Get in the Zone: Two Tips to Improve your Mental Game

Get in the Zone: Two Tips to Improve your Mental Game

Some people are born with great athleticism.  It just comes naturally to them while others work day in and day out to live up to their potential.  If we could somehow put great athletes in the body of beginner athletes they’d say “Oh my God how do you even chew gum with this amount of coordination?”

Likewise, some people are just born with a winning mindset.  I think it would be shocking if we took the mindset of great “winners” and put them in the body of an average person.  “Oh my God,” they’d say, “how do you even get out of bed in the morning with that attitude?”

But I believe you can train your mindset just as you can your body to live up to your potential.  Here are two potent tricks for improving your mindset for CrossFit:

Stop “Clock Gazing”

One of the reasons gambling is so lucrative is because it plays on our psychology.  We are hard wired to vividly recall success and forget failures.  I think the same is true for “clock gazing.”  You can probably remember that time you saw there was ninety seconds left, you kicked it into high gear, and set a new PR.  That’s great, but what about those times you looked up, thought there would be ninety seconds, found out there was four minutes left, got discouraged and you slowed down dramatically.  Happens to me all the time.

The problem with “clock gazing” illustrates a common theme of mental toughness: Don’t spend a moment focusing on what you can’t control.  Why?  Because something you can’t control can’t do anything for you.  The same goes for focusing on anyone else in the workout.  There’s no defense in CrossFit, so what the guy or gal next to you is doing has absolutely no bearing on your performance.  Your focus, your energy, your “grit” is a finite resource so wasting it on something you can’t control is foolish.

How to use it: Next workout purposefully set yourself up so you CAN’T see the clock.  If you can forget the time or the destination you’ll discover how fast the journey flies by.  It might just feel like the fastest 20 minutes you’ve ever worked out.


To paraphrase efficiency guru David Allen, a project is not a real thing, it’s just a series of steps one after another.  Well a workout is the same.  It’s really just one little step after another until the whole thing is done.  If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then a journey of a 150 wall balls begins with a single squat.

The concept of “Micro-goaling” has been used by everyone from Navy SEALs to Holocaust survivors.  The idea is simple: break down a daunting or impossible task into smaller and smaller pieces until the task is imminently doable.  To use our 150 wall balls example, if you’re on wall ball number 48, worrying about wall ball number 124 does you absolutely no good.  Why?  For the same reason stated above, there’s nothing you can do about wall ball number 124 until you finish wall ball number 123.  So for now, just focus on number 48 and cross those later bridges when you get there.

How to use it: On your next workout, count everything in sets of 5 or smaller.  This goes for everything from high rep strength lifts to met-cons.   Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean you should push till 5 are done or stop after you finish your 5th.  It just means that you only focus on 5 reps at a time.  Rid you mind of anything other the 5 reps you have in front of you.  Having a tough time with the 5?  Break it up into smaller tasks.  Breaking the task up and only focusing on the small goal in front of you is more rewarding, easier to build momentum and will result in MUCH faster workouts.

Bonus Trick: ALWAYS COUNT DOWN!!!! In conjunction with microgoaling this is a very powerful concept.  Counting up is literally marching toward infinity.  It can seem daunting and endless.  Counting down is moving towards a destination.  It seems trivial but saying to yourself, “I only have 2 & 1 left” is much more positive than thinking “ I have 49 & 50 to go.”

This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to training your mental game.  Though the idea of “sports psychology” seems recent, mental training has been a part of physical culture in Eastern ideologies since their inception.  There are tons of great resources but just try these and notice the effect they have on your mindset; and consequently, your performance.