Toughen up with The Champion’s Mind


Whether you’re an athlete or just trying to kill it in the gym, what’s happening in your head is a huge factor in your performance. The Champion’s Mind, a book by Jim Afremow details the science of how athletes think, train and act in their pursuit of the title of “champion.” This entire book is completely fascinating in its dissection of the people who go all the way. One section that you can take to the gym is, “Master the Mental Skills,” which gets into something I’m currently obsessed with: mental toughness.

What is mental toughness and how can you harness it? “Mental toughness is the ability to remain positive and proactive in the most adverse of circumstances.” (page 49) Mental toughness doesn’t just apply to a team that’s down by two goals with three minutes left in the game, it’s what gets you to push yourself to hold that wall-sit until your legs give out.

But sometimes the stars aren’t aligned for a good workout. It’s raining. You’re tired. You’re sore. Being mentally tough can help get you through all of that. The book offers strategies toughen up. But you can’t just wake up tougher. You have to train your brain the same way you would your body.

How do you train your brain to get tougher? The book offers some tips and I’ve chosen some favorites that can help you to hone your mental skills. And as you’re reading, think of ways to apply these mental toughness exercises to work too. Want more info like this? Pick up a copy of The Champion’s Mind.

Find humor in the tough situations. Seriously – I know you don’t think it’s funny right now, and you feel like you might puke if you have to do one more squat-jump, but finding a way to make fun of yourself when you’re nearing your physical or mental breaking point can help you get through that tough moment. According to the book, “finding humor in difficult situations is often the best way to reduce unnecessary stress and increase motivation.” (page 55)

Humor allows you to enjoy the experience. If that means making jokes with people in your class, go for it. My favorite moment in a recent CrossTown Fitness class was when everyone realized we were be doing a total of 150 push-ups in 20 minutes and two people said, “this is going to suuuuuuuuuuuck.” in unison. It sucked less because we were in it together.

Use your body language to fake it until you make it. Your body language not only shows that you’re ready to take on a tough workout, you can trick yourself into confidence, happiness and even relaxation by holding your body in ways that line up with those emotions.

“According to recent research by psychologist Dana carney, Amy Cuddy and Andy Yapp, simply holding one’s body in an open expansive (vs. closed, contractive) postures for only a couple of minutes can produce meaningful elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk when it is needed.” (page 57)

Use personal affirmations to get yourself in the right zone to compete, work out or even get out of bed for your morning workout. According to the book, research backs using personal affirmations that are phrased in the present-tense and focus on your own performance. For starters, you can use these different phrases for different situations:

  • “I am the most prepared to win.”
  • “I am PRing this race.”
  • “I am killing this presentation.”
  • “I won’t regret this morning workout.”

It sounds cheesey, but rounds of deep breaths and “I am killing this presentation,” got me through years of my career. Get out there and work that mental muscle to help you perform even better in the gym.

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About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.

1 thought on “Toughen up with The Champion’s Mind

  1. Perfect timing with this post- I just did a 5K this morning that felt really tired and kind of psyched me out for the half marathon this weekend, but sounds like a dose of mental toughness is all I need!

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