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The Invictus Mindset Book

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Table of Contents
About the Authors and Acknowledgements.....................................................4
“INVICTUS” by William Ernest Henley...............................................................11
Can Mental Toughness Be Learned?...............................................................17
PILLAR ONE: GOAL SETTING.........................................................................20
Choosing Your Summit......................................................................................22
The Importance of Purpose and Understanding Your Why...........................26
Understanding Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivators...........................................31
How Do You Define Success?..........................................................................37
Tips for Successful Goal Setting and Achievement.......................................41
How to Set SMART Goals.................................................................................44
Are You Committed?..........................................................................................48
Let’s Set Some Goals ........................................................................................53
PILLAR TWO: VISUALIZATION........................................................................55
The Importance of Visualization.......................................................................57
How Visualization Works...................................................................................59
How To Effectively Visualize..............................................................................62
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PILLAR THREE: SELF-TALK............................................................................66
The Importance of Positive Self-Talk...............................................................68
How To Overcome Negative Self-Talk.............................................................72
Postures of Defeat.............................................................................................74
PILLAR FOUR: AROUSAL CONTROL.............................................................83
Understanding Optimal Arousal States...........................................................84
How To Control Your Arousal State..................................................................88
Syncing Physical and Psychological Arousal..................................................94
PILLAR FIVE: SELF-CONFIDENCE...............................................................103
Eliminate the Symptoms of Low Self-Confidence........................................104
The Power of Belief..........................................................................................108
A Case For The 11th Fitness Domain..............................................................111
THOUGHTS ON MENTAL TOUGHNESS.......................................................117
Visions and Circumstances............................................................................118
Failure Is Fertilizer............................................................................................123
A Letter From Casey........................................................................................127
Focus On Yourself............................................................................................133
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.........................................................................136
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About the Authors and
C.J. Martin
C.J. Martin is Owner and
Head Coach of Invictus
Fitness, Inc. He is a Level 2
CrossFit instructor, USAW
Club Coach, OPT CCP
Level 2 coach, and former
member of the CrossFit HQ
training staff.
C.J. specializes in preparing athletes for the CrossFit Games. He
has participated as a coach and/or athlete at every CrossFit
Games. Since Invictus opened in 2009, C.J. has coached more
than 30 individuals and a dozen masters athletes to the CrossFit
Games. The Invictus affiliate team has qualified for the Games
for six consecutive years and placed in the top five 4 of the 6
years – taking 1st place and earning their first affiliate cup
championship at the 2014 CrossFit Games.
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C.J. does not measure success by podium finishes, but rather
by the athletic and personal growth of the athletes with whom
he’s blessed to coach. Competitive success is a natural result of
athletes expressing their full potential, but the ultimate reward
for both athlete and coach is the satisfaction of knowing that
they became the best they could be.
Before opening Invictus, C.J. enjoyed five years as a successful
litigator at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. His practice
focused on securities fraud and complex commercial litigation.
C.J. is also co-founder of Kids Helping Kids, a non-profit
organization that has raised more than $6 million for neo-natal
intensive care and pediatric units throughout Oregon.
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Calvin Sun
Calvin Sun is Director of
Informational Products
and a senior coach at
Invictus Fitness, Inc. He is
one of the original
coaches at Invictus and
has coached alongside
C.J. since 2008. He is a
Level 2 CrossFit instructor, USAW Sport Performance Coach,
and has completed a broad range of specialty certifications. He
also has a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from San Diego
State University.
Calvin has coached the Invictus Powerlifting Team to 12 national
championships and is the creator of the Strength Development
program at Invictus Fitness. As a competitive powerlifter, he has
won two national titles in the 181-pound raw weight class and
formerly held 2 national records.
Calvin has a passion for the application of science to the study
of fitness and utilizes his knowledge of biomechanics,
performance psychology, and nutrition to enhance athletic
performance. He is an experienced professional having worked
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in the fitness industry since 2006 and has coached with Invictus
since it was founded in 2009. Prior to his full-time career in the
fitness industry, Calvin served in the U.S. Army for 6 years.
Heidi Fearon
Heidi is known simply
as the Invictus
“Healer.” Heidi is an
acupuncturist by
treatment of athletes
ranges from sports
psychology to preevent massage. Words can’t describe the impact that she has
had on Invictus athletes’ performances at the CrossFit Games.
She is Invictus’ secret weapon.
Heidi has studied with and been mentored by some of the most
renowned sports psychologists in the world, and has used that
training to help athletes and members of U.S. Special Forces
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find their clear sense of purpose and motivation to tap into their
greatest potential. She also understands the mind of an athlete
from personal experience. Heidi finished 5 th in the Military Eco
Challenge in Alaska, was a runner up for the Navy’s Top Military
Athlete in 2002 and held 14 swim records at the United States
Naval Academy, not to mention hiking to Everest base camp,
swimming an English Channel relay and trekking through the
Himalayas of Bhutan for fun.
Nichole DeHart
Nichole DeHart is Director
of Online Athlete
Development and one of
the senior coaches at
Invictus Fitness, Inc. She
has a Bachelor’s degree in
Health Studies from
Portland State University,
and numerous CrossFit coaching certifications.
Nichole is an accomplished athlete who has competed at the
CrossFit Games five times – including a 3rd place finish in the
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2007 CrossFit Games. She served as a key member of Team
Invictus over the four competitive seasons from 2010 to 2013.
She took a break from competing in 2014 to heal a back injury
and will be back stronger than ever in 2015. Her leadership and
mentoring has helped developed several of her teammates and
training partners into world-class athletes.
Special thanks to Josh Bridges, Jenny LaBaw, and Aja Barto,
who as athletes, members of our Invictus Athlete Camp
coaching staff and most importantly, good friends, have
influenced so many aspects of our coaching philosophy and
approach to teaching the Invictus mindset. Many thanks to
Invictus member and photographer extraordinaire Marty Rojas
for capturing so many great moments in Invictus history,
including the cover photo showing Nichole's focus and mental
Jaimie Bougie
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Copyright © 2015 by Invictus Fitness, Inc.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be
reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the
express written permission of the publisher except for the use of
brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.
First Publication: 2015
Invictus Fitness, Inc.
1446 Columbia Street
San Diego, California 92101
Special discounts are available on quantity purchases by
corporations, associations, educators, and others. For details,
contact the publisher at the above listed address.
U.S. trade bookstores and wholesalers: Please contact: Invictus
Fitness, Inc. Tel: (619) 231-3000; or email
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By William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
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Introduction – The Invictus Mindset
Written by C.J. Martin
Invictus is more than a gym name; it’s a mindset.
The word “Invictus” is Latin for “unconquered.” It evokes strength
and courage. But strength and courage come in many forms.
True strength, courage and mental fortitude are not confined to
an arena or a battlefield, but rather serve as the foundation of
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who we are and how we approach the tasks, obstacles and
opportunities that life presents.
My grandfather introduced me to the words of Henley’s powerful
poem. For him, Invictus was a battle cry, a tool that gave him
strength and courage to overcome the horrific violence of war.
My grandfather was a proud member of the Fighting Fourth
Marine Division that stormed the South Pacific during World War
II. The division suffered more than 17,000 casualties in 13
months while taking Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. His
unit memorized “Invictus” and recited it as they prepared for the
unknown risks that awaited them on enemy soil.
It’s easy to get amped up reading the words of “Invictus.” It’s
easy to view those words through the lens of a warrior entering
battle and needing to feel the rush of invincibility. But can you
also see those words vibrating through the mind of a sickly
hospital patient?
Perhaps the true power of Henley’s “Invictus” is its wide and
varied application. For Henley, “Invictus” was less of a battle cry,
and more a manifesto that he would never allow his soul to be
broken – regardless of how dire the circumstances.
“Invictus” author William Ernest Henley was diagnosed with
tuberculosis of the bone at the age of 12. The disease took his
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left leg from him, and required frequent hospitalization for more
than a decade. When Henley’s right leg became diseased and
amputation appeared to be the only option, he fought. He spent
the next three years in a hospital bed undergoing experimental
procedures to save the right leg. It was during this time, bedridden and faced with the prospect of losing his remaining leg,
that Henley penned his manifesto – “Invictus.”
Henley wasn’t a warrior entering battle; he wasn’t strong and
fearless, about to take on unknown risk. He was weary and
physically broken. He had endured years of illness, pain and
experimental medical procedures with hopes of merely saving
his last leg. But when Henley should have been at his weakest, in
his moment of despair, he wrote the boldest, most courageous
words and affirmed that he would remain “unconquered.”
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
This is the mindset of the successful; this is true mental
toughness. It’s easy to feel invincible, strong and courageous
before you confront an obstacle. But true mental fortitude is
revealed during the worst of the ordeal, when it appears that
nothing is going your way and that there is no end in sight. An
individual’s outlook and resilience during the worst of times is
the difference between those who succeed and those who
succumb. The Invictus mindset then, is a commitment to
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maintaining control of your destiny without regard for the
obstacles and hardships laid on your path.
It should be clear that an Invictus mindset has many more
important applications than athletic performance, but few things
in life provide more accessible and tangible opportunities to test
that mindset the way training and competing can. By pushing
themselves to the edge of their limits and testing the bounds of
their human potential, Invictus athletes constantly confront
seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They encounter daily, selfimposed and temporary suffering, and test their ability to face
that suffering with an unconquerable mindset. They force
themselves to do things they don’t want to do, when they least
want to do it, and repeatedly affirm that they are strong and
capable even when their internal monologue tells them
differently. Training is nothing more than preparation, not just for
competitive success, but more importantly, for the many
challenges and opportunities that life will present over the
course of the years.
This book was written for anyone who wants to improve mental
toughness and self-confidence. The purpose of this book is to
provide you with some basic theory and philosophy regarding
mental toughness, as well as ways to practically implement
these ideas into your training.
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In the pages that follow you will find a collection of articles and
ideas written by Invictus coaches and athletes that expound
upon the unconquerable mindset that has become the signature
of the Invictus athlete. In order to give you a foundational
framework for conditioning your mind, we will first explore
whether mental toughness can be learned, and then cover five
basic pillars of mental toughness; goal setting, visualization,
positive self-talk, arousal control and self-confidence. Finally, we
will review how to put it all together so that you can immediately
apply this knowledge to help you take your mental game to the
next level. I hope these words resonate with you and provide
guidance that helps you to become unconquerable in all that you
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Can Mental Toughness Be Learned?
Written by Calvin Sun
“Mental toughness is many things, and rather difficult to explain.
Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly,
it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to
give in. It's a state of mind - you could call it 'character in
action’.” -Vince Lombardi
Success starts with having
the right mindset. It doesn’t
matter if you are trying to
qualify for regionals, start
a successful business, or
coach a team to a world
championship; the
psychological principles
always remain the same. Mediocre performers quit long before
they ever reach their goals and dreams. They allow fear and selfdoubt to prevent them from achieving their highest potential. The
common denominator amongst the failures is a lack of mental
fortitude and a stagnant mindset. The most successful people in
any industry consistently have one thing in common: mental
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Mental toughness is something that all high-level performers
must possess. I’ve witnessed very physically capable human
beings fail in competition, in training, and in life because they
lacked the mental fortitude to succeed. A lack of commitment,
low self-confidence, and poor focus are often common traits
among those who are unsuccessful.
In order to transition from average to outstanding, you must
invest the time and effort to cultivate an unconquerable mindset.
Having the proper mindset is invaluable and requisite for you to
be successful in all areas of your life. Mental toughness can be
thought of as your ability to remain focused and persevere when
faced with extremely stressful and uncomfortable
Mental toughness is not about winning;
it’s about not quitting.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to work alongside C.J. for the
majority of my coaching career. Through his mentorship, I’ve
cultivated and refined my own mental toughness over the years
as well as learned how to coach others to do the same. I have
seen firsthand that mental toughness is something that can be
taught. It doesn’t happen overnight, but an athlete can begin
using techniques to become as strong mentally as they are
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While mental toughness may often appear to be innate in top
performers, it's actually a set of skills and tools that anyone can
learn. We have been extremely fortunate at Invictus to have the
opportunity to coach clients ranging from the complete beginner
to world-class performers. As coaches, we have seen what
works and what doesn't when it comes to developing the mental
toughness required to achieve any goal.
The first step to achieving any goal is to take the time to clearly
define your outcome and understand your underlying motivation.
Too often, athletes jump ahead to the “how” before getting clear
on the “what” or understanding their “why.” In the first pillar, we’ll
discuss goal setting in detail and help you identify your purpose
– which will keep you motivated to move towards your goals
regardless of the circumstances.
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Goal setting is essential to helping you achieve success in any
endeavor. Few individuals have simply stumbled their way into
success or high levels of achievement. True success and
achievement requires in-depth reflection and clarity on what you
want to accomplish, and maybe more importantly – why you
want to accomplish it. It also requires setting a vision for where
you want to go, and the dedication to staying on your path to
In this chapter, we will explore the key elements of goal
achievement. We will start with understanding “purpose” and the
importance of understanding “why” you are devoting yourself to
a goal. Without a true understanding of why you are pursuing a
goal, obstacles can easily send you off course, and motivation
can lag. But those who understand the profound purpose in their
goal will never struggle with motivation, and they’ll never view
obstacles as anything more than speed bumps or opportunities
to refine their purpose and commitment.
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The second portion of this chapter will reveal our tips for how to
break down your biggest goals and largest endeavors into
manageable pieces, with meaningful checkpoints to ensure that
you stay motivated and on the right path to goal achievement.
Finally, we will discuss three essential ingredients of goal
achievement once the path has been set – Focus, Commitment
and Motivation.
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Choosing Your Summit
Written by C.J. Martin
Over the past several years I have
had the opportunity to discuss
goals with hundreds of individuals.
What has become clear to me is
that most people are much more
aware of their big, hairy, audacious
goal than they are of the many steps
needed to achieve that goal.
Perhaps more concerning is that
relatively few are aware of why they
want to achieve their goal. Let me
provide a quick and common
“What is your goal, or how would we define success as a result
of this coaching relationship?”
