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6 Strategies to Up Your Mental Game with Performance Psychologist Dr. Kaz Williams

Renata Chlumska  - Adventure athlete who became the first Swedish and Czech woman to climb Mount Everest and in 2005 did a circumnavigate of the lower 48 States of the United States by her own power.

When Dr. Kaz Williams took on Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, she was shocked by how her mental game let her down. It wasn’t the first time she’d raced over mountains, yet she found herself getting farther and farther behind her previous race time. It was then she realized that she needed to be mentally tough to complete these sorts of challenging adventures.

How can you improve your mental game for adventures ahead? Kaz came on the Tough Girl Podcast to share her mental journey and some of the strategies that made the biggest difference in her sport.

Training doesn’t automatically give you mental strength. Find out what steps you need to take to build your mental grit by reading a summary of Kaz’s advice below.

6 Strategies to Up Your Mental Game in Your Next Adventure

1. Look Everywhere for Inspiration

When Kaz first realized she needed to increase her mental grit, she started to look for inspiration everywhere. Athletes and leaders from all areas of life, sport and adventure can inspire you with ideas to up your mental game.

Kaz started listening closely to podcasts and other mediums. “I started almost collecting these tools, which I would then use when I was training,” she notes. She even thought back to her military background and was inspired by marching.

Inspiration to up your mental game may be closer than you think. Keep that in mind as you listen to podcasts, read books and interact with others throughout the day. You might be surprised by what advice helps you through your next endurance challenge.

2. Simply Start with Yourself

As you start to take on bigger and bigger adventures, the mountain (metaphorical or literal) you have to summit can begin to seem impossible. As Kaz took on longer and more challenging races, she reminded herself that she wasn’t the first person to do it. So all she had to do was figure out how she could accomplish it.

There are other people who ran the 200-mile race she wanted to complete. If they can do it, she probably can too. “It takes training, discipline and hard work,” Kaz says. “I am a huge advocate for self-belief. That’s a really important part of the mental game.”

When taking on something new, Kaz keeps in mind that it’s not like she’s trying to get to Mars. She’s doing something other people have done. And she’s figuring out how she can

do it too.

Before you psych yourself out of that next hard thing you dream of doing, just remember that other humans have done it before. Your work is to find out how you can do it. On the other hand, if you’re designing a challenge no one has ever completed before, start with self-belief. Remember to put that aspect of confidence behind your training.

3. Remember to Ask for Advice

If Kaz is entering a new and unique race, chances are she’s going to speak to a few athletes who’ve run it before. There is no better place for advice to start than coming from those who’ve been there, and done that.

Before taking on the Tahoe 200, Kaz spoke to someone who previously ran it about the hallucinations she heard runners get on the trail. His advice? Embrace them. Acknowledge them and roll with it. On the trail, Kaz did just that. In what could have been a scary experience, Kaz found understanding and a little bit of humor. She kept going, undisturbed bythe hallucinations and eventually joined another runner to help her along the way.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who’ve done similar things to get their advice. As a rule, people typically love talking about their adventures and sharing what they learned. This could be a treasure chest of knowledge to help you move forward with your mental game.

4. In Pain? Go Back to Your Why

Knowing the why behind what you’re doing is always important in challenging activities. Kaz pointed out that it’s never more important than when you’re in a really difficult time. Your why may not be so critical at the starting line, but it will be later when you’re in what she calls the pain cave.

“Your why doesn't come into question when you're at the start line because you're excited and high energy,” Kaz relates. “When you’re in a very dark place, you’re questioning what you’re doing. You may not see the light in front of you or behind you.”

What can help you out of that pain cave is a really strong why. Don’t ignore the importance of a motivating why. Maybe even make it part of a mantra. That inspiration can solidify your mental game for tough moments ahead.

5. Treat the Unknown Like an Experiment

In nearly every race Kaz has done, she puts in all the training she can, yet there will still be one unknown thing. That thing becomes the obvious challenge for the race. Because of that, Kaz may go into a race with a specific thing she wants to improve. Whether it’s focusing on her nutrition or figuring out how to care for her feet, each new race may have a new variable to experiment with.

For the Tahoe 200, Kaz’s unknown was the idea of experiencing hallucinations. She did what she could to prepare: asking for advice. And then, went into her experiment. “Each race has one thing that I go, ‘Oh, it's going to be exciting to see what happens here.’” Kaz shares.

Instead of viewing the unknown as something terrifying and awful, think about how you could view it as exciting or as part of a rational science experiment. How you frame the unknown can have a big impact on what it feels like during your challenge.

6. Allow for Transformation

As you train for physical and mental strength, all the preparation you do builds on itself. Still, you can have loads of self-confidence and come to something unexpected. You can experience discomfort that makes it clear you’re being tested.

“Growth and transformation happens on the other side of suffering,” Kaz says. “That’s why we do these things.”

Sometimes after you’ve done all you can do, you have to allow the discomfort to come and endure it to get through to the transformation on the other side. Becoming different and better than before is a big reason why we do it!

Want to interact with a community of like-minded women who are building their mental game too? Join us on the Tough Girl Patreon to form new connections with athletes, adventurers and outdoor lovers like yourself.



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