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Blog Post: Strong Mental Skills: How to Make a New Habit Stick with You

PerseveranceWhen looking ahead to the New Year with a fresh perspective, many of us are setting new goals and working to implement and maintain positive behaviors. The mental and emotional aspect of training to achieve reaching triathlon goals deserves your attention. The psychological aspects of performance can make or break achievement of your goals and dreams.

When I worked with USAT’s National Development Team, we did extensive work with the athletes on developing strong mental skills. During our testing, we learned that one of the most frequent variables to be a weakness was the ability “To Stick with It”. When I landed my first really big sponsorship as a pro triathlete with Pioneer Electronics it was through persistence. Perseverance in the face of challenge, failure and doubt gets you what you really want.

Perseverance: How to stick to it.

  1. Improving mental skills works just like a workout. When you learn a new skill, like learning to ride a bike or change your swim stroke, you practice over time and you get better. Mental skills work the same way. Practice executed over time improves your mental skills. What do you want to achieve? What do you need to change?
  1. Assess and set goals. Know what you want. Make a plan on how you are going to get it. Then continually reassess this plan and work to improve it. Set time aside each week (10 minutes is enough) to review your plan. Give yourself a time frame, putting a date on a calendar keeps your progress measurable. How do YOU persist when things get tough? What keeps you in the game?
  1. Formalize and habituate the process. Write out your goals and your “how to” plan. It’s ok to not know the exact pathway, keep searching. Constant conscious repetition ensures habituation.
  1. Accountability. Keep yourself accountable. Enlist your friends, hire a coach, do what you need to do to stay accountable to your progress. Utilize your support network for support and staying on track. And, enlist their help if you get derailed.
  1. Expectations. Keep your expectations of yourself and your abilities high. Don’t let yourself off the hook. But, DO maintain flexibility with yourself and your daily behaviors. If you slip a little, give yourself a kind, loving reminder to get back at it tomorrow.


  1. Behavior change that lasts. Most people fall of f their New Year’s goals by the middle to end of January! Triathletes are a special breed. We’re generally mentally stronger, more disciplined and motivated than the average population. But, we all need some motivation and inspiration from time to time. Here are some ideas that will help you stick with it beyond January:

Disruptive behavior. Research shows that making small, but disruptive changes to your behavior can have a radical impact on your outcomes. For example, simply using smaller plates, glasses and serving spoons dramatically decreases caloric intake. Using a tall skinny glass vs a short wide one decreases the amount of high calorie drinks you take in. Reversing the route you always run or ride makes it feel brand new.

The key is to know your triggers and cues, then disrupt them to create a new habit.

            -One goal at a time. Simplify, streamline your goals to keep them manageable and achievable. Achieve one, then make another. The sense of accomplishment spurs you on to the next level.

            -Visualize your success within the reality of you and your life. Dream, but keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.

            -Connect with feelings of success: pride, joy, confidence, those feelings you will feel at the achievement of your goals. Feel them now. That sense of connection between now and future achievement is a strong bond to keep you on track.

Sense of public obligation. Share your goals publicly in a small or big way. Be brave and put it out there. You will be amazed at how much support you will get from unexpected people and places.

Rehearse, daydream about how you will look, feel and act at the finish line. This alone can get you out of bed in the morning to get to the pool!

  1. Be consistent. This is but one aspect of your potential, as a triathlete or a person. Consistency of effort, focus and practice create confidence and comfort. Mental toughness takes effective practice. Consistent doing equals becoming. Great athletes have surprisingly simple mental approaches. Their secret is consistency of application, no matter what the competition or circumstance.

Excellence is a habit. Continually enhance your process. You become what you consistently do.

Please share! I want to hear what works for you, especially around your triathlon training and racing goals and dreams.

Here are some links to some additional ideas to help you stick with your new goals and behaviors:

  1. Willpower hacks that really work from Q by Equinox. They have some great, short and inspiring advice and tips.
  2. 7 psychological tips to make your New Year’s Resolutions stick. Dr. Mercola can be a bit sensational, but his articles are very well written and researched.