My husband, Jamie, talks to himself. Not often, but when he does it is with an ‘all in’ approach, hand gestures and all. I have been known to pick on him a bit about it (which he shockingly doesn’t appreciate), but I know that although his conversing style is a bit more outward and noticeable, it certainly is not uncommon.
I also talk to myself. Unlike Jamie, most of the time it is within the safety of my own mind. Rather than my lips frantically moving, head cocking, and hands gesturing, I acquire a glazed over, checked out, empty look. I can admit that I have been guilty of spending too much time in my own head. It is important to practice hearing and knowing this voice while not letting it overcome us, distracting us from the present. We need to nurture our voice and be mindful of what influences our thoughts.
While racing I like to think of this kind of listening to and honoring my voice as focus. Like many athletes, I spent a lot of time finding ways to distract myself while training and/or racing. When my attention is diverted the discomfort feel less amplified. But I also cannot hear and therefor honor the whisperings of my logical voice… the quiet nudging of “this is too easy” or “you are supposed to go hard now” are drowned out by the loud voice of “WHO CARES? This is so much more FUN!”
In the book, The Brave Athlete, Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion; they define these two voices as the musings of the two main parts of our brain- the limbic system and the frontal cortex. To simplify: the ‘chimp’ and ‘professor.’ The limbic system, or chimp, is an emotional machine, which drives instincts. If our ‘chimp’ ruled our lives we would be way too busy stealing, murdering, and humping everything in sight to even consider setting hard goals like racing. Our ‘professor’ is more considerate. The frontal cortex only deals with facts and logic, which guides empathy, social conscience, and moral judgment. Our professor is the only part of our brain that can actually think.
I came to the realization that for many years of racing I had been giving in to the emotional voice of the chimp, rather than nurturing and listening to both sides of my brain. I knew I needed to practice wrangling the chimp and honoring the truth of the professor in order to actualize my true potential.
I chose to train hard for the 2019 IMWI 70.3. I vulnerably voiced my goals to others and on social media. I built up confidence through hard, lonely training sessions. I wrestled with the demons of comparison, fear, and inadequacy. I visualized and practiced positive mantras. I trained my body. I trained all parts of my mind.
I was able to maintain focus in my head and body throughout the swim and bike. I knew the run would present the biggest challenge, this was the time that pressure of mental and physical exhaustion often flung open the door to the desperate chimp. And in a half ironman that chimp’s voice is loud and believable. I had it under control for the first nine miles of the run. Then the anticipated thoughts started to creep in.
“If you walk now you might miss your overall goal, but it will still be a PR.”
“You have tired so hard. No one will judge you.”
“This hurts. So many others are walking. You can slow down. Or even walk a little.”
“That’s good enough.”
I had learned through making the mistake of believing these thoughts many times before. I knew had to maintain my mental focus to capture these thoughts, examine them, decide if they were true, and react. If not, I had to throw the thought away, like crumpling up a used sheet of notebook paper. And then, on a new, smooth sheet, I could rewrite the truth.
“This hurts. But I knew it would.”
“I am inviting this pain. This will not last forever. But I can keep going and I will be okay.”
I had practiced and trained my mind. I had learned how my brain worked and why my chimp wanted to be in control of all of my thoughts. I was in control. I was focused.
I couldn’t muster up my standard smile when my close friends and family biked by to cheer me on. I was so focused that I was mentally and physically aware of each painful step. I needed to use every ounce of energy to hear the voice reminding me of the truth.
“I want this. I can and I will. I don’t need comfort right now. I need to reach this goal.”
I crossed the finish line with a 40 minute PR on the course and 4th in my age group. I rejoiced in my own mind, let the chimp and professor give each other high fives, and went on to enjoy the celebration with my family, friends, and teammates.
This experience was an opportunity to apply the thought work that had improved my wellbeing, my relationships, and my overall outlook on life. I learned to believe that life truly is how you perceive it. Circumstances can’t always change. But your attitude can. You can gentled and intentionally wrestle with your mind. You can win.
Ironically, I don’t to spend as much time dwelling in my own head. I still visit to capture thoughts and examine them- especially when the chimp stirs up intense emotion. I now have the tools to decide how I am going to live in the moments in my own life- how to manage the chimp and the professor.
It sounds loud and crazy, but ironically it is more peaceful. They don’t have to fight to be heard.
Stay tuned to next week when I will offer some practical strategies to hearing and honoring your own voice.
Me with my inspiring athletes before the 2019 IMWI 70.3.