Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #6: Mental Resources

Thanks to everyone who wrote me an email about my reading list for mental training. Really cool to hear from so many people. I started responding to each individual email, and it just got to be too much 'cause I was writing and writing. So I just turned it all into a blog post, here it is. It's unfortunately a little scattered, but if you've been reading this blog then you're a pro and can wade through it.

Mental training books are always full of contradictions--and often annoying. But maybe, just maybe, some of the more annoying things in the mental training books are exactly what your weaknesses are... One of the first "mental" books I ever read was Dan Millman's, "Way of the Warrior Athlete." I remember being so annoyed at his gentle suggestions to look into my motivations and understand why I was doing what I was doing. To hell with that, I was gonna THROW DOWN, not putz around with actually thinking!!! Millman was right, I was wrong, and I was annoyed at his suggestions because I didn't want to do the work. I'm not quite as much of a fan of Millman's books as I once was, but I did take the lesson that if something was annoying me I probably need to look at it more closely. And Millman's books are still useful.

I think every single sports psychology book I've ever read had at least one little "Ah ha!" nugget. Until recently I had an entire four-foot shelf filled with used sports psych books. Maybe more. You can go into any used bookstore in North America and find at least a half-dozen sports psych books for about $2/book. Spend $25 and actually read the books and I'll guarantee that $25 was the best deal of all time for what you get.

Anyhow, here are a few books I've read and found useful over the years.

The New Toughness Training for Sports

-Classic. Useful.

Mental Training for Peak Performance
-More "example" based, but good.

Go Rin No Sho: A Book

By Musashi Miyamoto
This is one great book. A bit obscure at times, but damn cool at others.

Arno Ilgner's books: Climbing-specific but useful.
Secrets of Champions. Flying-specific mostly but very good.

On Combat: The psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace.
-Many of our physical responses in high-stress situations are very similar to the stresses of combat...

Music: I often use music to get my competitive or performance groove on; from Ministry to the Animals there's a song for every situation and mental state, either to maintain or change the space between my ears into what I want it to be.

I really, really like the message of a lot of punk music from the late eighties and early 90s. Minor Threat, Fugazi (anything with Ian M. in it) , Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, etc. It's all about doing your best in whatever way works, and leaving nothing on the table. The music those bands produced still forms the backbone of my world outlook. The Offspring, Jane's Addiction, and the Rollins Band are also integral to how I feel about sport and life, and how I try to approach new challenges. So many good lyrics...

Probably the biggest lesson I've learned through working on my head is that NOTHING is just sports-specific, from training to introspection. If you want to be a better athlete in the long run then you have to sort your head and life out. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Chris Sharma, any top athlete either has his mental game figured out in some functional way or he or she stops being a top athlete long before they have to for physical reasons. The inner world of many top athletes might look very weird to an outsider, but it WORKS for that athlete or he or she wouldn't be at the top of the game. Lance Armstrong is one weird dude, but he's got a mental game that works for him, as well a life organized to do what he wants. If you want to climb 5.15, win mountain running races or whatever then you've got to have the physical training, the mental strength, and the lifestyle to get it done... Kinda cool and daunting at the same time when I first realized that I was going to have to re-structure my entire life if I wanted to perform at a higher level than I currentlyw as. That realization came straight out of the sports psych books.

It's always a lot easier to talk the people I work with into doing more reps in the gym or even more stretching than to get them to stop and work on their heads. The physical stuff is difficult, but it's the mental stuff that usually determines an athlete's longevity and success. Really...

So cut into your head and spread the debris out for a good look. Look your failures in the eye, your successes, and the reasons for each. Modify your life and head as required to succeed. Easy.

Think of what is right and true

Practice and cultivate the science

Become acquainted with the art

Know the principle of the craft

Understand the harm and benefit in everything

Learn to see everything accurately

Become aware of what is not obvious

Be careful even in small matters

Do not do anything useless

-Miyamoto Musashi


Peter Beal said...

Nothing is useless when looked at correctly...

Ralph S. said...

Courage: the joy of living dangerously
- osho
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
- Suzuki, S.
Awakening Spirits
- Brown Jr, Tom

I'm sure that those are cliche to most ardent sports psychology buffs. But they are favorites of mine.

I am curious though. You said that "until recently" you had a four-foot shelf filled with sports psych books. What happened? Evolution...? absorption...?

Anonymous said...

may i demand something a bit more specific on books, eg which one(s) would be more helpful for me?

i know my main weakness, mentally speaking, is a sort of lazyness. I am not willing to fight hard unless i'm super-psyched, i really need to see an objective and a reward (that's not only in sports).

the second main weakness, more of a recent thing, and more climbing-specific, is that lately i am having a really hard time facing unexpected situations.
This limits a lot my abilities in onsight and fast redpointing, basically in my last onsight or 2nd go sends i was really dominating the routes, not really close to a fall anywhere...
On project-like redpoints it's not a problem at all.

Will Gadd said...

Peter--or everything is useless if looked at "correctly..." But whatever you're doing sure works, congrats on the continued strong climbing!

Ralph--Thanks, mind if I bump these recs. to the main text? They are good. And I sold all my used sports psych books to the used bookstore for $1 each.

Anon--If you're a lazy bastard it's because you aren't doing what you want to be doing. Until you are doing what you truly want to be doing you're wasting your time telling yourself that climbing is important, that you're psyched, etc. I can't give you a recommendation for one single book that will solve this problem, but if you read Raph's list and my list I think you'll be a long way toward understanding your head. What, too lazy to do the work? That's cool, keep doing what you're doing. Or motivate, read, think, do the exercises, learn. The choice is yours as always, what do you want? If you want those anchors then nothing mental is going to stop you. If you don't then why bother tying in?

6:11 AM

Ralph S. said...

Bump away on the recommendations. I like the concept of changing your lifestyle to attain your goals. I put some books on hold at the library. Time for some change... Thanks for the insights.

EJ said...

ok gadd enough with the training, the ice is hung. go get amongst...

Andy Arts said...

Ahh Willy,
This is why we have you on the blog, so I can be lazy and live viacariouly through you. My Brain has gotten way too much of a work out reading all this. Next I'll have to watch a video of you so I can get a physical work out too.

Anonymous said...

I did read Millman's "Way of the Peaceful Warrior" and actually really enjoyed that book. His others...didn't speak to me the same way.

I've added some of the books you mentioned to my Amazon wish list and look forward to getting into them. Thanks for the recommendations!

- Brian