A.N.Ts.

This is the kind of email you’ll get from me if you join AA or Attitude Adjustments.

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We all have ANT problems. They are the Automatic Negative Thoughts that pop up even when we’re doing everything right and things are going well.

A sports’ pyschologist I was seeing while training in St. Louis one summer introduced me to this concept.

And guess what? You can’t get rid of them.

But you can control them.

In my experience there are two ways to control a bad case of ANTs:

1) positive affirmations

2) singular focus on execution

Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are statements that affirm (validate) things about yourself. For example, “I am strong and explosive” is a positive affirmation of your strength levels.

You can use affirmations to increase your self confidence and dampen down anxiety or nervousness.

Positive affirmations even work if they aren’t exactly 100% true! Example, I was extremely scared before my 100 meter final at nationals this year. On the line I repeatedly told myself, “I am ready. I am prepared.” That’s an excellent affirmation it’s just that I wasn’t really prepared at all. Repeating it over and over though took me from being paralyzed by my fear to finishing the race and running a season’s best time!

But sometimes, my brain doesn’t fall for that trick in those cases I focus only on execution.

Focus on Execution

To focus only on execution means you aren’t leaving a lot of wiggle room to think about anything else. Only thinking about how to execute means you aren’t thinking about how you’re feeling, who you’re racing, the last race, or what time you’re going to run.

I used this method in Beijing. Frankly, I was having a sub par day in the long jump and was being out jumped. Two other jumpers that day jumped over 23 feet four times combined! Meanwhile, I’d only managed to jump a high 22 foot jump in the first round. I fouled, sprained my ankle, jumped a 21 foot jump and found myself sitting in third place with only one jump left.

I stood on the runway and gathered my thoughts. I had two choices:

1) I could think of it as “do or die,” “now or never,” and focus on the fact that if I didn’t jump big on this jump right now I was going to lose.

Or…

2) I could work through the steps: take a powerful first step, drive for ten, run tall, take a straight penultimate step, drive the knee, hold your position for as long as you can, DO NOT let your butt touch the sand. Thinking about the jump this way left no room for emotion. So I was able to put it together. And win.

Although different situations call for different strategies I have found that a combination of making positive affirmations and focusing on execution have been the most effective for me. Use your training sessions to figure out which strategy resonates most with you.