“I want to win the CrossFit Games.”
Winning the CrossFit Games is a massive endeavor that is only
achieved by one male and one female each year. It’s the Mount
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Everest of the sport of fitness. Like Everest, the Games are the
biggest pinnacle in our sport of fitness; it’s recognizable to even
the uninitiated because of the exposure it has received on ESPN
and in our community in general. But is it even the right summit
for which an athlete should be setting their sights? Are there
other summits in the fitness landscape that would be equally or
more rewarding?
The first step in successful goal setting must be understanding
“Why” you want to attain a specific goal. That Why is your source
of motivation and prioritization that will keep you moving forward
when obstacles clutter your path. Choosing the right summit – or
the right big, hairy, audacious goal – requires an honest
exploration of your purpose. Skipping this most important step
has led many individuals on harrowing journeys, wherein they
made massive sacrifices only to determine that the goal they
achieved was never worthy of pursuing. There is perhaps no
greater disappointment than devoting oneself fully to a goal, that
when achieved, creates only regret and discontent.
In one of my favorite books, “The Only Way to Win,” Jim Loehr
recounts his experience with tennis champion Andre Agassi.
Agassi won eight Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal,
but candidly admitted that the accomplishments provided no
sense of fulfillment, peace or pleasure. Every achievement led to
more discontent, and Agassi resorted to numbing the pain
through drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t until Agassi reconsidered
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his goals and purpose – which had nothing to do with tennis –
that he found peace and fulfillment.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of
understanding your purpose and core values before establishing
your goals. There is no amount of focus, discipline and mental
toughness that can help you reach the summit if you start your
ascent on the wrong mountain. Once you’ve explored your
options of goals to achieve – or peaks to summit – and gained
clarity on your purpose, you’re ready to start planning.
Choosing the right summit, or the right major goal, is critical to
the goal setting process; but remember, it’s only the beginning
step. Beyond that there will be countless smaller goals and plans
to get to your final destination. For example, most of us know of
Everest, where it is, how high it is, etc…, but only a fraction of us
have any idea about the amount of planning and nuance that is
required to actually make an ascent. Planning dates, routes,
permits, food, gear, etc…is typically a years long process – and
that’s before you ever step foot on the mountain. Once there,
diligence must be taken to ensure proper acclimatization and
well-planned base camps that will provide shelter, warmth and
food to keep your energy up for the long haul. All of these
elements require extensive planning, and in turn create smaller
goals and checkpoints that pave the path for the overarching
goal achievement. But it should also be noted that in a large
endeavor with so many moving parts and so many details to
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track, leveraging the knowledge and experience of successful
predecessors is paramount. A coach or an experienced friend
can serve as your best ally to keep you on the path to success
and ensure that none of the finer details are forgotten.
Large endeavors will require more checkpoints on the path to
goal achievement, but no large endeavor should ever begin
without the critical assessment of purpose. In the following
sections we will cover the best ways to explore your purpose –
your Why – and learn how to break down goals into achievable
steps to create a winning plan.
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The Importance of Purpose Discovering and Understanding Your Why
Written by Heidi Fearon
“The mind is everything. What you think you become. What you
imagine you create.” - Buddha
These days we run around like crazy people worrying about
nutrition, ordering customized meals, finding the right training
program, and hiring coaches. We shell out thousands of dollars
to ensure our vehicle stays on the path we’ve chosen, directed
to a final destination. Yet how much time do we spend choosing
the direction? How often do we step back to consider if the
destination we are aimed for is the right one? Are we just
lemmings following the crowd into the sea?
You work hard to get stronger, faster, healthier, and wealthier.
But when’s the last time you sat back and consciously
contemplated why you work so hard, how you want it to feel as
you progress and where you would like to end up? Are you just
hoping that if you do everything right along the way you’ll be
happy with the outcome?
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If you find yourself lacking motivation, or always focusing on
what you “should have” done, you have likely lost your Why. If
you are crushing the What you’re doing and How you’re doing it,
but you have no enthusiasm anymore and life is feeling like a
chore, you may have lost your Why…or maybe you never fully
defined it to start. Without a Why there is no true direction, no
Improving performance, especially at the elite level, requires a
detailed plan with very specific milestones. If you fail to
understand what you really want or why you want it, creating
your plan, working hard and making the sacrifices necessary to
achieve it will be very difficult – if not impossible. This applies to
every aspect of your life – your relationships, your job, your
workouts, and your health. When asked, most people can
articulate the What and the How of what they are doing, but few
can quickly and clearly tell you the Why that helps them jump out
of bed in the morning, excited to meet their goals. The What and
How are the goals and plan of execution laid upon the critical
foundation of Why. Without the Why, there is no purpose, no
passion. The Why is the fuel for your unlimited potential. So how
can you connect the things you do with the drive and the
passion necessary for success and fulfillment?
Start with WHY! Always Know Your WHY!
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Why are you doing what you are doing? What about it makes you
feel good and how do you want to feel along the way. Why are
you training? Why do you love your job? Why do you want to run
the marathon, buy the Harley, or become a black belt? Why start
the new company, quit your job, climb Mount Everest, become a
sponsored athlete… WHY?
Our Why lives in the limbic aspect of our mind. This is the
nonverbal, “feeling” part of our brain. This is why most individuals
find it difficult to put their feelings into words. To get in touch
with these feelings, you have to change our typical thinking
patterns and instead imagine exploring areas that you relate to
“feelings,” like your heart and your gut. Think about places where
you feel your passion come from, that’s where we’ll find your
Three Ways to Find Your Why
There are multiple approaches to work on finding your Why. You
can identify a specific list of Why’s that directly affect the path in
life you are on, such as: Why you choose your profession; Why
you desire to be a competitive athlete; or Why you want to win a
specific event. Or you can start at a more general level, such as
what makes you happy or what your purpose is and gradually
become more specific as you apply it to your life.
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To start finding your Why, I like to start with quiet. Set aside thirty
minutes and find a place where you won’t be interrupted. No cell
phones or distractions - just you, a pad of paper, and a pen.
Then to get quiet I recommend you use body scan meditation or
a guided visualization. Relax your breath, seeing the rise and fall
of your chest, and allow your inhale and exhale to equal one
another. Then gently relax your body from your head to your
toes. Once you have asked your physical body to relax, ask your
mind to relax back into your head. Let your thoughts become
background noise and drop your awareness into the center of
your chest and down into your belly.
Now that you are mentally prepared, select one of the three
techniques below to start pulling out your Why.
1. Grab a pen or open a new Word document and ask yourself
your Whys: Why am I training for the CrossFit Games? Why am I
a CrossFit Coach? Why do I compete? Why do I train? What
defines me? What makes me happy? How do I make a
difference? Why do I want a family? Pour everything out for 15 to
30 minutes. Don’t hold anything back and don’t edit what you’re
writing. Then take some time to reflect on what flowed out.
Identify the trends, review the similarities and differences, and
then work to distill it down into a concise Why you can hold in
your conscious mind.
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2. Your friends and family sometimes see you more clearly than
you see yourself. Our self-talk and limitations often cloud our
clarity. So utilize your community. Go out to five or six people
that you really respect and trust and ask them to describe you in
six adjectives. Ask them what they think you have a talent for in
regard to your specific Why. Why do you think I’m a good
athlete? Why do you think I’m a competitor or a good coach?
What is it that you see in me that makes me unique? Where do
you see me add value? Just make a list of three questions and
ask six different people with different backgrounds. You’ll be
shocked at the similarities in the answers and you’ll start to see a
pattern that might help you see more clearly your unique value.
3. Question the impact that you have in various areas of your life.
Look at your relationship and what ways you enjoy supporting
your spouse. Consider your job – what about it makes you feel
the most joyful. What are you actively doing in a variety of
scenarios that brings you joy and makes you feel like you are in
the zone, that place where everything else disappears? Patterns
are your friend; start to recognize the patterns of your passion
that will lead you to your Why.
Once you have found your Why, write it down and put it where
you can see it often throughout the day. Use it to fuel your
motivation and plan your course. And don’t forget to re-evaluate
it periodically; priorities and passions change, make sure your
Why continues to drive your growth.
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Understanding Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivators Why Extrinsic Motivators Fail When The Going Gets Tough
Written by Heidi Fearon
What motivates you and makes you work towards the goals
you set? The source of your motivation can greatly affect your
ability to reach the outcomes you desire. Extrinsic motivation is
derived from external sources while intrinsic motivation comes
from an internal source.
Identifying Your Source of Motivation
Extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a
behavior or engage in an activity in order to earn a reward or
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avoid a punishment, such as receiving a scholarship or payment
from parents for good grades, landing a high dollar contract for
sports performance, or choosing a job because it has nice
benefits and a large salary. You perform the action because
there is a result you desire.
Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behavior because it is
personally rewarding – essentially, performing an activity for its
own sake rather than the desire for some external reward – such
as competing in a game because you enjoy to play, studying
hard to master material, choosing a job to help others. You
perform the action because you enjoy the action itself and there
is no dependence on an outcome.
The Impact of Your Motivation Source
One hidden pitfall of extrinsic motivation is that the result is often
outside of your control and there is rarely an unlimited and
guaranteed pay off. I see this frequently in new CrossFit athletes
– initially they may start with the intention of getting themselves
into better shape, but if they show some ability, suddenly their
competitive drive kicks in. The beginner athlete’s motivation too
often shifts to beating others in their class rather than the
personal improvement reasons that led them to start training. At
some point, they may want to compete at Regionals or at
Games. And when they don’t make it to Regionals, or beat
everyone in their gym, they feel disappointed – and may even
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give up entirely. The reason is simple, their motivation changed
from an intrinsic drive to better themselves to an extrinsic drive
to be better than others.
But what would be an example of an intrinsic reason for this
situation? Intrinsically motivated athletes would enjoy the
workout for the opportunity to push their limits; regardless of the
number of reps or the amount of weight they lifted that day. They
take pride in their improvements because it makes them feel
stronger, more confident and even more competent in their
other endeavors. They also enjoy the results of the workouts for
the other activities it improves, such as mountain bike riding,
running, or snowboarding. The physical and emotional benefits
of feeling better, more energetic in daily activities and just overall
better in life are enough. There is no tangible expectation, no
attachment, just desire with unlimited outcomes.
Let’s consider extrinsic motivation from another vantage – the
emotional impact of relying on the outcome. Many people feel
they do a good job only when others tell them they did. For
example, when I lift big numbers people pay attention to me and
tell me I’m strong. This outcome makes me feel validated and on
some level I have equated recognition to my self-worth. What
happens when I become seriously ill or injured and I can no
longer lift heavy weights? My well of validation runs dry and the
question of identity and worthiness can become all-consuming.
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In this situation I will only be as good as my last performance,
and if I’m unable to perform, depression is likely to ensue.
The list of extrinsic motivation pitfalls are numerous and can be
devastating. Any expectation is a set up for disappointment. Not
only do things rarely evolve in a way that we expect, but it also
creates a limitation to achievement. A ceiling is placed on the
performance because the athlete is shooting to achieve the
expectation – nothing less, but also nothing more. Certainly,
extrinsic motivators have their place. If you want to teach
someone a new skill or motivate a business associate to up their
game, extrinsic motivators can be good short-term tools.
However, if your primary goals are made from a place of extrinsic
motivation, you will lack resilience and long-term motivation
because extrinsic motivators lack passion…and therefore lack
How to Shift from Extrinsic to Intrinsic Motivation
The first step to enjoying the journey rather than only the
destination is to uncover your Why. As covered in the previous
chapter, this MUST be step one in successful goal setting and
achievement. I often ask clients to look inside themselves and
ask why they do what they do. This exercise starts to get people
in touch with their intrinsic motivation. This Why is your intrinsic
motivation. The exciting thing about intrinsic motivation is that
it’s inexhaustible. As a result of fulfilling these dreams and
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desires, accolades and material benefits may come but the
difference is that these are added benefits not points of focus.
Once you have your Why, shifting from extrinsic to intrinsic
motivation is a matter of application and practice. First,
understand that finding your Why does not mean you have to
quit everything that doesn’t obviously fit it. For example, if you
love to help others, you don’t have to quit your job and join the
Peace Corps. Rather, you can notice when you help others at
work, enjoy those moments, and find ways to increase their
number. Next time you get ready for a workout, think about the
things you like about that workout, think about the things you
like about yourself when you workout. Eventually, you will find
yourself unconsciously enjoying your workouts more. Getting
back to the love of the action for the action’s sake instead of the
external expectations or pressures.
Let me give you an example. One of my clients loved playing
basketball in high school, so much so that it earned her a high
profile scholarship. Once she arrived at college there was
tremendous pressure for her to live up to her expectations even
as a freshman. She felt the pressure of the expectations and
started to forget plays and over-think her sport. The passion and
fluidity of her performance disappeared and she was benched
for the first season. As a result she wanted to quit basketball.
She lost touch with her intrinsic motivation playing for the love of
the game and for the games sake. That summer I encouraged
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her to join a pick up league and get back in touch with her love
of the sport for the sport’s sake and to remember that feeling
when she returned to college. After regaining her Why,
practicing visualizations and letting go of her attachment to the
outcome and other’s expectations she has had stellar seasons
and is exceeding her expected potential.
Intrinsic motivation is the place where resilience lives. When the
rubber meets the road and you’re feeling tapped, it’s not money
or public opinion that get you through… it’s heart. It’s a
dedication to the act because it ignites something inside that
you may not even be able to express because it’s part of that
limbic brain. The stories you hear about people defying the odds
and doing the unimaginable or making the impossible happen is
because they believed in something bigger than themselves and
were driven from a feeling place of joy, passion, exuberance, and
So go out there and define your purpose. Live every moment.
Start paying special attention to things that help you achieve
what you’re after, things you otherwise would have never
Plotnik, R. & Kouyoumjian. H. (2011). Introduction to psychology. Belmont, CA:
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How Do You Define Success?
