Triathletes and Anchors

August 13th, 2008 by Craig

phelps.jpg  Have you ever associated two things that in reality have absolutely nothing to do with each other?  Maybe it’s a certain saying you use that makes you feel more confident, or maybe it’s gesture you use to make yourself feel better.  Ever knocked on wood?  When I was a kid playing little league I always put my uniform on in a very precise way because I thought it helped us win the game!  Crazy right?…….maybe not. Until recently I have always thought of these things as superstition, but a very good friend of mine and fellow Hepster Will Murray has changed my view, and now I think of these associations as a technique known as anchoring.  Anchoring can be a huge asset in improving performance in all walks of life. 

Back in my little league days my uniform ritual started because one day I got ready for a game a certain way and then went out an had the game of my life.  When the next game rolled around I got ready the exact same way and went out and had another great game!  To my 10 year old mind there was some kind of mystical force at work here……a baseball God perhaps?  Remember Joe Boo from the movie Major League! J  No, what really was happening was the ritual of putting on my uniform a certain way triggered my mind into a positive and confident state.  I went into the game expecting to play well.  My uniform routine was my anchor. 

But wait…..what if I accidentally put on the uniform in a different way?  Now we have a problem.  I did in fact change my routine one day and it caused me to get so worked up that I had a horrible game.  Maybe this anchoring thing is for the birds???  Not if we understand it and have control of using it.  This is what my good friend has taught me to do.  Here’s how it works…..

First you have to get yourself into the positive state that you want create.  Maybe you just wait until it naturally happens, or maybe you use visualization to get there.  In my case we used visualization and an almost meditative state to bring my mind back to the last time I felt fantastic on the bike in a race.  I visualized it with such intensity that I could feel everything, hear the sounds, smell the smells.  My shoulders are relaxed.  I’m in the arrow position and absolutely flying.  My legs feel fantastic…..powerful……sharp.  At the height of this visualization I simply touched the tips of my thumbs, pointer fingers, and middle fingers, together in an almost prayer like fashion.  From here I came out of the visualization and took a little break and then I went back into it and did it all again.  Right when I could really feel it, I touched my fingers together again in the same way.  Anchor created!

The next day on my ride when I started to feel a bit tired I just touched my fingers together the same way and was shocked at the jolt of relaxation and calm power that came over me.  I’ve used this anchor so much since then that all I have to do is think about doing the finger touch and I’m there.  Also, just as reinforcement, whenever I’m out on a ride and feel really good I touch my fingers in the same way.  So I have created an anchor that I can use whenever I want.  If I don’t use it, it doesn’t mean I won’t ride well.  It’s just there for when I need it. 

Now just watch Michael Phelps the next time he steps up on the blocks.  He shakes his arms out in a very certain way and then does 2 big bird like slaps of his lats with his huge wing span.  He does it every single time without fail.  Watch Tiger Woods the next time he is about to sink a put or nail an amazing drive.  His routine is always the same.  Mahatma Gandhi had a very specific routine he used before speaking or negotiating with others.  The list goes on and on.  Maybe they don’t even know what they are doing, but regardless they are using anchors.

I hope this helps anybody out there reading this.  Maybe the next time you are clipping along on a super fast pace you can do something……anything……that will become your anchor for the feeling. 

Until next time, visit the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, shop at using my discount code chowi-s, eat more Powerbar, and tell your endurance family you love them.