Friday, July 20, 2007

Check Your Head...Part Deux

So...after working with Maxine for well over 3 months, we made some progress. We identified the main source of her challenge as a runner...which was effectively...herself. Her own self-talk was pretty negative and self-defeating. Regardless of how well trained Maxine might have been, without confidence in her own abilities, how well could she ultimately perform?

Maxine's triathlon was on the horizon and I knew that she had done some high quality training over the past several months. 'Physically', Maxine was ready for her triathlon. But, despite the progress we'd made during her workouts and our identification of the root cause of her problem, I wasn't sure she'd be able to apply a positive mindset on race day and overcome some of the inevitable challenges and obstacles that can come up.

The day of Maxine's triathlon came and went. I didn't hear anything from Maxine and after a few days of silence, I sent her a quick email inquiring about her event. The response while disappointing was not terribly surprising given what I had experienced with Maxine up until this point. In her own words,

'Awful. I think that's the slowest I've ever done in a race. After the
swim I didn't want to continue but I did. I finished it but I think it
took me 3 1/2 hours. I feel really discouraged and it makes me not want
to do anymore triathlons because I did so horribly.'

To Maxine's credit, she finished. But, I was HIGHLY confident she had underperformed and a rough start on the swim was her undoing. This set the tone for the rest of the triathlon which was undoubtedly a painful exercise for her.

I asked Maxine to call me and I started asking questions about exactly what was going on in her head during the race. It was really sad...Maxine felt like crying after she finished the swim. She was embarassed and humiliated. She felt like she was disappointing her parents who had flown out to see her compete. In short, this was nothing short of a disaster.

But, I knew there was something we could take away from this. I asked her if she was even tired when she finished. Maxine told me she wasn't! What this underscored was the fact that Maxine's poor performance was almost SOLELY attributable to her inability to overcome the initial hardships encountered in the water and find a way to stay positive and focused and make the best of the remainder of the race.

The challenge I was left with was 'how' to get Maxine to take the positive mindset she had started to bring to our workouts together to race day. Additionally, I found myself wondering what this was really all about! Why did Maxine beat herself? Why did she self-sabotage? I got some insights a few days later.

We met at the track for a time trial. It was apparent to me she was still suffering from a bit of a 'hangover' from the weekend's triathlon debacle. It showed in her performance on the track. Once again, she underperformed posting a time slower than what she ran previously. Asking her how she felt afterwards revealed she was pretty much consumed by negativity and a lack of self confidence.

Near tears, she started telling me about her sister who was an exceptional student and a doctor. Growing up, Maxine always struggled in school and told me she even used to hand in tests sometimes without even trying to take them! It was clear that from an early age, Maxine had gotten into the terrible habit of just giving up and packing it in at the first sign of resistance/adversity.

It was at this juncture that I asked Maxine if she had ever considered talking to a therapist about some of these things. It was clear to me (while I'm certainly NOT a therapist) that Maxine's challenges performing came from a very complicated place and while I could provide the 'physical training' necessary for her to perform, she would NEVER truly perform well consistently until she 'retrained' her mental approach towards life's challenges.

We talked a bit more and my suspicions were largely confirmed. Maxine's lack of self-confidence had hampered her in a myriad of areas of her life. Personally and professionally, this issue presented some very real challenges and often created situations in which it was almost inevitable that Maxine would fail.

I leveled with Maxine and told her that if she didn't believe she could perform at a high level, there was no chance that she would. We needed to focus on finding a way to reframe the whole experience of runnning/competing such that Maxine could fight through adversity and challenges.

There are no easy answers for a client like Maxine. But, in the weeks that followed, Maxine's body language began to show more confidence and while I frequently do have to remind her to remain positive and ignore the self-defeating voices that crop up in her head time and again, she's making significant strides both literally and metaphorically.

Maxine has done a wonderful job of reminding me just how important having the right mindset can be to achieving your goals...whether they're running related or in some other area of your life. My hope is that working with Maxine in building some successes, she can not only start performing the way I know she's capable of performing, but perhaps these lessons will wash over into other areas of her life.

1 comment:

Heather (Smurf) said...

I am reading a fantastic book right now called "Self-Coaching: How to Heal Anxiety and Depression" by Joseph Luciani. I'm not sure how I found it, but I'd had an inkling for a while that, just like I'm training myself to run, if I could just train myself to THINK better- if someone could give me a training program for that- I could overcome a lot of the niggling thoughts that lot of sense, since I'd already seen in the physical realm how these concepts work.

I think he's got a pretty active web community, but I'm not sure how deep he gets in to the actual "training exercises" and "training logs" on there.

Anyhow, definitely worth a look. Even though I'm just a few weeks into reading and working through the book, it's become completely clear to me that a lot of this kind of negative thinking- while it may have roots in past/childhood events- becomes little more than a habit over time. Just like sitting on the couch and feeling crap becomes a habit, or, conversely, a physical training program becomes habit.