Written by Calvin Sun
If you have ever worked directly with any of the Invictus
coaches, it’s likely you have been asked how you define
success. Our mission as coaches goes beyond just the
mechanics of program design, nutrition consulting, and skill
coaching. Our coaching process requires us to know exactly
what results we are trying to achieve. Knowing what success
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means provides clarity and allows us to focus and be more
effective during the goal setting process.
However, some athletes seem to struggle with understanding
what success looks like beyond “winning.” In fact, winning and
success can be mutually exclusive in some cases. One look at
the dictionary and it’s no surprise why some consider the two to
be synonymous.
Webster’s provides the following definitions of success:
suc·cess noun
: the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame
: the correct or desired result of an attempt
: someone or something that is successful
: a person or thing that succeeds
The first definition, acquiring wealth, respect, or fame, may not
apply to everyone. Not everyone values those things in the same
manner. As a result, becoming wealthy or famous doesn’t
guarantee that you will feel that you are successful. I have
worked with wealthy clients before and while they might be what
most would consider successful in financial terms, other areas
of their life such as their physical health and their personal
relationships were not doing nearly as well.
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The second definition is probably a better fit for “achievement.”
However, achievements aren’t inherently indicative of success
either. If you achieved a result but felt completely unfulfilled by it,
would you still consider it success?
“Success without fulfillment is failure.” – Anthony Robbins
The third and fourth definitions are circular in nature and don’t
really help us understand what it truly means to be successful.
Perhaps we should look to others who have been successful
and led others to achieve success for a better definition. While
serving as head coach of the UCLA basketball team, John
Wooden led his team to ten NCAA national championships in a
12-year period. Wooden had a unique perspective on coaching
and success.
"Success comes from knowing that you did your best to
become the best that you are capable of becoming." – John
One of our favorite quotes at Invictus comes from another
outstanding leader, Mahatma Gandhi.
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment,
full effort is full victory.” – Mahatma Gandhi
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Before moving on to the next section, take a moment to answer
the following questions:
 How would you define success?
 What does success look like to you?
 How do you feel when you are successful?
"Success is never final; failure is never fatal.
It's courage that counts." – John Wooden
In the following sections, we will discuss the nuts and bolts of
the goal setting process. You’ll hear from Invictus coach and
athlete Nichole DeHart. She has stood on the podium at the
CrossFit Games as an individual and has earned herself
numerous trips back to Carson as a member of Team Invictus.
Her thoughts on goal setting are definitely worth reading. C.J.
will add his thoughts on the three key traits of successful
athletes: focus, commitment, and purpose.
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Tips for Successful Goal Setting & Achievement
Written by Nichole DeHart
Goal setting is an incredibly important task but is not widely
used. Goal setting is extremely effective and can provide clarity
and focus not only for the future, but also for the present. The
process provides structure and direction when working towards
a stated purpose. Goal setting also provides motivation and can
help you organize your time and resources so that you can make
the most of your
efforts. I recently read
this statement and
thought it reflected the
true essence of goal
“Set goals that yield a
positive effect on your
life whenever you think about them, long before the final
outcome is actually achieved. Treat goal-setting as a way to
enhance your present reality, not as a way to control the future.”
Here are six steps that have helped me not only identify and set
my goals, but also accomplish them. There is nothing better than
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setting a goal, having perseverance to stay on track and finally
accomplishing it. Here are my six steps:
Identify what your values are.
This is important because you need to make sure your goal is in line
with your values. Identify your core priorities and make sure your goal
doesn’t detract from your overall values. Instead, your goal should
support your values and work in harmony with them.
Identify what it is that you really want.
Be very specific; don’t leave any room for questioning later down the
road. By knowing precisely what you want to achieve, you know where
you have to concentrate your efforts. Once you identify what it is that
you really want (this can be a challenge within itself), then set your
Write your goal down and share it with a loved one.
Make your goal visible so that you can have daily reminders to stay
focused. This is very helpful because when you don’t write a goal
down, it tends to become obtuse. The goal suddenly shifts depending
on your circumstances at the time, gets pushed to the side if it is
inconvenient, and can change from its original purpose. If your goal is
written down and shared with someone, then you can be held
accountable for your goal. Your goal now becomes real and not just an
idea that never comes to fruition.
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Be precise when setting your goal.
Give your goal a deadline and give your goal dates, amounts, times,
etc. so that you can measure your progress.
Identify how you are going to accomplish your goal.
This is important. Anyone can set a goal but not everyone can
accomplish one. You must identify how you are going to reach your
goal. Are you not drinking alcohol for the next 30 days? Then write out
how you will stay on track for those 30 days. (Don’t go to certain
restaurants where it is tempting to drink, prepare a polite reply to
decline alcohol when it is offered, etc.) Anticipate any roadblocks that
may come along and find ways to overcome those roadblocks.
Build a support group.
It is crucial to have support when you are trying to achieve something
that takes perseverance, dedication and determination. Your support
group should be made up of people who have your best interest at
heart. They can help motivate you and provide encouragement along
your journey to success. They also provide needed accountability.
Identify those who detract from your stated goal and try to eliminate
their influence as much as possible.
These six steps have helped me set attainable goals and will hopefully
get you started on your own journey to goal setting.
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How to Set SMART Goals
Written by Calvin Sun
Part of the skill of goal setting is learning to write your goals
effectively. As a coach, I have had the opportunity to refine my
goal setting techniques over the years. Here’s a general
overview of the approach I use:
1. Don’t set more goals than you can count on one hand.
Studies suggest that you really can’t focus on more than seven
things at once (give or take). I recommend a maximum of 5
goals, with 2 to 3 goals being ideal for most. Don’t create dozens
of sub-goals under one very generic goal to cheat this guideline.
And don’t confuse action items and to-dos for goals. Greater
focus on fewer goals will yield a higher-quality result.
2. Be SMART with your goals. I’m sure you have heard of this
acronym before. It seems to change a bit depending on who
you’re talking to, but here’s what I mean when I say SMART
Specific: You must know exactly what you want. Be very clear
about what it is you are trying to accomplish.
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Bad: Increase my strength.
Good: Increase my clean & jerk by 10 kilograms.
Measurable: Your goal must be measurable. How else are you
supposed to know if you have made any improvement?
Bad: Improve my running.
Good: Improve my 400-meter sprint time by 10 seconds.
Actionable: Goals should be worded in a way that allows you to
take action.
Bad: Try to stretch more often.
Good: Spend at least 15 minutes everyday working on my
mobility and flexibility.
Realistic: Don’t let self-limiting beliefs get in the way here. Your
goal should challenge you and put you outside of your comfort
zone. At the same time, be careful not to set a goal that is
beyond common sense.
Bad: Increase my back squat by 100 pounds in two weeks.
Good: Increase my back squat by eight pounds in a month.
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Time-bound: All of your goals should have a “due date.” Not a
year, not a month, but literally pick a day that you will accomplish
this goal.
Bad: Set a new personal record of 200 unbroken double-unders.
Good: Set a new personal record of 200 unbroken doubleunders by March 31, 2015.
3. Break Up Large Goals Into Manageable Pieces. No goal is
too great if you can break it down into a series of smaller, easily
achievable goals. For example, is it easier to add 100 pounds to
your back squat in a year or add two pounds each week? If you
add two pounds a week for a year, you will have added 100
pounds. Chunking your goals into small pieces allows your mind
to focus on achieving something realistic in the interim as well as
build your confidence around your ability to achieve the big goal.
4. Write your goals down. Don’t type your goals in Word or
Excel. Don’t email them to yourself. Don’t write them in the
notepad app on your phone. Get out a pen and paper and
physically write them down.
5. Keep them posted somewhere where you can see them. You
know the old adage: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Review your
goals frequently. Sometimes goals need to be revised and
updated. Frequently reviewing them allows you to make sure
your goals are still a good fit for you.
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6. Share your goals (with a select few). It’s common practice to
share your goals with everyone. Typically, you hope your friends
will hold you accountable and you’ll feel the pressure to fulfill
those goals. However, some experts argue that sharing goals
can actually make them less likely to happen. I recommend
sharing your goals only with people who are committed to
helping you achieve them such as your coach and select
members of your peer group.
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Are You Committed?
Written by C.J. Martin
One of my online coaching clients from Florida sent me the
photo above. The photo is of her training through a tropical
storm. Sprints were on her program, and she wasn’t going to let
a bit of rain stop her from
getting her work done.
The photo raises an
interesting question . . .
would you run through
the rain if your program
called for you to do so?
OK, I don’t really care if
you would run through
actual rain, but I would like for you to consider whether you are
committed, focused and motivated enough that you would not
let inconveniences stand in the way of you doing what you know
will help to bring you closer to your goal.
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We all face myriad distractions that can keep us from achieving
the things we really want in life. Unforeseen circumstances force
us to change course, or supply obstacles not initially expected.
It’s how you react to these circumstances that matters most.
I have had the opportunity to work with some phenomenal
athletes, and the most successful have distinguished
themselves not only in their athletic performances, but by the
traits they demonstrate throughout their training. There are three
principal traits that I believe can help someone guarantee their
success in reaching any goal (fitness-related and otherwise).
Goal achievers keep their eyes on the prize. It is impossible to
distract them from their goal. No matter what is going on around
them, they prioritize the work that must be done to bring them
closer to their goal.
When the 2011 regional workouts were announced, Josh
Bridges could not perform forward double-unders. He was a
wizard with backwards double-unders, but could link only two to
three forward double-unders on most days. The good news was,
he had about six weeks to practice double-unders before
regionals. The bad news was that he was going to be gone four
of the six weeks. For four of the six weeks he was obligated to
work 14+ hours a day. Much of that time was spent on his feet
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with a minimum of 60 lbs of gear. Regardless, Josh kept a jump
rope on him at all times and any time he could take a break, he
would break out his rope and get a few practice sets in. The
result was a record-breaking performance on the 100s workout,
and breaking the 100 double-unders into only three sets.
Focus also means having a limited number of goals. You cannot
commit yourself fully to a dozen different things. Pick one, two or
maybe a few, and devote yourself to seeing them through. If the
goal is worth achieving, give it your all – that is the only way you
will guarantee to make it happen.
Focus and clarity of the goal has to be the starting point, but that
alone will not get you there. You must have the commitment and
discipline to fight through the inconveniences and sacrifices
associated with achieving your goal. Ask any one of the athletes
training to compete at the CrossFit Games when the last time
they had a weekend to themselves. They have sacrificed
countless hours with friends and family to ensure that they are
as prepared as possible to perform when it matters most. Most
of them have also overcome some nagging injuries and/or spent
a sizable portion of their budget on massage therapy,
acupuncture, and other treatments to make sure their body is as
healthy as possible. Throughout it all, the top performers never
balk or doubt the journey. They accept that the reward of
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achieving their goal far outweighs the sacrifices endured to get
there. They don’t miss training sessions, they don’t complain,
and they don’t question the process.
Will power only lasts so long. Most people do a great job of
staying focused and committed for a week or two, but if you’re
not motivated by a deeper purpose, the long journey to goal
achievement can be overwhelming. Goal achievers are
enthusiastic about the journey. The top athletes don’t train
begrudgingly; they’re excited to be in the gym. In fact, the
biggest problem with top athletes is often keeping them from
doing too much and overtraining. They love what they’re doing. If
you don’t love what you’re doing, or at least love the reward that
will come from what you are doing, the sacrifices and
distractions are sure to wear you down. Find the deeper purpose
in what you are doing. Make sure you know why you are doing it,
and make sure that reason syncs up with your personal values.
There are many other traits that top athletes exhibit, but these
three might be the most important for anyone setting out to
achieve any goal – fitness-related or otherwise. I encourage you
to put them in play. Select a goal that you would like to achieve;
spend some time to create clarity of vision for what the
successful achievement of your goal will look like; eliminate as
many distractions as possible; commit to prioritizing your goal
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above all other distractions and inconveniences; and understand
the meaning in what you are doing. If you can do these things,
you’re capable of almost anything.
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Let's Set Some Goals
Written by Calvin Sun
By this point, you should have a good idea of what goal setting
is and why it’s important to you as an athlete. Before moving on
to the next section of this book, please refer to the goal setting
worksheet included with this book.
You can also download the worksheet directly from our website.
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It’s important that you take the time and effort to clarify your
vision and goals for yourself. In the worksheet, you will apply
everything we have discussed in the goal setting chapter. You
may want to refer back to certain chapters as you progress
through the worksheet. Once your worksheet is completed,
make sure you post it somewhere where you will frequently see
it. Regularly review your goals to make sure they are still a good
fit for you.
In the next chapter, we will discuss visualization, how it can help
you improve your performance, as well as some simple
techniques to incorporate this technique into your practice.
Heidi Fearon will go over the importance of visualization for
athletes. If you have attended one of our Invictus Athletes'
Camps, you likely have heard her speak about the power of
visualization, mindfulness, and meditation.
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“Whether you believe you can, or you can’t – You’re right.”
– Henry Ford
Visualization goes by many names: motor imagery, mental
practice, cognitive visualization, and so on. These terms can
refer to the practice of tasks using mental rehearsal or
repeatedly visualizing a task being successfully completed. It
can also refer to visualizing yourself achieving your desired
Visualization can be a profoundly powerful tool for athletes.
Scientific research has found that mentally rehearsing a task in
combination with actual physical practice results in greater
improvements in performance than with physical practice alone.
Other research has found that visualization and meditation can
improve the consistency and level of performance in fine athletic
skills ranging from shooting a basketball to hitting a golf ball.
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Another use for visualization is as a means of stress inoculation.
Imagine yourself in a competition or training scenario and
something doesn’t go exactly as planned. Maybe it’s a technical
error, or maybe it’s a bad call from a judge, or something occurs
that might throw off your mental focus. Now imagine yourself
successfully overcoming any challenge that may present itself.
This can be a highly effective exercise for improving your selfconfidence and mentally preparing yourself for any stressful
situation that may arise.
