for you – we work on self-talk and I help you find your own mantra in week one.
To hear the conversation I am so grateful to have had with AJ, click here to check out my podcast, Projekt Possible.
To see what AJ is up to after his powerlifting days, go here.