PMA: Are You Feeling It?

The philosophy that having an optimistic disposition in every situation in one’s life attracts positive changes and increases achievement is something often referred to as PMA (positive mental attitude); optimism and hope are vital to its development (1).

But how much of it is attitude… and how much is belief?

This all occurred to me yesterday during the seventh of nine VO2 max intervals on my bike trainer.

With Ironman Hawaii 70.3 just under a month away, game time is on, and fitting in key workouts strategically in a limited amount of time is essential.

The intervals were ‘only’ three minutes long, and during each one, I wanted to quit.

But I chose not to.


Because I knew that if I let my mind cop out when my body didn’t have to, I’d be selling myself short.

It’s something I’ve been practicing in sport for a quite a while and how I visualize every key workout and race in advance is absolutely crucial to being able to properly execute it.

It’s so much more than happily saying all is well and not really meaning it.

It’s one thing to say the outcome we want to see aloud, but if we don’t actually believe in our own ability to achieve whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish, how far can we really get?

Regardless of whether someone puts this question to the test in career, in sport or in life’s daily challenge, without actually feeling even the slightest spark of belief in achieving something which seems insurmountable, it’s so easy to let things slip.

Let’s use sport as case in point.

For me, this is where I first learned the importance of believing I was capable of doing something I’d never done before, and not letting what I had done in the past dictate what I may or may not do in the future.

If I’d chosen to let my past experiences in sport, I wouldn’t have gotten very far.

A prior marathon PR of barely under 5 hours and a first Ironman of over 15 aren’t exactly times representative of a highly competitive endurance athlete, yet something within me must have known on some intrinsic level that with focus, determination, the right eating regime, the right coach and the patience to stick with it for years to develop as an athlete… I could.

Could what?

Could anything.

I didn’t know it at the time, but in my early days of mentally rehearsing the race I wanted to see come to fruition, I was actually simultaneously starting my foray into meditation.

In fact, quite the opposite.

I must have tried sitting in meditation on and off hundreds of times over the course of twenty years, but inevitably, I’d last about a minute before feeling I’d failed because ‘my mind wasn’t empty’ or ‘I thought about something’, then conclude one more time that rather than try something I couldn’t do (meditate), I’d just go run.

In reality, however, my path toward mediation began with visualization.

Some experts (2) indicate that we can access the very same theta brain waves through visualization that we can tap into via mediation, the difference being that meditation is a state of deep concentration, bringing the mind to a focus, blocking out or quieting the typical mental chatter most people constantly carry around in their mind, while visualization is a specific kind of meditation.

Visualization is sometimes called mental imagery or mental rehearsal (3).

Using visualization first and foremost allowed me to choose my North Star, which, at the time was a very far away North Star, qualifying for Ironman World Championships, then work backward to create a path to get there.

Not necessarily being able to predict any obstacles that might have come my way, but at the same time, not worrying about them either.

Rather, just staying focused on where I was going was what was the core foundation of how I did that.

I find it fascinating to observe in others, as well as myself,  how we can accomplish such feats in one part of our lives, yet in other areas, sometimes feel we fall short.

Take the uber-successful executive who runs a global company, keeping hundreds of balls in the air, never letting one slip, yet doesn’t believe in her ability to make a commitment to her own health and fitness.

Or the world class athlete whose incredible strength and determination brings him to the top of his game year after year, but cannot manage his finances to save his life.

If we all wear different hats, particular to the roles we play in our lives, why not take on the mindset we naturally have in the areas in which we excel and apply it in those which need work?

The challenge I pose is this:  if we’re all so caught up in our mental chatter that it’s keeping us stuck and preventing us from going forward, why not find the time to begin a visualization and / or meditation practice, enabling us to tap into those beautiful theta waves, opening the doors to creativity?

Even as little as 12 minutes per day, according to some studies (4), can be enough to start the process of moving away from day to day (fight or flight) and into theta (the world of endless possibilities).

Once we can genuinely begin to get into a state of sheer focus, we can feel how we want to feel after a certain event has occurred.

It’s then, and only then, that the magic truly begins to happen.