Visualization also feeds into your beliefs about your capabilities
and self-confidence. Your mindset will dictate how effectively
you are able to visualize yourself successfully accomplishing
what you are trying to do.
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The Importance of Visualization
Written by Heidi Fearon
Elite athletes spend a great deal of time and effort preparing
physically for the specifics of their sport. Their physical regimen
includes proper nutrition, sleep, skill training, workouts, and
recovery. They spend a much larger amount of money than the
rest of the population on proper gear, coaching, bodywork, and
restoration. But many
overlook one of the most
important aspects of
performance – the mind.
Your mind is the driving
force behind everything
you do, yet how much
attention do you pay to
being mentally fit and sound on performance day? If your answer
is little-to-none, then you have the opportunity for massive
What if you had the power to improve your performance without
increasing your workouts? If you could see your potential in your
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mind’s eye and achieve your wildest dreams? If so, you would
only be limited by the expanse of your imagination.
A key element of mental preparation is visualization. Visualization
is one of five mental tools common to every successful
performance; every top performer in the world has used
visualization, from Rich Froning to Tiger Woods and from Navy
SEALs to Mahatma Gandhi. Forgoing visualization for a physical
contest is like forgoing squats or like competing with one arm
tied behind your back. It's giving your opponent the upper hand,
and if you’re an athlete that gets performance anxiety, it can be
crippling to not visualize.
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How Visualization Works
Written by Heidi Fearon
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge
is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination
embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and
understand”- Albert Einstein
Are you just hoping to find the “zone” and be mentally fit on
performance day? Do you get performance anxiety? Do you
struggle to calm down before or during an event? Do you feel
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like you are forgetting important skill cues once the whistle
blows? Are you looking for an edge over competitors that match
you in strength and skill?
Decades of science and research support the efficacy of
visualization in all areas of life, particularly for improving athletic
performance. Research on the brain patterns of weightlifters in
particular found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter
lifted heavy weights were activated similarly when they simply
imagined lifting.
Psychology Today reported that mental practice can be almost
as effective as physical training. One study, published in the
Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, found that imagining
weightlifting caused actual changes in muscle activity.
“Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain:
motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory,”
researcher Angie LeVan wrote in Psychology Today. “So the
brain is getting trained for actual performance during
visualization. Mental practices can enhance motivation, increase
confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime
your brain for success, and increase states of flow.”
Now, imagine if you could mentally execute the skills you
practice with high level precision so that you could step into your
event calm and focused. Visualization can help you do this and
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more. It can provide the missing edge in your athletic
Benefits of Visualization
 Boosts your immune system by reducing cortisol
 Engages the parasympathetic nervous system to induce
extreme relaxation
 Boosts confidence and release stress
How will it improve my athletic performance?
 Establishes a program for perfect performance
 Overcomes limiting beliefs and blocks to peak performance
 Prevents mistakes
 Improves rhythm and focus and help you learn skills more
 Overcomes nerves
 Allows you to heal faster by reducing cortisol
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How to Effectively Visualize
Written by Heidi Fearon
First, keep it simple; 5-10 minutes at a time is plenty to start. As
you do more of it and it becomes easier, you may want to make
more time for it. But in the beginning you probably won’t be able
to concentrate much longer than 10 minutes, so don't pressure
yourself to perform lengthy visualizations right off the bat.
Find a quiet place where you can be undisturbed, preferably
dimly lit. Turn off your phone, close the door and sit or lie down.
Let your breath feel effortless. Allow your thoughts to go – don’t
worry about them, think of them as white noise in the
background. If you become distracted, simply come back to
observing your breath. Your breath is your anchor.
After less than a minute of observing your breath, you’ll have
made the mental “space” to begin visualizing. Now you’re ready
to make the conscious connection between mind and body. Do
this by performing a Scan & Relaxation, or S&R. Start at the top
and scan your scalp & forehead for any tightness, relaxing those
tense spots as you discover them.
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Continue moving down your body; your face, neck, shoulders,
chest, all the way down to your big toe and finishing with your
little toes, scanning and relaxing each piece. This creates a firm
and conscious connection between your mind and body. When
you start out visualizing, it’s important to do this pre-goal work
each time. Just like warming up for a workout, the S&R sets the
stage for how effective your following visualization will be.
Now you can visualize your intention or goal. If it’s a simple
statement of intent, repeat it over and over like a mantra to
yourself silently. Imagine how your body feels as this intention
becomes real and see yourself actualizing the intention. The
more senses you can bring into a visualization, the more
powerful it will be; not just how it feels, but how it sounds, looks,
smells, and tastes.
If it’s an actual goal you are visualizing, imagine every step.
Imagine your breathing being even and full, notice that you are
relaxed but prepared. See every step of the process to achieve
your goal – every footstep, every movement of your body, and
every position you need to hit. See yourself doing it perfectly
with ease and proficiency and notice the confidence in your
execution. Feel the sense of being in the flow.
Once you have seen the event clearly or said the intention over
several times, breathe the truth of the intent or goal being
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achieved into every cell of your body. Know that what you have
seen is your truth and notice any smells, tastes or feelings that
arise. Incorporate as many of your senses as you can naturally.
Frequency and Intensity is More Important than Duration
While you don’t need to visualize for a specific length of time, the
more short and intense sessions you can do, the more it will
help. Research shows it can take 4,000-6,000 iterations to lock
in a new habit! The powerful part of visualization is that those
6,000 iterations won't cost you any physical effort; you can
visualize squatting 300lbs or sets of 50 muscle-ups as many
times as you want without exhausting your muscles.
The more you get in the habit of visualizing the more natural it
will feel and happen quickly. Your body will learn how to be in a
relaxed state as you perform the body scan and you can drop
into the zone faster. Visualization is a form of meditation, and
with greater frequency comes greater potency. Visualizing once
a day will be helpful, but the more often you do it, the more
benefits you'll find. If you can make time for three 10-minute
sessions a day, you should expect to see dramatic results within
the first two weeks.
Start practicing visualization with all of your goals. Visualize
positive outcomes with family, career, or financial goals. It may
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seem silly at first, but you may even try it with something as
seemingly mundane as the sale of a house or a pay raise.
Positive visualization practice will make you a more optimistic
person as you change your habituated pattern towards seeing a
positive outcome and things going your way.
Visualization is a powerful way to manifest your goals and
intentions. But if things turn out differently than you imagined,
stay open to the possibility that the manifestation is actually
better than you could have imagined. Sometimes the universe
offers up a richer dish than even the most creative chef could
have imagined – sink your teeth into what you receive with
gratitude. Trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to
be and getting exactly what you need. There is perfection in all of
this and while these tools are empowering, control is an illusion.
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What words do you hear when you train or compete? Are the
words coming from your internal monologue positive, affirming
and instructive? If not, you could be leaving a lot more
performance on the table than you would ever believe.
One of the tenets of our training at Invictus, whether you are a
beginner or a veteran competitor, is that every member of a
training group will be disciplined and dedicated about
supporting their training partners. Even when the intensity of a
conditioning session seems to have taken an athlete’s soul,
there is an expectation that they can mutter out some words of
encouragement for their peers. This simple act of putting a
positive statement out there not only improves the training
environment for those around you, but also creates a new
language of positivity within you. This little boost of
encouragement can reframe the situation and be the difference
between contenders and champions.
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Below you will learn more about the importance of positive selftalk, and it’s relative – postures of defeat. Mastering how you
carry yourself and the words that resonate through your head
can change you as an athlete almost immediately. Where
physical changes take time to manifest, changing your self-talk
and mindset can happen overnight.
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The Importance of Positive Self-Talk
Written by Calvin Sun
"I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was."
- Muhammad Ali
Self-talk is simply your internal dialogue. Self-talk tends to
diverge into either the positive or the negative variety. You
probably have experienced both varieties of self-talk in your
journey as an athlete. As you can imagine, negative self-talk can
be highly detrimental to athletic performance.
Researchers have found that negative self-talk is highly
correlated with loss in competitive environments. One study
published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology found
that tennis players who engaged in negative self-talk lost points
more frequently and performed poorly compared to those that
engaged in positive self-talk [1]. Anecdotal evidence and
common sense confirm these findings.
There are two main varieties of good self-talk: cognitive and
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Cognitive statements are developed to either enhance
development of fine motor skills or improve execution of
established skills. Research has found that this form of self-talk
is most useful for movements that require fine motor skills such
as Olympic weightlifting or challenging gymnastics movements.
Motivational self-talk can be broken down into three main subcategories: mastery, arousal, and drive statements.
 Mastery statements are
developed to improve focus, selfconfidence, and cope with difficult
 Arousal statements are made to
“psych up” an athlete or to relax an
athlete, depending on the
 Drive statements are developed
to help maintain and/or increase
an athlete’s drive to succeed.
Both cognitive and motivational self-talk has been found to be
effective for both strength and endurance events [2]. In other
studies, researchers have found that motivational self-talk can
significantly increase time to exhaustion in athletes by as much
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as 18% [3]. Motivational self-talk can also reduce the rate of
perceived exertion in athletes, which can result in improved
performance during both strength and endurance events.
Examples of cognitive self-talk:
“Keep your eyes forward”
“Punch the bar up”
“Get your head through”
Examples of motivational self-talk:
“I got this!”
“I’m a winner!”
“This is too easy!”
Both cognitive and motivational self-talk have been found to be
effective for both strength and endurance events [2]. In other
studies, researchers have found that motivational self-talk can
significantly increase time to exhaustion in athletes by as much
as 18% [3]. Motivational self-talk can also reduce the rate of
perceived exertion in athletes, which can result in improved
performance during both strength and endurance events.
1. Van Raalte, Judy L.; Brewer, Britton W.; Rivera, Patricia M.; Petitpas, Albert J.
The relationship between observable self-talk and competitive junior tennis
players' match performances. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, Vol 16(4),
Dec 1994, 400-415.
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2. Theodorakis, Y.; Weinberg, R.; Natsis, P.; Douma, I.; Kazakas, P. The effects of
motivational versus instructional self-talk on improving motor performance.
Sport Psychologist 2000 Vol. 14 No. 3 pp. 253-271.
3. Blanchfield AW, Hardy J, De Morree HM, Staiano W, Marcora SM. Talking
yourself out of exhaustion: the effects of self-talk on endurance performance.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 May; 46(5):998-1007.
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How To Overcome Negative Self-Talk
Written by Calvin Sun
One of the biggest challenges I have seen athletes face is
dealing with their own negative self-talk. You know what I’m
talking about, it’s that little voice in the back of your mind that
questions your abilities and says awful things about you. Things
like “you’re not good enough” or “I can’t do this.” Listen very
carefully to your negative self-talk. Notice which direction it
comes from. Does it come straight at you or is it coming from
above you, behind you, or either side? Is the negative self-talk
even in your own voice? You may be hearing the voice of a
parent, teacher, or former coach in some cases. Identify what’s
going on in your head so that you have some cues that will let
you know when your self-talk starts to drift into the negative
variety. From there, you can implement some techniques to
overcome negative self-talk.
Technique #1: Hit The Mute Button
Get yourself to hear that voice of negative self-talk. As soon as
the first sound starts, imagine you are turning the volume down
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on your TV or hitting the mute button so that the negative voice
is silenced. Replace the negative self-talk with positive self-talk
such as the motivational affirmations mentioned earlier. Repeat
this process until you find that the negative self-talk is
Technique #2: Change The Voice
Another method is to change the voice of the negative self-talk.
When you notice negative self-talk appearing in your mind,
change the voice to something ridiculous like that of a cartoon
character. You’ll probably find it difficult to take the negative talk
very seriously.
Negative self-talk is toxic. It’s limiting, crippling, and harmful to
your performance as well as your health. Try these techniques
and make a conscientious effort to eliminate negative self-talk.
Make sure you take the time and effort to cultivate positive selftalk in your athletic career as well as your life in general.
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Postures of Defeat
Written by C.J. Martin
If I described an individual bent over, hands on knees, head
hanging down with eyes closed or looking straight at the ground,
would it sound like I was describing someone who was thriving,
well on their way to expressing the best version of themselves?
If you see an individual standing tall, chest broad, eyes open and
focused on the task ahead of them, you know they are ready for
whatever comes their way.
Why then is it so common to see athletes bent over, hands on
their knees, staring at the ground in the middle of a competitive
event or training session? Has anything good ever happened to
someone in this position? This is the position one might assume
over porcelain after a long night of being over-served. It’s the
position a child might assume while awaiting the impending
whack of a belt. It is a position of submittal and weakness.
At Invictus we have gone to great lengths, since 2009, to
eliminate “Postures of Defeat.” Postures of defeat are the
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inseparable sidekick of negative self-talk. They are nonverbal
statements that scream, “this sucks, I can’t do this.” They can
come in many forms, but nearly every version of a posture of
defeat involves the body closing in on itself, as if reverting to the
fetal position. This can be taking a knee, sitting down, bowing
the head – chin to chest, or most common, bending over with
hands on knees. It’s our nonverbal way of saying we feel
vulnerable and weak, and it’s how we retreat to protect
Social psychologists Amy Cuddy and Dana Carney have pointed
out that postures of high and low confidence are nearly universal
[1]. Regardless of religion, economics or societal norms,
humans with high confidence assume the same postures. For
that matter, you don’t even have to be human; the entire animal
kingdom recognizes the same principles of postures of
confidence. For humans and animals alike, the postures of
victory and pride are expansive and open, making us appear as
big as possible. This is engrained in our DNA, as Jessica Tracy
noted in her study of those who were born congenitally blind and
display the exact same postures when they win at physical
competitions [2]. Having never seen anyone assume these
postures before, they still exhibit these same postures of pride.
Postures of defeat and low confidence are similarly universal; we
get small, we turn inward, we round our shoulders and drop our
heads to protect our most vulnerable organs. As a coach, I will
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go to great lengths to get my athletes in the habit of avoiding
postures of defeat. These postures have dire physical and
psychological consequences.
