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Coaches Blog

Mental Framing

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

This is definitely not the first coaching article to be written about mental framing, but I have been talking about it lately and figure it is my turn to give my two cents.

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”

― Epictetus

I am not a carpenter, philosopher, or psychologist. Everything I know about mental framing has come from a little formal learning, a lot of research, and a whole lot of personnel experience. My concept of mental framing comes from my fascination with philosophy and math. It is incredible how many ways a question can be approached. The area of a triangle can be found by using plain old geometry, trigonometry, calculus, or other ways I do not yet know about. A goal / workout / event / anything can be approached just like the triangle, in many different ways.

Once again, I am not a philosopher or psychologist, but I do enjoy both fields. Something that has helped me tremendously in my athletic career has been learning to adjust my mental framing. For the longest time I would go into a race or workout thinking “This is going to suck," which is a negative and easily a self-realizing mindset. This self-talk reflected my negative and unproductive mental framing. Then I realized I could apply my knowledge of a few different schools of philosophy to train with more meaning and focus. All I need to do is ask myself:

  1. Why am I doing this?

  2. What is the goal of doing this?

  3. How do I achieve the goal?

  4. How can I achieve the goal?

For example, a hard Z4 bike interval workout can be framed as:

  1. (Why) Because I signed up for IM St George

  2. (Goal) To increase my FTP

  3. (How do) Finishing the workout

  4. (How can) Approach it thinking one of the following:

  • “This is going to suck”

  • “I am going to have perfect form for every interval”

  • “It’s going to hurt, but I love feeling the pain”

  • “I am going to learn something this workout”

Competing at 2020 IM St George can be framed as:

  1. (Why) Competing in Full IROMMAN Races brings me joy

  2. (Goal) Finish the Race, Finish in my expected time

  3. (How do) Complete all my training in the next 22 weeks

  4. (How can) Approach it thinking one of the following:

  • “Why do I sign up for these races?”

  • “I’m going to be in the best form possible in St George

  • “I’m going to destroy this race”

The beauty I have found with this approach is that a mental frame has an expanding symmetry (Fun Fact - evolving symmetry is a math concept that fractals exhibit, see picture). Meaning that every point workout/race/whatever can be approached the same as the whole workout/race/whatever. If I go into a workout thinking “This is going to suck” when it begins to hurt, then I will think “This sucks”. However, if I go into the workout thinking “I am going to have perfect form” when it gets hard I will focus on maintaining perfect form.

Sierpiski triangle

Bobby Jones put it best by saying “Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course - the distance between your ears.” Mental framing has helped me in my training and racing. Maybe give it a tri (ha).

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