I've played a lot of sports. The benefit of that is how it informs my current training. For instance, I have read as much John Broz information as he lets get out there and I have read every Matt Fitzgerald book he has authored. The former is a legendary coach in Oly and powerlifting circles, while the latter is a well-respected writer and contributor in triathlon, nutritional, and running literature.
In other words, they have almost nothing in common with each other beyond the broad stroke heading of "sports."
But what they do have in common is an overarching message of the importance of mental strength in sport, and it has produced a belief system in my training that I rely on regularly as a means of understanding hardship. See, the average trainee is going to have some tough workouts, but physical capacity isn't always the issue; things start to come apart at the seams when the mind turns against the athlete. Those "dark periods" are when it all threatens to come to an end if you don't learn to cope with it properly, and that's where Matt and John have helped me immensely.
It all comes down to how you feel. But not so fast, because how you feel is more complicated than you might think.
Matt has a great book and I highly recommend it. How Bad Do You Want It is primarily aimed at endurance athletes, but if you can't extrapolate lessons from observing other sports, you better put the self-coaching on hold and find a qualified coach to guide you until your worldview expands a bit. The reason being that athletic myopia basically means you've created some pretty unnecessary limitations on your development and all for the lack of some exposure and cross training. There is no downside to a little breadth and depth to your physical pursuits, so get out there and try some stuff. You just might surprise yourself.
That said, I will give you what I thought was the key piece of insight from Matt's book and that is this:
It doesn't matter how you feel. What matters is how you feel about how you feel.
Read that a dozen times. It's that valuable. It completely changed how I approached suffering in training and competition. I, like many, used to think about how I felt and consider my options; I no longer do that. Instead, I think about how I feel as I redline during an effort, then I step outside of that and ask myself how I feel about how I feel. That "remote viewing" of what I am going through suddenly makes the hurt stop hurting in any meaningful way, or at least takes the punishment element out of it. It stops being a punitive feeling and becomes something less. I simply decide that I feel fine about feeling terrible. It turns it into a non-issue and I get to continue on my merry way.
But sometimes that's not quite enough, particularly when the legs won't turn over as fast as I need them to during a grueling race. That's when the wisdom of John Broz comes to the fore; to wit, you can't really trust your perceptions in the moment of truth. It comes down to this:
How you feel is a lie.
That's some Matrix level wisdom right there, as in, "There is no spoon." If it seems difficult to grasp, just consider that how you feel likely originates from a place that lacks any discernible impulse control--it's your inner child trying to get attention. John Broz, who has influenced more reputable strength coaches and athletes than anyone you've read about in your favorite magazines, is 100% correct. How you feel is most definitely a lie. He has stated a variation on the oft quoted "whether you think you can or can't, you're right" idiom in a brutally elegant manner and it is never truer than when you want to quit.
It's amazing how often I've debated with my body in the midst of a competition, thinking that it was time to give up or let go, only to realize that when I gave it another thought, I really wasn't ready to do either. Whether feeling the stretching and popping of muscles and connective tissue in the midst of a submission attempt on my shoulder during my pro MMA debut or vomiting for an hour and a half in the midst of my first 24 hour mountain bike race, it all became clear that it wasn't as bad as my body wanted me to believe. In the end, what was true in both cases was that how I felt was a lie--I escaped the submission and won my fight and I finished puking and completed my ride. My body wasn't being totally honest with me up until the point when I decided to keep trying. Did I feel terrible in each case? Yup, sure did. How did I feel about feeling that way? You know, I was okay with it. Ergo, how I felt? It was a lie.
Both perspectives were life changing for me. You can't hurt me enough to make me regret something--I might have to quit because of genetic ceilings, but if it comes down to where my mind is at? Won't happen. I have never, in my entire life, regretted a competition or the training that got me there, pain and suffering notwithstanding. That comes from a place of understanding that how I felt in the moment wasn't important or even trustworthy--results and outcomes are what mattered and what I relied upon. They were the conclusive truths shadowed by inconclusive or misleading aspects of the process.
I've refined that understanding by combining what Matt pointed out in his book and what John is often quoted as saying by those who have trained under him. When the suffering reaches it's expected crescendo, I consider the following:
(1) How do I feel?
(2) How do I feel about how I feel?
(3) How I feel is a lie.
(4) Keep going.
And just like that, I keep going. Slower? Maybe. Weaker? Possibly. Struggling? Probably. But still moving forward.
The last thing that resonates with me when I consider these combined philosophies is the idea that I am not my body. I am me. My body is a vehicle to achievement and when it begins to protest under duress, who I am decides whether to stop or go. I wouldn't let my car take me where it wanted it once I turned the ignition, so why would I let my body? Of course, it will send all sorts of signals and warnings, trying to get me to stop the hurt that testing it brings. But those are just feelings in the midst of physical suffering; it's up to me to process them in a manner that produces my preferred outcome (e.g., finishing my event). I need to be better than taking the easy way out in the midst of a storm of pain that, quite frankly, we all know is temporary.
How do I feel?
I am hurting.
How do I feel about hurting?
I am fine with it.
The hurt is a lie, anyway.