When we started banishing postures of defeat at Invictus in
2009, I hadn’t studied the psychology or physiology of these
postures, I only knew from experience that when I saw athletes
assume these positions they were weak and mentally breaking
(or broken). I knew that to keep them moving, and to provide any
effective coaching cues or motivation, I needed athletes to stand
tall and look at me or look directly at the task in front of them.
Since then, we’ve learned a lot about the depth of the physical
consequences associated with these postures of defeat. Cuddy
and Carney’s study actually shows that postures of defeat alter
blood chemistry almost instantly. In their controlled study, they
showed significant changes to both testosterone and cortisol
levels in just two minutes of assuming a posture of either high or
low confidence. Participants gave a baseline saliva sample, and
were then asked to assume a posture – either sitting tall with
chest up, or slumping with shoulders rounded. The results in just
two minutes showed that those who sat tall had increased
testosterone and decreased cortisol – the stress hormone.
Those who assumed the slouched, low power, defeated posture
showed a drop in testosterone and rise of cortisol.
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More importantly for the purposes of our sport, standing tall
allows for much better oxygen intake! In the middle of a nasty
conditioning session or event, I want an athlete to get as much
oxygen as possible. Standing up straight opens up an athlete’s
chest cavity and allows for a more natural and full expansion of
the lungs, which can increase oxygen intake by up to 30 percent
or more. That is a massive difference in a sport like ours that will
have even the most well conditioned athletes gasping for air.
If the physical consequences of assuming a posture of defeat
haven’t convinced you already, consider the psychological
ramifications. As mentioned previously, the association of the
typical posture of defeat – bent over, hands on knees, head
down – to virtually any other circumstance is not positive, but
rather downright undesirable. Not surprisingly, posture itself
changes self-confidence. A 2009 study published in the
European Journal of Social Psychology asked students to rate
themselves on certain professional traits; those who sat with an
upright posture were much more confident in their assessments
– rating themselves either higher or lower than their slumping
counterparts, who gave themselves middling scores [3]. Their
posture alone demonstrated improved confidence in their own
Science be damned, we should all understand that how you
carry yourself in the midst of a workout – or any of life’s
challenges – will play a great role in determining the outcome.
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Those who approach the situation with their chest up and eyes
forward are those who look for solutions to overcome the
obstacle, while those who cower and close in on themselves are
retreating from the reality of the situation. In order to overcome
whatever challenge is in front of you, you must stiffen your spine,
stand tall and move forward.
How We Changed Invictus Athletes’ Body Language
Understanding that your postures of defeat are a problem is only
part of the equation; breaking the habit is the true battle.
Breaking bad habits takes time and repetition. As a coach, I
never expect an athlete to fix a bad habit in competition…that’s
what training is for. To give our athletes plenty of practice
maintaining confident postures throughout competition, we’ve
instituted three rules for training at Invictus.
The first training rule is that everyone helps support the cause.
It’s not only the coach’s job to remind athletes to maintain high
confidence postures, but rather, it’s incumbent on every training
partner in the gym to keep their peers honest. Whether you’re
watching a training session of our most competitive athletes or
beginner athletes who just finished Fundamentals, it’s not rare to
hear multiple voices say in unison, “chest up!” – reminding an
athlete to convey confidence when they least want to do so.
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The second training rule is that the athlete must rest with their
eyes open – chest up, eyes open. This is extremely important for
our athletes. If you’ve ever been to the SoCal Regionals or the
CrossFit Games you have probably seen a massive column of
green t-shirts. That is the Invictus Sea of Green, a powerful
community of hundreds of our members who are there for the
sole purpose of cheering on and supporting our athletes in
competition. The power of looking up from the arena floor to see
hundreds of your friends and family members cheering you on
cannot be overstated. The problem with athletes who assume
postures of defeat and/or close their eyes is that they
completely negate the boost that this crowd of support can give
them. When standing tall with open eyes, however, the athlete
finds motivation, encouragement and support in the crowd or
from their training partners. The athlete also can see the field of
competitors and the task in front of him/her, which allows them
to compete to regain a few spots or hold off oncoming
The third training rule is that Invictus athletes are asked to rest
with their “shins against the bar.” A major pet peeve of mine is
watching an athlete walk away from the equipment or apparatus
on which they should be doing work. Let me provide an example
from the 2012 CrossFit Games regional qualifiers. My favorite
event that year required athletes to complete a 2000 meter row,
50 alternating pistols and 30 hang cleans with a relatively heavy
weight – 225/135 lbs. Athletes dealt with the hang cleans in a
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wide variety of strategies, some opting for large sets followed by
a longer rest period, and others with smaller sets and less rest.
Before the event Invictus athlete Val Voboril expressed a lot of
concern with how she would handle the weight compared to
physically stronger females like Lindsey Valenzuela, Rebecca
Voigt, Kris Clever, Katie Hogan, Andrea Ager and a host of other
incredible female athletes from Southern California. She knew
that she couldn’t string together multiple reps the way the other
women could. I asked her to do one simple thing – keep her
shins against the barbell. I asked her to keep her sets small – no
more than 3 reps, but to be relentless about hovering over the
barbell so that she could get back to work as soon as she felt
recovered enough to move the barbell again. Val did exactly that.
While the other women knocked out sets of 6 or more hang
cleans at times, then stepped away from the barbell to chalk
their hands and breathe, Val kept her sets to doubles and triples
and pressed her shins to the barbell when she was resting. The
result of her focus and discipline applying this one simple rule
was a first place finish in the very event that she was concerned
would eliminate her from contention. Her performance that
weekend earned her a return to the CrossFit Games, where she
would place 5th overall – despite giving birth to her daughter less
than a year earlier and breastfeeding between events and in the
middle of the nights through the Games weekend [4].
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“Shins against the bar” is a mindset with a tactile cue to keep you
honest. Not every event or training session will involve a barbell,
but whatever the task is, you must stay right at it, move toward it
and confront it. Stepping away or turning your back is retreat,
and has no place in the competitive arena. Our sport requires
that you move forward at all times. You can rest when necessary,
but resting at your workstation will keep your rest short and your
mind strong.
Remember in the midst of your most difficult event or training
session that mental toughness is displaying confidence and
courage when it’s most difficult to do so. Consider William
Ernest Henley writing “Invictus” from his hospital bed, affirming
that whether his second leg was taken from him or his body
failed him entirely, his soul would remain unconquerable and
unbroken. It’s during times like these, when you feel as if you
can’t move forward, that it’s most important to avoid postures of
defeat and remind yourself that chest up, eyes open and shins
against the bar will give you the confidence and ability to get
through the challenge.
1. Professor Amy Cuddy’s biography and full list of publications can be found
here: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?
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You should also check out her TED talk on this subject here:
2. Professor Tracy’s full publication of this study can be found here:
3.Briñ ol, P., Petty, R.E., & Wagner, B. (2009). Body posture effects on selfevaluation: A self-validation approach. European Journal of Social Psychology,
39, 1053-1064.
4. I believe an entire book should be written about Val Voboril, who is one of the
most inspiring athletes I have ever been blessed to work with. Her understanding
of her purpose and priorities is unshakeable, and it enables her to maximize her
training time to get the most out of her genetic potential. In competition, her
ability to focus and follow a game plan is out of this world, and the reason she
has finished on the podium at the CrossFit Games twice, and finished in the top
5 four consecutive years. She epitomizes the Invictus Mindset.
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Have you ever noticed that some athletes do great in training
and practice but seem to choke in competition? Maybe you have
personally experienced this as an athlete; a skill you can nail
every time in practice somehow falls apart in the competition
environment, or maybe your performance is sub-par compared
to what you’ve done in training. If that’s the case, it’s highly likely
that you have struggled with controlling your anxiety.
Controlling your anxiety before major events is a delicate
balance; top performers can neither be too excited nor too
sedate before entering the competitive arena. Optimizing anxiety
states is an essential skill for athletes seeking to perform to their
peak potential.
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Understanding Optimal Arousal States
Written by Calvin Sun
There’s no shortage of stressors in competition - the noise of
the crowd, your coach yelling at you from the sidelines, and
judges waiting for you to make a mistake are some of the more
common ones we’ve witnessed as CrossFit coaches. Stressful
situations tend to trigger emotional reactions like fear, anxiety,
anger and other negative mindsets. They also tend to trigger
physiological symptoms like butterflies in your stomach,
elevated heart rate, shaky hands, and dilated pupils. These
reactions are all normal of the autonomic nervous system. The
problem is when the arousal level is too high. Left untamed, the
arousal response can negatively impact abilities like critical
thinking, decision-making, and fine motor skills. These abilities
are all obviously very important to an athlete, whether in training
or in competition.
Some athletes are able to perform optimally irrespective to their
environment. These also tend to be the same athletes you find at
the top of the leader board in any category.
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What Separates The Top Performers From Everyone Else?
High-performance athletes have mastered controlling their
emotional state. They know how to manage their arousal level so
that they rarely experience the anxiety, stress, and fear that
tends to impede the performance of other athletes who, on a
physical level, are equally capable and talented.
In 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dodson
established an empirical relationship between arousal and
performance that is now known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law.
Quite simply, too much or too little arousal results in poor
performance. Too little arousal results in the athlete being too
relaxed or laid back. Too much arousal results in the athlete
becoming anxious, panicked, or stressed. The optimal level is
right in the middle where the athlete is “in the zone.”
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The Optimal Level Will Also Vary Based On The Skill
Different skills require varying levels of arousal for optimal
performance. If the movement is complex and requires fine
motor skill, the optimal level of arousal will be lower compared to
a gross motor skill that is relatively simple. For example,
performing a muscle-up doesn’t require you to be “psyched up”
in the same way you would be for a one-rep max deadlift.
What Works For Your Training Partner Might Not Work For You
Optimal arousal levels will also vary between athletes. That’s why
one athlete might prefer to warm-up while listening to Mozart
and Vivaldi, while another prefers Pantera and Megadeath, or
vice versa. For these same reasons, one athlete might prefer the
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frenetic energy of competition while another finds themselves
over stimulated and performing poorly. Fortunately, there are
ways of managing your arousal level to optimize your
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How To Control Your State
Written by Calvin Sun
Your state of mind plays a highly influential role in how you
perceive the challenges that you will undoubtedly encounter in
training or competition.
If you find yourself in the “sub-optimal zone,” you’ll want to
practice using some techniques to increase your arousal state.
Positive self-talk and visualization can be great ways to increase
your arousal level. Emotive music, pictures, or videos can also
be helpful to get you into the optimal zone. On the other hand, if
you find yourself in the “stress zone” you’ll want to use some of
our recommended techniques for decreasing arousal. The idea
here is stay in the optimal zone for performance.
Decreasing Arousal, Method #1: Breath Control
One of the most effective methods for managing arousal state is
simply using breath control. Diaphragmatic breathing can elicit a
physiological relaxation response. When performed correctly,
you can voluntarily interrupt the “fight or flight” response of your
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sympathetic nervous system and activate the “rest and digest”
response of your parasympathetic nervous system.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Find a comfortable space where you can sit or lie down.
2. Breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose, filling your
lungs for about 4 seconds.
3. Slowly breathe out for another 4 seconds.
4. Repeat for at least 10 more breaths or until you can feel your
state returning to baseline.
Try it the next time you feel those butterflies in your stomach or
when your anxiety level starts to affect your ability to perform.
Decreasing Arousal, Method #2: Meditation
Meditation is another fantastic way to calm the mind, improve
focus, cope with stress, and enhance your mental game as an
athlete. C.J. and I are fans of “Headspace,” a smart phone
application you can download and use to train your mind. Of
course there are many other free resources online that teach
you the basics of meditation. Feel free to experiment and find
what works best for you. We recommend starting and/or ending
your day with about 15 to 20 minutes of meditation. Try it and
see how it improves your mental performance.
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Decreasing Arousal, Method #3:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple technique that
involves tensing specific muscle groups and then relaxing them
to give yourself awareness of tension and relaxation. This can be
combined with other techniques such as visualization and
meditation as well.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Find a comfortable space where you can sit or lie down.
2. Focus on your breathing, similar to meditation, and give
yourself the mental space for this exercise.
3. Starting from the top of your head, tense and relax each
muscle group until you reach your toes. Eyes, cheeks, jaw, neck,
shoulders, arms, hands, back, stomach, hips, glutes, quads,
calves, feet, and toes.
4. Scan for any remaining tension while continuing to relax
throughout your body.
Try practicing this technique before bed to get accustomed to it.
Give it a shot the next time you find yourself too tense in
between events at your next competition.
In addition to these techniques, there are three elements to
consider when managing your state.
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Body Language: Avoid Postures of Defeat
There are certain emotional states that are inextricably tied to
the physiology of your body language. For example, try slumping
down in your chair, letting your shoulders roll forward, and look
down at the ground. Put a frown on your face and now imagine
you have just been asked to do the one thing you hate doing the
most. How do you feel?
Now try standing up tall, shoulders back, and head held high. Put
a big smile on your face and try to feel sad or sorry for yourself in
this position. It’s difficult, if not impossible. How does this
posture feel compared to other one?
As C.J. mentioned in the previous chapter, we coach our
athletes to avoid what we call “postures of defeat.” In training
and competition, we encourage them not to bend over, bow their
heads, and stare at the ground. Instead, we suggest that they
stand tall in a “posture of victory,” chest up, shoulders back, and
eyes looking forward.
Focus: Don’t Fixate On Negatives
What you focus on will certainly affect your mental and emotional
states. You can choose to focus on the negative things or you
can focus on the positive things. If you are in the middle of a
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tough workout, you could choose to focus on how
uncomfortable you are feeling or you could choose to focus on
how you only have a few reps left to go and that you have
accomplished so much already. The choice is entirely yours.
Language: Reinforce Positive Self-Talk
We’ve already covered the topic of self-talk and it’s worth
repeating here. The language you choose will have an immediate
impact on your state. “This sucks,” “I hate doing…[insert your
least favorite exercise],” “Why are we doing this again?” are all
examples of poor language that can put you in a negative state.
