For those that follow me closely you know that about a year ago I experienced a significant reversal by winning on the Queen’s Cup following what for me was a terrible loss just 4 days before. What really happened was that I finally buckled down and set to work on mental training, something I’d always wanted to do, and had dabbled in, but really I had no clue about how to do it. I just had no choice. I had a big fight four days after one of my worst fights to date and the only thing I could do was change my mentality – nothing I physically changed was going to help.
Since then there has been lots of work and discovery, but it’s a continual effort just like physical training is. A reader on Reddit watched my mental training interview with my brother Dr. John Gassaway, who just happens to be a sports psychologist, and asked me in private message what it is I do. I figure I’d share my response to her because it might be help to others. It’s nothing fancy, but it gives a general sense of what I’ve been working on and what has helped me. It’s still a work in progress, I still have a lot to work on.
Thanks for listening to the whole interview and I’m happy it resonated with you. I’m still working a lot of this out myself and there’s a LOT of trial and error, just like with physical training. It’s also so much easier to slack off of mental training than it is getting physical work in. So whatever routine you figure out for yourself, really set a schedule and stick to it. Break it up into a 5-20 minutes various times throughout the day.
I used this program for myself and found it really helpful: 14 Steps to Mental Toughness. He walks you through some visualizations, using imaginary waves to match rhythms to your breathing for relaxation. Something my brother taught me, also, is that you can practice and teach yourself how to visualize using more mundane things than your training or fight. I found it SO HARD to visualize fighting in a concrete way. So John asked me to describe in strong detail just walking around my apartment. Picking things up, where everything is, how it smells, the lighting, etc. Stuff I see literally every day. That way I see how to visualize with all that detail and can slowly start applying it to being in the ring. A fight is an “event,” but what you’re visualizing isn’t. You’re kind of exploring a space and possibilities – like playing GTA in your brain.
Something that really helped me from the tapes was writing down my thoughts before, during and after training, every day. So I’d get to the gym and immediately sit down and just write whatever I was feeling: “tired,” “sleepy,” “unmotivated but ready to work,” “strong,” “I”m going to kill my trainer on the pads,” etc. Then I’d check in and do some more mid-training, then again after everything but before going home. It showed me a few things: 1) My thoughts were really negative a lot of the time, for really no reason. I actually ended up naturally adjusting for this by writing the negative feeling but immediately countering it with “but…” and whatever good could come of it. I wasn’t forcing myself to be positive, I actually just started feeling like “I’m tired but I can focus on being relaxed in my movements” was better at driving me. 2) It showed me that my thoughts change over time in practice. I can come in feeling negative and end up feeling great at the end. Or I can come in rearing to go and then something that happens in training gets me down. Which leads to 3) I have control over how I respond to things. I just have to be aware of it – mindful of what I’m thinking and whether or not I want to keep thinking those things.
More recently I’m working on connecting relaxing breaths to active movements. So instead of holding my breath when I’m being hit or blocking or striking, I pay attention to breathe out and in with a rhythm to my movements. The point is to get my heart rate down under pressure, but it’s conditioning myself to do it automatically through movements I’m going to be using without being able to think about breathing. If you breathe while trying to drink water you choke. But you don’t think about “don’t breathe” in order to drink water – you do it automatically. So I’m trying to get my body to do those automatic things to stay relaxed under pressure.
As for a schedule, figure out where you need to focus your attention: how you talk to yourself, how you respond under pressure, visualizing, etc. and work out a plan to work on these things several times every day. I visualize when I lie down for a nap or sleep. I write when I’m at the gym. I breathe when I’m actually training.
If any readers have follow up questions or even have advise to offer from their own experiences I’ve started a thread on the Roundtable forum where it is best to post:
Muay Thai Roundtable Tread: Mental Training – What I Do
Read all my Mental Training posts: Mental Training Archive