Welcome to your 80/20 Mental Skills Training Program! Developed by sport and clinical psychologist Cory Nyamora, PsyD, and inspired by Matt Fitzgerald’s book The Comeback Quotient, this 12-week program focuses on improving your self-awareness as an endurance athlete and helps you accept, embrace, and address the realities of your sport and life as you train for and compete in your upcoming event.
The skills and tools taught in the program are spread out over the full 12 weeks. It’s important to focus on each activity just like you would a workout in a physical training plan. Also, as in physical sports training, the more you do what’s on your plan, the more you are able to build the skills and knowledge that will help you succeed in accepting, embracing, and addressing the positives and negatives of sports and life. So consider this an entry point. If it is your first mental skills training program, remember that it’s important to continue to deepen your knowledge and practice your mental skills throughout the years by considering them an essential part of everything you do. Because our minds and physical bodies are so tightly linked, it’s essential that you develop a deep awareness of your mind and psychology in order to enjoy your sport and reach your goals. This awareness will allow you to make the best of a variety of situations in sport and life, including bad breaks, rude awakenings, and self-sabotage.
The goal of this mental skills program is to help you accept, embrace, and address the reality of whatever your sport brings and in turn be able to apply these skills to whatever life brings your way. This openness to the good, bad, and grey areas in sport and life will allow you to enjoy your sport more and perform your best no matter the circumstances you face.
You will have tasks to complete each day of your 12-week program. These tasks will build self-awareness, bring clarity about your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions as you train and compete, develop healthy habits, and give you concrete skills and tools to enhance your sports performance.
It’s important to keep a journal that you can use to track your progress. You will sometimes be journaling about difficult emotions, thoughts and experiences. If you end up needing more support, please reach out to a mental health clinician or sports psychologist as you work on these steps.
You will only get something out of any activity if you actually do it. If you find yourself doubting, skipping exercises, looking for a different way, and trying to find all the ways that something won’t work (basically self-sabotaging), this is a wonderful opportunity to examine that thought process and the behaviors associated with it. Notice it and journal about it. Remember, this is just the first step of a larger journey—a cornerstone to months and years of practice. Give it your all, and when you’re done, you will have a better sense of what worked for you and what you want to continue or dive into more deeply.
Have fun and involve others if you’d like. The more, the merrier! Find a training buddy and have them sign up for the program too. You can have weekly check-ins about the content. This will help build another element of mental skills that are helpful—having great social support and relationships.
Your 80/20 Endurance Mental Skills Plan employs a few models of psychology and sports performance. Here’s what you need to know:
Our thoughts impact our emotions, which then impact our behaviors. Because of this, our awareness of our thinking in any situation is the key to everything. No two people think alike and our emotional responses and feelings about a situation are largely based on our thinking about the situation. This means we have control of how we see a situation and what we tell ourselves, which then impacts how we feel about a situation, and in turn how we will behave in response to it. Throughout the program it will be important to focus on understanding our thoughts and what has led to them, so we can change how we respond. This in turn allows us to be responsible for our emotional reactions to circumstances and not to see the situation as out of our control, or assume that everyone would respond to the situation you are facing in the same way you are responding or feeling. For example, three different athletes who get a flat tire during a race may all feel and respond very differently to the situation, based on how they think. One person might be angry, another deflated and helpless, and another excited about the challenge. Consequently, their courses of action will differ as well.
The best athletes in the world are self-aware. They pay attention to what their bodies and minds need. They see things for what they are and adapt and respond in the ways that will best serve them. They get clear on what they can control and focus on, and they find value in learning from their losses and disappointments.
Our minds and bodies are not separate. What we eat, how much rest we get, our levels of stress, our mood and emotions, and our connection to others and to our own purpose and meaning in life all impact our physical body and our ability to perform in sport. Likewise, our physical health impacts all of the above. Paying attention to or having awareness of what’s working well in our lives and what’s not working well allows us to proceed with open eyes and make the most of what we are working with. It allows us to accept where we are and also commit to making changes in our life that will enhance the quality of our life and our sports performance. Tension, stress, unhappiness, anxiety, and depression all impact us physically and can lead to both physical injury (which most athletes want to avoid) and also cloud our ability to see when we need to back off and rest or when we need to push ourselves.
It’s important that you eat and sleep well. A simple standard for healthy sleep is the ability to wake up rested without an alarm. As for diet, as an endurance athlete you should be eating three healthy meals per day plus at least one or two healthy snacks. Matt Fitzgerald’s book The Endurance Diet is a wonderful resource to read as you go through this program. If you have issues with sleep or concerns around disordered eating, please follow up with a Registered Dietitian and/or a mental health clinician. It’s difficult to feel and train at your best level if these two areas aren’t addressed.
In order to have the ability to embrace, accept, and address the challenges you face in life and sport, you have to make time to think and feel clearly. This means that you need to make time and space every day to pay attention to yourself. A good goal is to take at least an hour a day of quiet time to yourself. This could be time that you are journaling, exercising (without distractions like music, podcasts, or other media), meditating, eating by yourself without listening to anything else, or walking. Remember that as endurance athletes we already have this time when we exercise. Just build in more intentional awareness of your mind and emotions as you train.
There are four different types of activities included in your calendar:
Mindfulness activities include breath work and other exercises that help you become more aware of and accepting of yourself, your body, and your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. They also help you see life, training, racing, and other situations for what they are. Some of the activities are also designed to help with relaxation, anxiety reduction, and mental preparation for racing.
Journaling activities are intentional, structured questions that guide you to a more intentional self-awareness. They help you develop concrete plans to accept, embrace, and address all aspects of your training and racing experiences.
Training practice activities are to be actively practiced while training. They enhance self-awareness, reflection, and active engagement with the positive and negatives of training, racing, and life. They help develop concrete plans for mental fitness and engagement with whatever comes on race day and beyond.
Connection activities will help you enjoy your training and racing more and impact other parts of your life positively. Because human connection is essential, we are better able to accept ourselves through the practice of sharing who we are with others. It’s important that you begin to include these connection activities in your daily life.