Better language might be something like, “How can I learn from
this?”, “What’s great about this situation?”, or “What can I do to
Arousal control and state management are essential skills for
any athlete that wants to be able to perform at the highest level
possible. Start paying attention to your emotional state in your
training. Do you notice any consistent patterns? Start making an
active effort to manage your state in your training or anytime you
feel stressed or overwhelmed. It’s a skill you must master.
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Syncing Psychological & Physiological Arousal
For Competition
Written by C.J. Martin
Most athletes understand the importance of preparing their
bodies for competition with an effective pre-event warm-up, but
far fewer athletes even consider syncing their psychological
preparation with their physical preparation. Syncing
psychological and physiological arousal states creates
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congruence that allows athletes to more effectively control and
optimize their arousal states leading up to an event. Here are
some guidelines that we have effectively used to prepare our
athletes for the best competitive performances of their lives.
Every athlete is unique, and thus, every athlete’s warm-up should
be individualized to their needs and style. Nonetheless, all warmup protocols should follow some guiding principles of
progression in both physical and mental preparedness. The
chart and timeline below represent the general guidelines by
which I want Invictus athletes planning how they approach their
pre-event warm-ups. Please use these as guidelines, not hard
and fast rules, to consider and design your optimal pre-event
warm-up strategy.
When utilizing these guidelines, athletes must always consider
the nature of the event for which they are preparing. Athletes will
need to prepare much differently for a 2-hour triathlon than they
will need to prepare for a 3-minute sprint through deadlifts and
box jumps. Consideration must be given to the nature of the
event on both the physical and psychological preparation.
Generally speaking, the longer the event, the lower the state of
excitation the athlete should achieve in warm-up – both
physically and psychologically. On the other hand, for events
that are short and fast, athletes should be sweaty, hot and
energetic – maybe even slightly agitated.
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Finally, the athlete and coach must also consider the athlete’s
demeanor and characteristics around competition. Athletes who
exhibit tendencies to become over-excited and anxious in
competition may need to suppress excitement and extend the
calm breathing states of the warm-up until much closer to the
time of the event. Athletes who tend to be reserved and
withdrawn through competition – a common and natural way to
mitigate competition anxiety – will likely need to be more
physically active and mentally engaged throughout the warm-up.
Pre-Event Physiological and Psychological Planning
60 Minutes Out from Event (or Call to Corral)
Duration of Phase: 0-10 Minutes
Physical State and Activity: General Movement for Circulation
Athletes should be selecting movements that require no skill or
thought, and generally speaking should be low impact,
concentric-focused activities. Examples include, but are not
limited to:
Watt Bike (light spinning)
AirDyne (smooth and easy)
Rowing (60-65% of 500 meter pace)
Jogging (easy, meditative pace)
Psychological State and Activity: Relaxed and Calm
During this time the athlete should be jovial, enjoying company
of friends and the surrounding environment. Their focus should
not be on the competition, but rather enjoying a little bit of an
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escape from constantly thinking about what is to come – or what
has already occurred.
Athletes should be conscious of with whom they associate
during this time. Preferably they are surrounded by positive
individuals with whom they share interests outside of CrossFit.
Conversations should be light-hearted and unassociated with
50 Minutes Out from Event (or Call to Corral)
Duration of Phase: 10-15 Minutes
Physical State and Activity: 3-4 Priority Area Mobility Drills
Athletes should be aware from their training process of the 3-4
mobility drills that most effectively address their individual
mobility restrictions. These are areas that they should be
addressing on a daily basis in training, and thus the 3-4 drills
selected during this phase of the warm-up should be the exact
same drills selected each day of training. This helps establish a
routine that is familiar to the athlete as well as addressing known
physical issues for the athlete.
Psychological State and Activity: Meditative and Focused
At this point, the athlete should be transitioning into a calm,
focused mental state. They should be conscious of their
breathing, which should be slow and controlled. As the athlete
mobilizes they should be keeping their breathing at a 3-4
seconds in, 3-4 seconds out rhythm. The athlete’s mind should
be clear – not yet considering the particulars of the event, just
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relaxed and allowing thoughts to come and go without judgment
or attention. Their focus should be directed toward how their
body feels and what muscle groups need to be addressed
and/or relaxed. It can be useful for athletes to actively scan their
body to notice rigidity, and then make a conscious effort to relax
and exhale tension from those areas.
35 Minutes Out from Event (or Call to Corral)
Duration of Phase: 5-10 Minutes
Physical State and Activity: 2-3 Movement-Specific Mobility
During this phase of the warm-up, athletes should be giving
consideration to the specific movements of the event. The
movements tested in the event should act as a guide triggering
the athlete to address specific mobility restrictions. For example,
if the movements include overhead barbell work, athletes may
need to pay extra attention to their thoracic mobility and tight
lats. If the movements include squatting patterns, athletes may
need to spend extra time on external rotation of the hip and tight
hip flexors.
Psychological State and Activity: Meditative and Visualizing
Performance of Movements
The athlete’s meditative state that was established in the
preceding stage of the warm-up should be continued, but their
focus should begin to shift to visualizing the performance of the
movements in the upcoming event. Athletes should be
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visualizing performing the movement and “feeling” what it will
feel like to identify areas of restriction that might make them
more or less efficient. Athletes should also feel free to move
through those ranges of motion intermittently between their
mobility drills to determine if they’re addressing the proper
25 Minutes Out from Event (or Call to Corral)
Duration of Phase: 10-15 Minutes
Physical State and Activity: Pre-Set Dynamic Range of Motion
All athletes should have a pre-set dynamic range of motion
routine that they perform on a daily basis before training. This
routine should be so familiar to the athlete that they can repeat it
almost sub-consciously, allowing their body to progress through
the various movements as if on auto-pilot. This routine should
take the athlete the exact same amount of time every time it is
performed – whether in training or in competition. Performing a
familiar routine helps the athlete maintain consistency and a
relative state of calm.
Psychological State and Activity: Excited and Visualizing
Performance of Event
The athlete’s mindset should now turn toward excitement.
Breathing should now be natural and uncontrolled – just rhythmic
in pattern with the athlete’s movements. They should be eager to
perform in the event and visualizing how they want to move.
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They should focus their visualization on efficiently performing the
individual movements, considering how they will breath and feel
in transitions between movements, and even how they will act
upon successfully finishing the event in keeping with their game
The athlete doesn’t have to visualize the “perfect” performance,
but rather should visualize the “perfect” mindset. It’s ok to
visualize something going wrong – a “no-rep” or missed attempt
– as long as the visualization includes how the athlete wants to
respond to remedy the problem to finish the event within their
goal time. Keeping this in mind is particularly helpful for athletes
who struggle to keep their mind clean and positive amidst
competition anxiety. It’s ok for negative thoughts to slip in, but
treat them as you would want to treat a problem in competition –
overcome the obstacle and finish strong.
15 Minutes Out from Event (or Call to Corral)
Duration of Phase: 5-10 Minutes
Physical State and Activity: Event-Specific Movements and
Build to Event Loads
Now is the time to dig into the movements that will be tested in
the event. Athletes should be using this time to build the loads
up to the competition loads – and in some cases maybe even
slightly heavier than what will be tested in competition. Generally
speaking, athletes should start light and perform the movements
with optimal efficiency, slowly building the load and speed of
movement up to the event loading and pace of movement.
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Psychological State and Activity: Increased Excitement and
“Feeling” the Event Performance
The athlete should be “feeling” the movements as if they were
performing them in the event. Their level of excitement and
energy should mimic the needs of the event. Generally speaking,
the shorter the event, the athlete should be more excited and
5-10 Minutes Out from Event (or Call to Corral)
Duration of Phase: 3-5 Minutes
Physical State and Activity: Speed of Movement and EventSpecific Transitions
Athletes should now practice the speed of movement and
mindset that they will employ in the event itself. They should also
be practicing transitions from one movement to the other,
practicing their shift in mindset as they shift physical skills. One
successful way to do this is to perform a set or a few sets of low
reps of the movements in the order in which they are tested in
the event. For example, before “Fran” the athlete might perform 6
quick thrusters, 6 quick pull-ups, 4 thrusters, 4 pull-ups, 2
thrusters and 2 pull-ups. The movement pace should mimic the
desired pace in competition, as should the transitions.
Psychological State and Activity: Excited and Ready!
The athlete should be excited and focused on executing their
game plan at this point. Personal mantras should be familiar – as
should statements from coaches. Consistency here keeps the
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athlete’s mind focused and excited to perform. No new
information should be introduced at this point – the athlete
should be prepared to walk into the arena and perform without
Pre-Event Physiological and Psychological Planning Chart
Physical State and Activity
Psychological State and Activity
60-Minutes Out from Event
General Movement for
Relaxed and Calm
50-Minutes Out from Event
3-4 Priority Area Mobility
Meditative and Focused
35-Minutes Out from Event
2-3 Movement-Specific
Meditative and Visualizing
Mobility Drills
Performance of Movements
25-Minutes Out from Event
Pre-Set Dynamic Range of
Excited and Visualizing
Motion Routine
Performance of Event
15-Minutes Out from Event
Event-Specific Movements
Increased Excitement and
and Build to Event Loads
“Feeling” the Event Performance
5-10 Minutes Out from Event
Speed of Movement and
Event-Specific Transitions
Excited and Ready!
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“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and
confidence in the doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Confidence is essential to any athlete who wants to be
successful. It serves as the foundation to the mental toughness
we see in all top performers in sports, business, and life. You
must develop a high-level of confidence if you wish to be truly
successful in all areas of your life.
You must have absolute certainty in your abilities. Those fears
and doubts in your mind have a tendency to arise at the most
inconvenient moments. Low confidence will prevent you from
taking the actions necessary to achieve your desired outcomes.
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Eliminate the Symptoms of Low Self-Confidence
Written by Calvin Sun
Have you ever wanted to start your own business but didn’t act
because you were afraid it would not be successful? Have you
have ever passed up on talking to someone you were attracted
to because you feared rejection? Have you ever allowed fear to
prevent you from pushing your limits in training or competition?
What opportunities did you miss as a result? How much regret
do you feel now? While it is impossible to entirely eliminate fear,
it’s well within your capabilities to align with your fear and control
it rather than let it control you.
Symptoms of Low Self-Confidence
Making Excuses For Yourself
People with low confidence tend to make excuses for
themselves. “I can’t do that because…,” “I’m too short,” “I’m too
tall,” “I’m too young,” “I’m too old,” “I don’t have the right
genetics,” “I don’t have the money or resources,” and worst of all,
“I’m not good enough.” It’s a means for you to justify not taking
action. What’s worse is that if you make the same excuses over
and over, they can become ingrained in your mind as self103
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limiting beliefs. Stop making excuses for why you can’t and start
finding reasons for why you must.
Attention Seeking Behavior
Insecurity tends to manifest in different ways. Showing off,
whining, and complaining are common ways people with low
confidence like to seek external validation. Truly confident
people don’t need to seek the approval of others. If you want to
develop more confidence, stop seeking the approval of others
and learn to validate yourself.
People with low confidence often resort to destructive behaviors
to deal with their feelings of inadequacy. Drug addictions,
alcohol abuse, and other deleterious behaviors are used as
coping mechanisms.
Feeling Sorry For Yourself
Self-pity is the tip of the iceberg that is disappointment and
defeat. When a person begins to feel sorry for him or herself,
contemplation of quitting is quick to follow.
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Ways To Improve Your Confidence
Face Your Fears
Fear keeps us from moving forward and taking action. You must
overcome your fears. Think about the negative consequences of
not overcoming your fears. What will you miss out on? What will
you never achieve because you were too fearful? Everyone
experiences fear in some form: fear of rejection, fear of failure,
fear of success (i.e., how I can handle the pressure and continue
to perform at a high level), fear of love, fear of being alone, or
fear of the unknown. Fear is a part of the human condition,
allowing it to control you is not. Learn to use fear instead of
letting it use you.
Anticipate and Embrace Challenges
Challenges and setbacks are inevitable in life. Do you view these
as obstacles to your success? Or do you view these challenges
as opportunities to learn and grow? Most successful people
likely have a perspective similar to the latter. Challenges will
come no matter what, but you have the choice to view them as
positive or negative.
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a
difficult one.” - Bruce Lee
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Destroy Your Self-Limiting Beliefs
What beliefs do you have about yourself that hinder you from
progress? “I’m not good enough,” “Money is hard to come by,” “I
don’t deserve it,” “I’m too old to start,” “I’m too young to apply,”
“Nothing good ever happens to me.” Identify the beliefs that
don’t serve you in achieving your goals and ask yourself if they
are actually true. Annihilate those limiting beliefs and replace
them with empowering ones.
Visualize Your Success
We’ve thoroughly discussed the importance of visualization. It’s a
very powerful tool for helping you develop self-confidence. Take
a moment to visualize yourself being successful and achieving
your goals. How do you stand? How do you breathe? How do
you feel? Take note of all those things and make them a part of
your daily routine.
“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the
race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you
have started.” – Marcus Garvey
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The Power of Belief
Written by Calvin Sun
A belief is a feeling of certainty about something. To become a
successful athlete, you must have absolute certainty that you
are capable of achieving at the highest levels. A large part of
whether you believe you can increase your abilities is dictated by
your mindset and beliefs. Do you view intelligence and talent as
something innate and static? Or do you view it as something that
can be increased through hard
work and effective learning
In her book “Mindset,”
Stanford professor Carol
Dweck describes how beliefs
can impact an individual’s
ability to succeed. Dweck describes how an individual can be
categorized as having a fixed mindset or growth mindset based
on what they believe to be the source of their abilities.
I have the tremendous privilege of coaching and training with an
incredibly diverse range of athletes at Invictus. We have found
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that the ‘masters’ have some distinctly different attitudes and
beliefs from the ‘disasters.’ The ‘disasters’ believe that abilities
and talents are either born into them or they are not. They have a
fixed mindset. I remember one athlete commenting after one of
their training partners made a successful lift, “You are lucky to be
so strong.” I explained to him that it was not a matter of luck or
being gifted but rather that his partner’s abilities were the result
of years and years of focused effort. He seemed uncertain about
my answer.
