How the Mind-Body Connection Affects Performance

Pararescueman from the 48th Rescue Squadron workout while using technologies to track their physical and mental well-being as part of the Human Performance Optimization program at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Mar. 13, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Kristine Legate)
Pararescueman from the 48th Rescue Squadron workout while using technologies to track their physical and mental well-being as part of the Human Performance Optimization program at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Mar. 13, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Kristine Legate)

There is a mind-body connection.

Don't believe me? Imagine saving your child from a burning house or a potential abduction. Notice your elevated heart rate, heavy breathing and sweat? A sudden burst of fight or flight adrenaline can occur with a simple thought. Be careful as it can also pull you from a deep sleep when dreaming or if it pops into your head while trying to sleep.

But there are ways to breathe through it and come back to the present and do what you need to do. Here are some ways to think your way to better physical performance -- whether it is in sports, a PT test, or even just a normal workout you want to crush.

Performance cues

No need for pre-workout supplements when you have a powerful song or performance cue that gets you in the zone. Tie your "walk up music" to a moment of excellent performance and notice the difference in your ability. Performance cues can help you both calm down by simply saying "breathe" when you need to relax to get your heart rate lower prior to an event as well as pep you up by saying words like "beast mode," "crush it," "strong," "fast" or "all you got."

These phrases are powerful by themselves, but they are even more powerful when tied to an emotion. For instance, when trying to relax, focus on your breathing, but also think of time when you are at your most relaxed -- maybe taking a nap with your puppy, or sitting on a beach. Basically, go to your happy place.

If you're trying to do the opposite and want to engage some of the powerful performance energy you have, tie the words to events when you won a race, hit a personal record lift or run time, walk off homerun, finished a long race or a graduation.

Pro-tip: Something I like to say prior to speaking engagements is "pre-game jitters." It is a cue and a name it and tame it skill I like to use to calm me down and together with breathing will help any pre-speech anxiety.

Powerful images

Sometimes you don't even need words -- just think. I have a workout partner that picks up his pace at the end of a workout by imagining his grandson is being abducted.

If you are into working through contingencies and "what if's" there are good scenarios to prepare yourself for as well. Typically, my friend's performance in running will drop about a 15-20 second mile pace at that moment when he was thinking he was done. He was able to use a visual or imagined image to prevent himself from quitting and performing at a higher rate than he had all workout.

Turn off the negative and engage the positive

We all have that Quit Demon in our heads. You truly have to tale to yourself -- don't just listen to yourself. And that talk has to be positive. For example "You got this. Keep going. Never quit. Keep pushing. Just up this hill. Just around the corner, just get to the next meal."

Ignore pain

Dissociation is a skill that is difficult to explain as it is a part of all the above. When you are in pain and completely uncomfortable, you can go to that happy place and distract yourself for significant amount of time either by focusing on something else or thinking about the past or future.

I remember sitting in the surf zone at about 8 p.m. after a full day of SEAL training that started at 5 a.m. It was one of those days that was supposed to be done after dinner, but it continued like many days do with no apparent end in sight.

I knew it was going to end eventually, within the next hour perhaps, and it did. But during that time, I spent most of the time thinking about the warm shower I was going to take after the day way done. I imagined putting on warm dry clothes fresh out of the dryer. And then the foods I was going to eat and big glass of milk before going to bed. I imagined getting under the comforter and getting comfortable. All the while, we were sitting in the surf zone singing songs as a class in the dark cold.

Good pain

If you do not want to go to that happy place you can get a little more masochistic with your pain and call it "good pain." This is "good" as in it means I am working hard and I am where I am supposed to be. Sometimes you cannot just doze off and leave reality, and eventually you will need to just ignore it and be in the moment as you have tactical decisions to make that are more important than your present comfort.

So, with the next workout that you have on the schedule, get your mind and body right by putting on your favorite tune and saying, "Let's Do This!" and get it done.

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