The Brave Ath­lete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Oc­ca­sion

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - SWIM BIKE RUN TRANSITION - POW­ERS

Si­mon Mar­shall and Les­ley Pater­son Velo­press

This book has an un­usual ded­i­ca­tion: “To all the con­fi­dent, mo­ti­vated, well-bal­anced and happy ath­letes...this book isn’t for you.” De­liv­ered with cheeky hu­mour and sar­casm, au­thors Si­mon Mar­shall and Les­ley Pater­son out­line le­git­i­mate sci­en­tific re­search and hands-on ad­vice to help avoid men­tal speed bumps that com­pro­mise ath­letic goals.

The ex­pla­na­tions of neu­ro­science and psy­chol­ogy are prob­a­bly un­like any you’ve read be­fore and, yes, the f-word is used gen­er­ously. De­scrib­ing the roles of dif­fer­ent brain ar­eas, it be­comes clear that there is a power strug­gle go­ing on be­tween emo­tion and logic. This con­flict can cre­ate de­struc­tive thoughts that limit your per­for­mance even when your body is well-pre­pared.

“Your Pro­fes­sor brain deals with facts, truth, and logic. Your Chimp brain deals with feel­ings, im­pres­sion, and emo­tions, based on in­stincts and drives,” writes Mar­shall. Tak­ing or­ders from both is the “Com­puter brain,” which runs its pro­grams and makes de­ci­sions based on past ex­pe­ri­ences.

The Pro­fes­sor is the only part that can ac­tu­ally think and it helps with lots of prac­ti­cal things. The Chimp, how­ever, is an emo­tional bully that makes its needs more ur­gent by push­ing aside or trick­ing the Pro­fes­sor with pow­er­ful neu­ro­trans­mit­ters.

“Why else would you plow through a half-pound bag of Red Vines af­ter 8 p.m., have orange skinny jeans in your closet, or buy yet another train­ing kit that costs more than some fam­i­lies spend on gro­ceries in a month?”

The Com­puter brain runs the fastest, draw­ing on painful, fear­ful or em­bar­rass­ing mem­o­ries so quickly that emo­tional re­ac­tions hap­pen be­fore you’re even con­sciously aware of them. Us­ing pre­pro­grammed thoughts and ac­tions saves time dur­ing the 35,000 de­ci­sions you make ev­ery day, but any­thing associated with strong emo­tions gets spe­cial treat­ment and this puts logic in the back seat.

Hav­ing more emo­tion than logic is a prob­lem and yet it is dif­fi­cult to break th­ese thought pat­terns. To help you, the book has prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions and as­sign­ments for 12 com­mon men­tal dilem­mas that ath­letes face. It comes down to rec­og­niz­ing which brain is in charge at the mo­ment “and then do­ing some brain wran­gling to get the right brain for the job back in con­trol.”

The 12 dilem­mas in­clude “I don’t han­dle pres­sure well,” “Set­ting goals is not your prob­lem” and “I don’t think I can.” There is also “I need to har­den the f*ck up” and “Other ath­letes seem tougher, hap­pier, and more badass than me.”

The last one is “I keep screw­ing up,” which comes down to a lack of con­cen­tra­tion on the things that mat­ter. Good fo­cus com­bined with se­lec­tively re­view­ing in­put gives you the at­ten­tion to de­cide what is rel­e­vant to your per­for­mance. With­out th­ese skills, im­por­tant things are missed or messed up. At­ten­tion can have a nar­row or broad di­men­sion, it can be in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal and it can be thrown off by stress and anx­i­ety. There are ex­er­cises to iden­tify pre­dom­i­nant at­ten­tion chan­nels, their pros and cons, along with how to take con­trol over the strug­gle be­tween dif­fer­ent parts of your brain to im­prove at­ten­tion.

As the book says, “Part of sports psy­chol­ogy is identifying the Chimp needs that must be met so you can train and race with a happy Chimp.” There might be out­bursts to man­age but remember the Chimp needs your per­mis­sion to lead you astray. “Get­ting your Pro­fes­sor brain back in charge is akin to get­ting a drunk CEO out from un­der the desk, sobered up, and back to run­ning the com­pany.”—he­len

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