Common Symptoms of a Fixed Mindset
 Avoid challenges
 Give up easily
 Frequently view efforts as useless
 Ignore constructive feedback
 Feel threatened by the success of others
 Tendency to lie about results
Those with a fixed mindset never achieve their full potential.
They adopt a static view of the world and are more concerned
with how others perceive them. They have trouble visualizing
themselves as successful because their subconscious beliefs
prevent them from doing so.
The ‘masters’ have a much different belief system. These are the
most successful athletes because they always look for ways to
grow their talents and abilities. In the same situation, an athlete
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with a growth mindset might ask something along the lines of,
“What programs did you use to increase your strength?” or
“Could you give me some feedback on how I can improve?”
People with a growth mindset naturally seek out ways to improve
Common Characteristics of a Growth Mindset
 Embrace and seek out challenges
 Persistence despite setbacks
 View their efforts as a path to mastery
 Learn from constructive criticism
 Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others
Adopting a growth mindset will challenge you to find better
answers to increasing your capabilities. You will be able to
anticipate challenges and look forward to the learning and
growth that will inevitably occur from these trials. When
combined with the techniques we’ve outlined in this book, you
can make drastic improvements to your self-confidence.
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A Case for the 11th Fitness Domain: Self-Confidence
Written by Invictus Athlete Justin Nahama
What do Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Josh Bridges and Kris
Clever all have in common – aside from being generally
awesome and having a huge fan base? While these individuals,
like each of us, differ in background, strengths, weaknesses,
shape and size, they all share at least one common
characteristic: the ability to maintain self-confidence in the face
of adversity or “failure.” While self-confidence is not one of
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CrossFit’s 10 fitness domains/general physical skills, I fullheartedly believe it is an integral part of the foundation for
success in our quest to improve personally, professionally and
Webster’s Dictionary provides four definitions of the noun
“confidence.” The key definition for our purposes is “a feeling or
consciousness of one’s powers, or of reliance on one’s
circumstances.” This definition taps into the driving force behind
self-confidence: we are in the driver’s seat. Failure is a relative
term. Unfortunately, we often use the term failure and
disappointment interchangeably. When you hit the bottom of
your third thruster with twelve more ahead of you during the
second round of Fran, that little voice in your head will usually
start whispering something to the effect of “you suck.” Likewise,
that inner voice whispers similar sweet nothings if your
professional work is not up to par or your 15-month-old son
does a reverse swan dive off the couch (I caught him…). While
disappointment is part of life (and actually quite healthy if you
are setting challenging goals), characterizing disappointment as
failure is unnecessary. It is the kryptonite to maintaining selfconfidence.
While I lack the experience and wisdom of C.J. and our stellar
coaching staff at Invictus, I can make one guarantee based on
my personal journey: not everything in life can be completed
unbroken. At some point, everyone will drop the bar. Whether it
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is in the gym, at work or at home, it will happen. The opportunity
for negative self-talk will invariably ensue and you will be at a
crossroads. The easy and tempting path is to honor that
negative self-talk, which is a road peppered with self-indignation
and excuses. “I missed a few weeks of training, I can’t go back.”
“I need another minute before I pick the bar back up.” “I ate
terrible while I was traveling, I’m done with my nutrition plan.”
Sound familiar? This path is a one-way ticket to a decrease in
confidence and self-worth. Moreover, this path will, with very few
exceptions, spill over into other areas of your life and impede
your overall happiness, health and well-being. By no
coincidence, one of the examples Webster’s provides of using
“confidence” in the proper context is “He lacked the confidence
to succeed.”
The other, more challenging path is one ripe with opportunity.
Can you acknowledge that you, and you alone, are in the driver’s
seat? Can you silence that inner voice and genuinely believe that
each “failure” presents a new opportunity to dig in and overcome
that obstacle? When you get kicked to the ground, do you get up
because you have to (although C.J. would probably let you sleep
in the gym if you asked) or because you are hungry to regroup
and move on to the next challenge? Are you happy with
complacency or do you seek out challenges? The decision to
take control and maintain our self-confidence in the wake of any
shortcoming will play a pivotal role in our ability to succeed in the
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future. I submit that this skill or “domain” is equally as important
as learning the proper mechanics of a deadlift or clean.
A common misconception equates physical appearance with
confidence. Those who buy into this media-fueled notion are
deeply misguided. Anyone can wear flashy clothes, a fancy
watch, and buy the latest and most expensive CrossFit gear. But
even the most expensive clothing, an extravagant Rolex, and the
lightest Inov-8’s will do little to appease that inner voice when an
individual falls short of a goal or is genuinely challenged. During
a partner workout where one partner works while the other
endures some form of physical stressor (holding kettlebells,
etc.), I want the guy/gal with heart and confidence, not cool
A former professor of mine who has served for decades as a
federal judge in Boston put it quite simply. During a trial
advocacy class, the judge was discussing confidence in the
courtroom. He shared an example of how he taught his
grandkids to maintain their confidence in the wake of “parental
adversity.” When his grandkids would spill something at dinner
or fight over a toy, he would say “WHOGAS!” (pronounced “whogas”) in a playful voice when the kids looked to him for
reassurance. His grandkids picked up on the underlying
message, learned their lesson and trudged forward. While the
judge’s son and daughter-in-law always thought that WHOGAS
was a silly word to make their kids laugh, the judge never shared
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that WHOGAS was short for “Who Gives A Sh*t?” The point of his
story was simple, but well received. When you drop the barbell
or spill the drink, in the gym or in life, you have to ask yourself
WHOGAS. Is breaking up your thrusters or disappointing your
boss really a bad thing if you can use it as an opportunity for
growth? Learn from the experience and trudge ahead. Within
adversity or “failure” lies the opportunity to get stronger.
Success stories of individuals with an uncanny ability to maintain
self-confidence in the face of adversity are woven throughout
history and deeply engrained in our evolving CrossFit culture.
Michael Jordan’s unforgettable “failure” commercial illustrates
the point perfectly. Similarly, Steve Jobs’s 2005 commencement
speech at Stanford crystallizes the importance of maintaining
self-confidence. Can you imagine the internal monologue that
went on after being fired from a company you literally started
and invested your life in? Was missing a personal record on
today’s workout really that bad?
In the CrossFit arena, I can only assume that Josh Bridges was
not mentally high-fiving himself after the second event at the
2011 Games – when he threw the softball a long distance, but
out of bounds twice to receive a score of zero on the event.
Regardless, Josh stood his ground, maintained his selfconfidence, crushed the remaining events and wound up on the
podium. Josh eludes to the importance of self-confidence in his
essay, “Breaking The Mental Barrier,” by providing insight into
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his strategies to deflate that inner voice and “break through the
mental barrier.”
As another example in the CrossFit arena, Kris Clever, whether
she liked it or not, became the face and inspiration for countless
female athletes after winning the Games in 2010. Like Michael
Jordan in a playoff game, the CrossFit community silently
expected perfection every time Kris competed. While Kris clearly
deals brilliantly with pressure, at least on the surface, I guarantee
she chooses the right path when confronted with adversity.
Kris’s continuing ability to perform is a true testament to her
willingness to maintain her self-confidence despite countless
challenges. I had the privilege of attending my Level 1
certification course with Kris a few years ago. After paying our
dues to Fran, Kris had the same infectious smile on her face that
she shared from the podium the past several years and will
continue to display in the future.
In conclusion, confidence is an unwavering belief in yourself,
regardless of external or internal criticism, when you are
confronted with adversity. The critical question the next time you
“drop the barbell,” whether it involves a project at work, the gym
or your young son ignoring gravity, is how will you let it affect
you? When your moment comes, stand your ground, believe in
yourself and success will follow.
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Thoughts On Mental Toughness
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a
lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of
will.” -Vince Lombardi
We have included some essays from athletes and coaches in
our community with their thoughts on mental toughness. Their
experiences and insights are invaluable to anyone who wishes to
understand and develop their own mental toughness. As C.J.
mentioned earlier, the Invictus mindset is a commitment to
maintaining control of your destiny without regard for the
obstacles and hardships that are laid on your path. These
individuals have applied this mindset to their own lives to
achieve their own goals and success.
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Visions & Circumstances: Motivation from
Coach Chuck Pagano
Written by C.J. Martin
We talk to our athletes a lot about mindset and the nearly
limitless power of the mind to control how we act and react to
whatever is dealt our way. It is what “Invictus” is all about – an
unconquerable soul undeterred by even the worst
circumstances. Of course, as powerful as the Invictus mindset
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can be in athletic competition, it’s even more powerful when
confronted with life’s most undesirable circumstances –
sickness, disaster and other hardships.
Chuck Pagano, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, delivered a
brilliant and emotional speech to his team after their come-frombehind victory against the Miami Dolphins. For those that do not
know, Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia just 3 games
into the 2012 NFL season. He tailored his speech toward the
guys on his football team, but his speech was about much, much
more. It is about a mindset, commitment and dedication to a
vision regardless of the obstacles or circumstances
encountered along the way.
“I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a
vision and you weren’t living in circumstances,” Pagano said.
“Because you know where they had us in the beginning. Every
last one of them. But you refused to live in circumstances and
you decided consciously as a team and as a family to live in a
vision. And that’s why you bring things home like you brought
home today.
“That’s why you’re already champions and well on your way. I got
circumstances. You guys understand it. I understand it. It’s
already beat. It’s already beat. My vision that I’m living is to see
two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and
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then hoist that Lombardi several times. I’m dancing at two more
weddings and we’re hoisting that trophy together.”
We cannot control all of the circumstances that we will
encounter, but we can control our mindset and how we react to
those circumstances. And I believe that controlling your mindset
takes practice. You don’t call upon mental toughness or strength
without having spent some time cultivating it. I would be willing
to bet that this is not the first time Chuck Pagano has overcome
obstacles in his lifetime. Getting to where he is as an NFL head
coach, leading a group of men, raising a family, etc., are big
endeavors and don’t come without their challenges. But I
suspect Pagano faced those challenges with the same resolve,
and that strength and clarity of vision is now accessible to him
when he needs it most.
My hope for all of the athletes at Invictus is that we may use
something as minor and inconsequential as a tough workout to
helps hone and cultivate an unconquerable mindset. While it’s
impossible to prepare for the magnitude of the curveball the
Pagano family was thrown, I believe we can create a habit of
establishing a positive mindset to overcome obstacles . . . and
that certainly cannot hurt when we most need strength and
mental fortitude.
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Written by Aja Barto
"Sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the windshield."
This quote has been with me for so long, literally since my old
pro-ball days. Its meaning is so simple yet so deep. This phrase
reminds me specifically of our daily adventures inside the gym,
I'm talking about our performances day to day. Some days you
will feel like you're on top of the world and other days you’ll feel
completely worthless. How do we respond to these days when
we feel like crap? How
do we respond to those
moments when we fail?
When things aren't
going our way or when
everything is just flat
out not working to our
liking? Are we throwing
a fit? Frustrated?
Mentally defeated? Yes, these may all be feelings that we
experience but it doesn't mean we can let them show and let
them affect our performance.
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If I learned anything from playing professional baseball and
competing at the CrossFit Games, it was to have a short
memory. This translates to everything in life. The most
successful people in our time are consistent. That means they
are performing more often than not and that also means at
times, their performance is subpar. Do you think those rare
instances keep them down? Nope. They instantaneously forget
and move on. How they respond to failure is the catalyst to their
future successes. It is how you respond to those days that you
are "the bug" that will affect your current mood, attitude, mindset
and even future performances.
Remember that your thoughts become your words, your words
become your actions and your actions become your habit. Don't
let something as simple as a missed snatch attempt, a failed PR
or a bad workout affect you as an athlete. There are times where
your 1-rep max feels like 75% and at times 125%. Everyday will
be different and it is all relative to the moment. Know your
priorities and what’s important to YOU. Don't let a bad
performance define who you are. Not everyday is going to be a
personal best day. If and when those days come, stay positive,
confident, and continue onward.
Be happy with everything you do, whether it is big or small,
because it's good enough. Trust it, believe it, and watch yourself
make strides like never before.
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Failure is Fertilizer
Written by Nichole DeHart
"Failure is the fertilizer that grows character. Strong character
breeds success."
Failure is fertilizer. I thought about this for a long time. Denis
Waitley spoke those words at our recent athletes’ training camp.
Failure is fertilizer. These words really stuck with me. At first, I
automatically chalked the adage up to a reality that I was already
aware of; ‘yes, yes, you learn from failing, etc etc.’ But, long after
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Dr. Waitley spoke, I couldn’t shake the phrase. What was it about
this particular saying that had me so enraptured?
Well, fertilizer can play an important role in replenishing soil of
depleted nutrients. Organic fertilizers (like chicken manure) have
been known to improve soil life and the productivity of soil, even
improving plants absorption of essential nutrients. Fertilizer can
be very important to a plant’s overall success and growth.
Similarly, our own failure can be used as fertilizer. Failure plays
just as important of a role in our own development as fertilizer
plays a crucial role in a plant’s development. Failure is essential
to one’s growth and ultimately, success in whatever endeavor
they pursued. This, of course, is only true of those who take
failure for what it is – an opportunity to flourish. Denis Waitley
also brought out another point when he said “winners focus on
the rewards, losers focus on the penalties.” How do you view a
perceived failure? Negatively, like a penalty given for playing the
game of chance, or with optimism?
