According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mindset is “a set of attitudes or fixed ideas that someone has and that are often difficult to change.” Your mindset influences how you feel, think, and behave in any given situation.
In a sporting context, mindset can determine the outcome of your training efforts.
“The gym is one of the best contexts to build mental fortitude,” says Certified CrossFit Level 3 Trainer Juan Acevedo, who offers more insight into the topic below. “It is a controlled environment and the stakes are low.”
Mindset is much broader than what we realise when we first think of it, and its importance and how to best approach and optimise it varies from person to person.
Learn these important mindset tips from the best in the sport.
Important Mindset Tips from 6 Extraordinary CrossFit Coaches
- “Find joy in the process. For many CrossFitters the guidance and constant challenge the workouts provided when we started fade away. As we start focusing on outcomes instead of the process. And the process has to be enjoyable. Everything is an opportunity.”
Caroline sees mindset as the defining factor of how we view the world and therefore, how we think we can or should respond to it. To her, its importance depends on our goals. “In the context of performance – whether that be in sport, business, arts, etc – when we are trying to be the best or even our best it matters more,” she says.
“It matters more because this is a controllable factor that we can work on to improve results.”
To develop someone’s mindset, she first tries to understand who they are and where they’re coming from. “‘Improving mindset’ for its own sake can be detrimental,” she says, but once you understand a person and their goals you can establish a plan to help them develop or reinforce the skillset they will need improve their mindset.
“You’ll have good days and bad days of training but finding the opportunities that make it enjoyable in both is crucial,” she says.
Caroline Lambray is a Certified CrossFit Level 3 Trainer, owner of CrossFit Wonderland, and coach to the 5th Fittest Man on Earth in 2020, Jeffrey Adler.
- “Everyone believes in you but it’s ultimately up to you to believe in you. Tunnel vision.”
To James, mindset is everything, but you can’t work on building an unbreakable mindset without faith and trust first.
“Your faith is the foundation of your being. It’s who you are and who God is moulding you to be. Trust is the pillars of the foundation,” he says. “You have to trust and believe in yourself before achieving greatness or becoming the athlete you want to be. These two things will build a solid, unbreakable mindset.”
He teaches his athletes to be brave inside the gym before they try to be brave on the competition floor. “You have to go through the pains to grow through them on the comp floor,” he says. “The braver you are in the gym, the braver you will become outside of the gym.”
James Townsend is the coach of teenage powerhouse Mal O’Brien. She recently finished 7th at the CrossFit Games (while being eligible to compete in the Teenage division) and won the 2021 Rookie of the Year award.
- “Everything starts with believing in yourself. How often do you say to yourself ‘well done’ or ‘great job’, being proud of your own effort each day and how far you have come is very important.”
John believes that if you truly think you can achieve something, it is significantly more likely you will achieve it.
“To me, [mindset] represents someone’s approach to life and the underlying thought process of how they respond to situations,” John said. “I am sure we all know people who have the ability to turn a seemingly bad situation into a great opportunity, I believe that mindset plays a crucial role in this ability.”
To him, creating an environment where people are able to succeed – no matter how big or small that success is – is a major factor of both physical and mental development, and helps create a positive mindset.
John Singleton is the head coach and founder at The Progrm, one of Europe’s most successful training programs. He is a Certified CrossFit Level 3 Trainer and coaches top CrossFit Games athletes like Gabriela Migała and Jacqueline Dahlstrøm.
Migała recently finished 3rd at the Rogue Invitational and Dahlstrøm became the third woman to win two Sanctionals in a season in 2019, taking gold at both the Reykjavik CrossFit Championship and the French Throwdown.
- “Track your lap times. Most pacing errors come from not having a realistic sense of personal capacity, the anxiety created by how much of a workout you have left, and focusing too much on the score of the workout. Not falling for those errors is the true expression of mental fortitude.”
Juan believes that mindset is way deeper than what we associate the word with nowadays; he thinks the concept has become so popular it has lost its specificity. “When a person says mindset most of the time they just mean attitude,” he says.
“A mindset is formed by ideas that we use to define our sense of self in a deep way,” he continues. “Our mindsets mediate all our behaviours and therefore determine the outcomes of our lives.” He acknowledges they’re not the only variables, but it is one we can observe and change, and therefore mindset work is fundamental.
