by Derick Williamson, photo courtesy of Dylan Haskin

Ed. Note—Derick Williamson, of Durata Training, returns this week with an article he's been meaning to write for a long time, on the process of making deals with yourself as an athlete. Williamson lives and works in the triathlon mecca of Colorado Springs, coaching for Durata Training, and also as head coach for USAT's Resident Paratriathlete Team.

The best athletes in the world have a secret weapon. It’s not their massive physiological values, their super high-end gear, or even their superior genetics. It’s their ability to wheel and deal on the fly when it feels like the walls are caving in and there is no way they can keep going. When it feels like they can no longer hold a certain pace, power, or effort the best athletes don’t give up—they instead negotiate with themselves. You might even say they tell themselves little lies that over time become big truths. These athletes have mastered the art of self-negotiation and re-negotiation and if you can do that yourself, you’ll find you are hitting stronger sessions, nailing some PR’s and beating rivals!

Self-negotiation is simply the act of moving your focus from the full frame of your race, session, or interval to a small and presently achievable aim. As soon as you achieve that aim, you gain some confidence from it, followed by some positive self-talk. From there you renegotiate with yourself for the next aim, and before you  know it you are chipping away at that race, session, or interval stronger, faster and more in control than ever before.

To be successful in your self-negotiating you must be and stay present. While this is important in all aspects of performance it’s critical that you stay present and mindful when you are incorporating self-negotiation into the process. If the mind is allowed to wander to the enormity of the entire event (the full Ironman, the entire marathon, the next 70 miles of riding) you’ve lost the ability to stay in the present. You’ve projected the entire event into the small space of the right now where it cannot fit. That cognitive dissonance leads to fear, uncertainty, and doubt about what you can achieve. As an athlete it’s OK if the mind moves briefly to the entire event (you are suffering at mile twelve of the marathon and do the quick math that reminds you you have another fourteen miles to go), the problem arises when you invest all of your precious emotional capital into what’s ahead, leaving your present focus bankrupt. Self-negotiation demands that you bring it back, stay in the present and move that aim to something that is immediately achievable. Acknowledge that your mind moved beyond the present, but bring the focus back to the now as soon as possible.

As you begin to be conscious of your ability to stay present you can now self-negotiate and re-negotiate. When you are suffering and feeling like there’s no way you can finish that interval or that race, move your aim to the present and make a deal with yourself. Tell yourself just get to that mile marker, that mailbox, just make it up this hill, just go another ninety seconds and then you’ll deal with whatever is after that then. When you get there you'll take that hit of achievement and the confidence and positive self-talk that comes with doing the thing you said you were going to do and redirect your aim to the next small goal. You’ve effectively re-negotiated for the present and can now pursue your next small goal, this behavior repeating itself through the entire event. Before you know it, you’ve achieved much more than you ever though you could!