I started applying this mentality in the gym. Not in some feel
good, have a smile on your face at all times way, but in my own
mindset with how I approach my training and my clients. The first
thing I immediately changed with this new perspective was to
take risks. I tend to be conservative in my workouts. I will hold
back the slightest bit because I am worried about my energy
reserves for the remainder of the workout. However, after
deciding to take more risks (also encouraged by my coach), I
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have reaped many benefits. Instead of pacing myself in a
workout, I will push myself harder than ever. Instead of
approaching the workout with doubt in my abilities, worried
about what might happen if I don’t make a new personal record, I
approach the training session with the view of taking away a new
lesson on how to listen to my body, push myself to break
through that wall and how to hold on for one more rep. Missing a
lift isn’t so terrifying now; it is just another opportunity to improve
on my movement pattern. Coming off the bar during pull-ups
doesn’t mean that I am a failure; it just means that I will take
more opportunities to work on cycling my pull-up rhythm. The
crazy thing is, this approach has actually worked! Not only have I
improved my performance, but my attitude for training has been
I recently read a Chinese proverb that has continued to fuel my
approach of taking risks. It states, “Be not afraid of going slowly,
be afraid only of standing still.” This evokes the same sentiments
as losers focusing only on penalties. If this is your mindset then
yes, any risk will seem too daunting to take on because the
penalties will be too great. On the flip side, growth will always be
elusive because you have robbed yourself of a chance to evolve.
Instead, be like Thomas Edison who said the following after he
had an estimated 10,000 failed attempts at creating the light
bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve simply discovered ten thousand ways
that don’t work.” How many opportunities do you think you
would have if you adopted this motto?
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It is this mindset that distinguishes elite athletes from others;
their approach to their own shortcomings. No elite athlete has
arrived at their peak without taking risks and facing failure. It is
what they have done with their failures that have produced their
Far better is it to dare mighty things,
to win glorious triumphs,
even though chequered by failure,
than to take rank with those poor spirits
who neither enjoy much nor suffer much,
because they live in the grey twilight
that knows not victory or defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt
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A Letter from Casey Burgener on Mental Toughness
Written by Sage Burgener (and her brother, Casey)
I’m not going to say much in this essay; I’m going to let my
brother’s letter do all the talking. (He doesn’t know I’m using this.
He’ll probably be upset. I’m okay with that).
But I will say that when I was training for the CrossFit Games I
was struggling with feeling like I was mentally weak. I saw all
these amazing athletes around me that, during the hardest of
workouts, never had one look of pain or struggle across their
face. They appeared to be immune to the torture. I never felt that
way when I was working out. I feared workouts. I feared getting
under heavy weights. I feared the pain that was to be inflicted
upon me via thrusters. Because I feared so often, I was certain
that I had some rare, possibly fatal, medical condition.
My brother Casey got his degree in physics, which basically
means he knows everything. Therefore, I burden him with all of
my questions about life, liberty and the pursuit of chocolate. I
wrote him an email asking him, as an Olympic athlete, what he
thought it meant to be “mentally tough.” The letter he wrote to
me seriously changed my life. I am not saying that I am mentally
tough by any means, but I at least have a better understanding of
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how to go about becoming a better person each day. I read this
letter almost everyday and it has gotten me through many times
of self-doubt. It is long, but I promise you won’t be disappointed
if you read the whole thing…especially if you feel like you may
have the same medical condition that I had.
“First, you need to decide what you are going to do. This may
sound like a simple step, or like you’ve already done it, but let me
tell you, it’s the hardest, and most important step in being tough.
Once you make the commitment to do something, then almost
nothing can stop you. This is why it took me so long to decide to
come back to lifting. I knew once I committed, nothing was going
to stop me from achieving
my goals, no matter what
the costs, or how much
workouts sucked, or how
badly my body felt.
So with you, you have to
really, really, really decide
that the CrossFit Games
are what you want to do.
Once you decide this, the
process will be easy. When you commit, it’s easier to block
weaknesses out of your head, and workouts will seem like steps
forward to your goal, rather than burdens. When you commit, I
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really believe you can do anything. Really take this decision
seriously though, because if you only “half” decide you want to
do it, or do it for “fun,” then you shouldn’t even worry about
Regionals, and just train whenever you want to and not care
about how a workout goes. If you decide to do it for “fun,” then
you can’t be bothered by any performance at Regionals or any
meet, because you decided not to take it seriously.
Now, either decision in your case wouldn’t be a bad one (in my
opinion), just make sure you stick to your choice wholeheartedly.
I read a great book recently, and it talked about how when
someone commits to something, they should do it all the way,
and be satisfied with whatever the outcome. So if you commit to
the Games and start training as hard as you can, you have to be
comfortable with the possibility that you may succeed
tremendously, or fail miserably (in terms of winning and losing).
The important thing is that you committed, and you did
everything you could to make it happen. Trust me, if you do that,
the thoughts about winning and losing seem to almost
disappear. It’s about overcoming yourself, and pushing yourself
to become greater than you were the day before, that’s what
really matters.
I’m reading a great book right now, and while I don’t agree with a
lot of points, it has a lot of great points about pushing yourself to
your highest potential. He talks mostly about pushing yourself in
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terms of knowledge and creativity, but I think a lot of it applies to
life as well. Basically, every decision you make should be a
conscious one in becoming a better person. Every decision you
make has meaning to it, and you pursue a better self constantly.
The friends you choose, the people you surround yourself with,
the food you eat, the books you read, the television you watch,
how much sleep you get, everything should be a stern decision
that makes you go in a better direction than the one you’re
headed towards. Surround yourself with people who want to
make themselves better, and who in turn push you to make you
One of the big points in the book is the “will to power,” which
basically means that when you conquer yourself and get rid of
everything that has once held you back, you can “will” yourself to
do anything. This is really difficult to achieve, but think about
how much it could help if you just strive for it. If every time you
have a bad day, or feel a negative emotion, or have a bad
workout, you “will” yourself out of the poor mindset, refusing to
let it beat you down, and just continue your journey in becoming
the best you can be. I’m not saying you can be like this every
day, but the important issue is that you are truly DOING it. You’ll
slip up, you’ll still have bad days, but as long as you’re moving
forward, and not letting yourself continue to slip, then there’s
nothing you can’t do.
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Mental toughness for me has always been hard to explain. I’ve
never really thought that I was mentally tough, but the reason
why I was successful in meets is because I KNEW what I was
capable of. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to quit
lifting, or give up, but I didn’t because I committed to what I was
doing. That was one thing Mom and Dad taught us that is
invaluable; to never quit. When you commit to whatever it is in
life, make sure it’s a positive direction, and just don’t quit. Fight
with all of your being to achieve what you set out to, and know
that you’re becoming a better person because of it. So even if
you have a bad day, or hate CrossFit, or lifting, or school, or
whatever it is, you can still have the confidence that what you’re
doing is making you better in some way, and that is a beautiful
A lot of this may not seem like it pertains to mental toughness,
but when you think about it, what does that mean anyway?
Toughness means you fight through pain, or discomfort, and
continue striving forward. But why would you do this in the first
place? It seems against our nature to put ourselves through pain
and discomfort, so why bother? The answer is this; because we
are committed to making ourselves better, committed to be
something greater than what we currently are. Think about the
people who are tough; the one thing they have in common is that
they’ve committed to something. Whether it’s becoming healthy,
smarter, a better parent, or a CrossFit Games champion, they
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decided it was what they wanted, and they didn’t care how hard
it became, or what obstacles showed up, nothing was going to
stop them from following through with the decision they made.
The last thing I’m going to say is that while all of this seems
draining, and challenging, it also has to be fun. Commitments
can be joyous, they don’t have to be discouraging and hard all
the time. I committed to being a husband, that doesn’t mean it’s
a burden. It’s challenging, and tough at times, but I love every
minute of it because I DECIDED that it was what I wanted to be.
So take comfort in knowing that no matter what decision you
make, or what direction you want to pursue, it’s going to be
amazing because it’s your path, your decision, your direction.
There’s beauty in the successes and the failures of your journey.
Soak up every ounce of it and know that you’re becoming a
better human being.”
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Focus On Yourself
Written by Aja Barto
I believe the secret to unlimited potential is quite simple, stop
comparing yourself to everyone else. There is very little
satisfaction in our own achievements if we are constantly
focused on what the other person is doing or has done. Nothing
will ever be good enough because if we constantly have our
eyes set on other people’s achievements, how can we see and
celebrate our own? This alone will limit our growth as an athlete.
"My max clean isn't that good because she did that for 3 reps...
"I only used 95 pounds and most people were using 135
"How did he do on this workout? It will give me something to
shoot for...”
Sound familiar? Regardless of how you look at it, I think we can
all relate with the statements above whether they're accurate to
our profession or something we have said before. We'll never be
satisfied with our own unless we let go of comparing our actions
and achievements with that of other people. Focus on yourself
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and stop caring about what the person next to you is doing. A
friend and role model of mine, Heidi Fearon, once compared this
to growing a garden. If you are constantly focused on other
people’s gardens and not your own, what happens to yours? It
withers and dies. Now
translate this to your goals,
personal achievements,
children, job, relationship,
etc. Keep focusing on the
others and carelessly watch
yours degrade and/or fail.
This is easily avoidable as
long as we can focus on
ourselves and learn to
celebrate our own personal
gains and achievements
without peeking over the
fence to see what others are
If you want to be good in this sport, you must learn to train alone
and learn to enjoy the hell out of it. The best in this sport do so
AND prefer it. Those that can't train alone and say they perform
better in a group setting or with music playing or with people
around are simply weak minded. It's the equivalent to only
training everything you're good at, every movement that makes
you feel awesome, then when you're asked to do the
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things you suck at, you do just that...suck. Of course we'd love to
do things we excel at, but most of the time we have to do the
things we don't want to do when we don't want to do it. Why?
Because it makes us better. It's certainly not as much fun, it's
tough and it’s really damn boring, but if you can learn to quiet
your mind and push yourself past limits when no one is
watching, imagine what you can do when this isn't the case. If
you can break that little voice in your head, then breaking your
opponents will be easy. It hurts to go hard when no one is there
to push you, so by training alone you learn to do it yourself. Your
PR's don't get celebrated, they just become routine and no one
cares about if you are or if you aren't, except for you. That's why
you do it and do it with intent. Training alone builds character but
most importantly, it builds mental fortitude. Plain and simple.
Next time you put off a training session because you can't train
with friends or because your music station lost its connection,
re-assess how important your training goals are to you. If you
want it bad enough, nothing should be that hard, especially
training by your lonesome.
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Putting It All Together
Written by Calvin Sun
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
– Aristotle
As we have discussed, improving your mental toughness and
changing your mindset for the better requires you to build better
habits. Here are four habits you can implement into your training
right now.
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Habit #1: Focus On The Present
The first habit is essentially a form of short-term goal setting.
Focus on the task in front of you right now and put all of your
energy into completing it. Don’t think about what’s coming next
or what has already happened. In the context of competing, you
may just want to focus on each event individually. Successful
athletes aren’t thinking about how tough the next event will be,
what their next meal is, or anything else when they are
competing. They are completely focused on the task at hand
and completing it to the best of their abilities.
Habit #2: Celebrate Your Previous Successes
and Visualize Your Future Successes
Make a habit of noticing those small successes in your life. In
your training, you might experience a small success like
incremental improvements in your technique or something a
larger, like setting a new personal record. Recall those
successes to help build your confidence in your abilities to
achieve your goals. From there, visualize yourself successfully
achieving whatever goals you have set. Think about how good it
will feel once you have achieved that goal. Allow your successes
to motivate you.
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Habit #3: Take A Deep Breath
Practice the habit of consciously controlling the fight-or-flight
response from your brain. As we mentioned before, one of the
best methods is to simply meditate or deliberately control your
breathing. Here’s a technique you can try right now: Inhale
deeply for four seconds. Hold it for four seconds. Exhale for four
seconds, completely emptying your lungs. Pause for four
seconds before repeating this process three more times. You
likely find that you will be able to act clearly and thoughtfully
rather than react from a panicked or emotional state.
Habit #4: Be Your Own Cheering Section
As we discussed in the chapter on self-talk, it’s important to
eliminate negative self-talk and replace it with positive
affirmations. Decide what you need to hear and make a habit of
integrating that positive self-talk into your training.
Try combining these techniques the next time you feel anxious
about something. Use deliberate breathing to calm your mind;
from there recall your past successes, focus on the task at hand,
visualize yourself successfully completing the task, and continue
to cheer yourself on as you do it.
Now that you understand the principles of mental toughness, it’s
time to make sure you incorporate these tools into your training.
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Go back and re-read parts of the book as frequently as
necessary until these are ingrained into your mental game.
Your Next Steps:
 Identify Your Purpose
• WHY are you dedicating yourself to achieving the goal you’ve
chosen? Write it down. (page 26)
 Define Your Success
• What does success look like to you? How will you know when
you have achieved it? (page 39)
 Set Your Goals
• Get clarity on what you want to achieve, break it down into
manageable components and write it out as a SMART goal.
(page 47)
 Mental Practice and Visualization
• Schedule a daily appointment of at least 5-10 minutes to get
“quiet” and practice Scan and Relaxation so that you can begin
to master visualizing your success. (page 60)
• Begin mentally rehearsing skills you wish to master. Visualize
yourself overcoming stressful environments. (page 65)
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 Eliminate Negative Self-Talk
• Identify and replace your negative self-talk with positive
statements. Write out several new, positive statements that you
will rely on to change your language patterns. (page 75)
• Commit to avoiding postures of defeat, and ask your training
partners and coaches to hold you accountable to standing tall
and proud even during the toughest sessions. (page 77)
 Arousal Control
• Practice diaphragmatic breathing so that you can use it as a
strategy to mediate arousal levels before stressful events. (page
• Write out your ideal warm-up plan for your next competitive
event so that you ensure proper syncing of your physical and
mental readiness. (page 97)
 Have the Confidence to “Fail” and Learn
• Face your fears and understand that you will never fail as long
as you have the confidence and courage to commit to your goals
and learn from the process toward goal achievement. (page
“The reason most people never reach their goals is that they
don't define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable
or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what
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they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the
adventure with them.” - Denis Waitley
If you are still unsure about where to go from here, consider
working with an Invictus coach to develop a plan to help you
achieve your goals. We can assist you with everything from
program design to nutrition counseling to improving your mental
game. Feel free to contact us at info@invictusathlete.com for
more information.
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