“One important aspect of mindset is that is not fixed nor universal. You can have different mindsets in different contexts,” Juan says. He sees this with his clients, who can have an incredibly awesome growth mindset for the activities they’re good at, but a mean mindset in settings they don’t think they excel at.
The way he helps athletes is by shifting their focus, advancing them from obsessing over their current state to falling in love with the forging of their current direction. As a coach, he aims to provide the context for them to start believing they are resilient, perseverant, and capable.
Building self-belief through achievable challenges develops their mindset, although you should not focus on outcomes, but behaviours. Identify where you want to express mental fortitude – change self-sabotaging, perfectionism, avoidance, emotional illiteracy, or something else – and intentionally work on the area.
He recommends the following exercise: “If you were to write a celebratory journalistic piece describing your character and performance as an athlete, what would you want it to say? Knowing and visualizing your own personal biopic can become the ultimate motivation. Moreover, when you find yourself stuck it will become a super useful tool because it will allow answering the question: ‘what would this super version of me do in this situation?’”
Juan Acevedo, PhD, is a Certified CrossFit Level 3 Trainer and founder of Self Mastery Training, where he teaches people how to align their mindset, fitness, and nutrition habits. He doesn’t coach high-level athletes, but has transformed the lives of many everyday athletes like you and I. You can find more of his work here.
- “Your body is a good servant, not a good master. Our bodies can be lazy and complain a lot (negative thoughts). You the consciousness needs to overcome and push your body in order to develop mental toughness. […] When you feel fatigued or want to stop, that’s your cue to go harder or get a few more reps.”
To Rob, mindset is the mental picture that illustrates to us the world we live in and thus influences how we act. “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it through our own unique lens which is projected from our beliefs and perceptions,” he says.
He believes developing your mindset can be the difference between achieving your goals and not achieving them, taking responsibility or being a victim of circumstances, happy and being miserable, contributing to your community or being a liability.
To start to grow your mindset, you should develop high levels of self-awareness. “In order to achieve something different or to reach the next level, we must change or grow,” he says. “We need to become very aware of the aspects of ourselves that no longer serve us and begin to make different choices.”
“It is important to understand that thoughts influence feelings (emotions) and feelings influence thoughts- it’s a cycle,” he says. Pay attention to both, as knowing, understanding, and applying this can help you transform your mindset.
“You have been gifted with one of the greatest abilities- the ability to choose. You can choose to break the negative cycle by believing in yourself and your dreams again,” he says. “You’ll write down your goals and who you want to become so your vision of the future becomes greater than your limited past.”
Rob Forte is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer and the cofounder of the online training program We Are Unifyd. He is also a seven-time CrossFit Games individual athlete and coaches incredible Australian athletes such as Jay Crouch and Maddie Sturt.
Juan ‘Maka’ Coronel
- “Spend time getting to know how your mindset works and its characteristics so you can start exploring and working on it during daily life. At high levels of stress characteristics of how our mindset is shaped and how we use it are revealed; we lose the ability to make up some excuses to invent others, […] it is our self-preservation instinct, but applying serious mindset work we can ‘hack’ this.”*
To Juan, mindset encompasses our history, upbringing, and experiences and conforms our mental resources. He knows it is ever present in sport and it can determine the final result, many times even independently of physical performance.
“The winner is the one who can best leverage the average of their resources (physical and mental) at a given moment,” he says.
He believes mindset, like any other capacity, should be worked on and trained daily, as part of your routine. Figure out which aspects of mindset you are strong and weaker in – anxiety, fears, expectations, losses and victories – so that it becomes easier to reinforce or revert them.
As a coach, he tries to guide his athletes towards identifying and dealing with their emotions and recognise positive and negative habits on a daily basis. He programs to expose athletes not only to their physical weaknesses, but also their inner frustrations, stresses, and limitations so they grow their self-awareness.
“Everything is modifiable as required, but not without hard work; talking to the athlete is the key, as is creating a bubble of trust so that they can say what is going on and how they are feeling on a macro and micro level,” he says.
“The capacity for Neuroplasticity that we possess is inexhaustible, but just like strength or aerobic power, it requires systematisation in its training.”
Juan ‘Maka’ Coronel is South America’s most prominent high-level CrossFit coach. Eight of his athletes qualified for the 2020 CrossFit Games, including powerhouses such as Simona Quintana and Maximiliano Arigossi.
*Juan’s answers were translated from Spanish by Caro Kyllmann.