“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war and then seek to win.”
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War, ~ 500 BC
I took on a workout the other day that totally ate my lunch, and midway through I felt the nagging negativity creep into my head, “maybe you should stop, maybe this is too much…” I persevered, blocking out the negative chatter by telling myself to just do one more round, and then one more round, and then one more round. Then it was over, and as we all do after a 35-minute gut check I felt like crap and it took me a few minutes to be able to get up and walk around. But the workout was 7 rounds long, and I felt like that midway through round 2.
So, what happened? What torpedoed my effort so early on? My lack of preparation, specifically mental preparation, for what I was about to do. I started the first round, a 400M run, 15 power cleans and 15 burpees, like it was the only round, at a full sprint. Not surprisingly, my next run felt like a slow jog, the next 15 power cleans were singles, and I paused after my first 4 burpees for a really long time listening to that negative voice.
What I should have done before the workout even started is take a minute to visualize completing the workout, noting where my strengths and weaknesses are likely to show themselves, how long the workout will take to complete, and with those two things in mind what my pace and mindset should be in the beginning, middle, and end of the workout. Starting a 5-round workout at a sprint is a real rookie mistake and shows a lack of preparation, but sprinting at the end of the workout because you know you have a little bit left in the tank — now that’s where you want to be!
Mentally preparing, or more specifically visualizing what success will look and feel like before you take on a challenge, is an accepted and even mandatory practice at work and school — we put together project plans, including what success will look like at each critical juncture. In preparing for a debate or a difficult conversation, you might visualize how you will respond if various topics are brought up or your opponent makes a certain statement. Even when preparing for a fight (or a war, in the context of Sun Tzu’s quote above), the smallest bit of mental preparation — internalizing the fact that you’re going to win and here’s how — will decide the outcome.
Visualizing success before the challenge begins is the mark of a victorious warrior, both in battle and in life. So why not practice this before your next workout? Read through the workout explanation, and get a feel for the flow of how it will go down. What is your goal for the workout outcome and how can you break that up into micro-goals? What parts are your relative strengths that you can move through quickly? Where will you plan to take breaks? At what point are you going to have to just grind it out, and what will you tell yourself to keep going? Now put everything back together and play the workout through in your head. Imagine finishing the workout with a smile on your face, and high-fiving your teammates as they cross the line. You got this. Here we go, 3-2-1…
See you at the box,