Training Mind and Body for Maximum Performance

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Project 19 97-way, photo by Anabel Bruger

A series of tools for leveraging your mental game to achieve a higher level of flying

First Up: Self Talk – Friend or Foe of Performance 

Fresh off the Project 19 Women’s Vertical World Record, I’m buzzing with the satisfaction that comes after achieving a goal that didn’t come easily. 

We’ve all experienced that moment of high pressure before we’re about to go and do something big. Something that challenges our comfort zone, where we have to show up confident and ready in the face of performance in some way. Those moments are precious in that they are a deep insight into our grit. They teach us about preparedness. They teach us as much about who we are inside as what we can accomplish physically. 

In this series, I discuss a few techniques to help you harness the power of your mind and body to perform at an optimal level. 

Something I’m very passionate about is the way in which we engage with ourselves through self-talk. Self-talk can be incredibly powerful in both a negative way and in a positive way. Practiced with intention, self-talk can provide huge power behind what we’re doing. We can gain a lot of motivation and confidence in the way that we’re using our mind. Alternatively, self-talk can be the thief of confidence. Without awareness, one small thought can turn into an avalanche of negative thoughts which, not surprisingly, can kill performance. 

Author Alethia Austin at Project 19, photo by Felix Wetterberg

Policing Self-talk

On the third day of the record attempts, I was moved to a different slot after spending all of the attempts flying a slot I was comfortable with and docking on. The quick change of slot meant a different plane, change of visuals and a new pod to fly with. I didn’t have time to relax into that position as we were moving full force ahead on the record jumps. How I performed in this new slot would matter very much for my security on the record attempts. 

On the climb to altitude on that skydive, my mind started to slip into self-doubt: “Why did they move me? Am I not flying well?” “If I’m not flying well, how am I going to perform in this new slot?” A few self-doubt thoughts like that can kill your confidence at a time when you really need it. I quickly moved the attention away from the mind and began my visualization and breathing. I changed the self-talk from. “What if I can’t find my slot?” to “Base on the left. Red pod in front. Melissa in white. Stadium. Level. Look through the center. Fly strong.” These mantras overpowered the self-doubt and I found myself refocused and rehearsing aspects of the skydive that were important to me. 

The ability to detach from the mind’s undisciplined chatter and focus on the job at hand is what helped me exit that plane and take that dock. When given nothing to do, our mind will create its own stories, weaving us deeper into non-truths and emotional states that can be damaging. If we’re focused and mindful, we can use the power of thought to help spring us forward into the direction we want to go. We can learn how to be present on the task at hand in a way that boosts performance.

Refocussing the mind helped me leave the plane and take that dock
Image by Leah Levy

Learn How to Move On

If you didn’t quite nail your performance as you’d hoped for, quiet the mind and move on. Don’t fall into the trap of self-sabotaging thoughts. Training and performance is not a time to begin the internal monologue of criticism. Stick to the facts. If you needed more of something on that jump, or a little less of something, or if you learned your exit needed to be a different body position – let that be all it is. Don’t look for reasons for that to be a jumping-off point into why you’re no good. All of our errors are simply a way for us to learn a better way of doing something. Learn from not flying perfectly so that you can learn to fly it perfectly. Leave out the emotional story you can create behind it.

Words are Power

What we say aloud has power as well. The way we speak about our lives and specifically our performance can have a tangible impact. I’ve witnessed this in my skydiving students. A student will come down from a jump feeling deflated or speaking in a negative way about their jump and, if they don’t work to suppress the negative self-talk, it will begin to impact their performance in the sky. This is an easy fix. Hold yourself accountable for what you speak. Start to pay attention to what you give your voice to. Be mindful of what you say. Speak with power. If you didn’t nail something, rather than saying “I really sucked on that jump.” Say “I can fly faster and more on level on the next skydive.” It can be clinical and it can be a mantra. This gives you something to actually train, versus tearing yourself down. One is a productive mindset, the other is counterproductive. 

Where to Begin?

If you’ve thus far been a passenger to your mind’s hyperactive mental chatter, it might be difficult to even identify that there’s a conversation happening inside of your mind that isn’t reality. This can be a difficult skill to learn if you’ve so far been living inside an undisciplined mind. Meditation is how you can start to create awareness and eventually learn how to step back behind the thoughts as an observer and not a passenger. Start to look into meditation techniques that will work for you. Sam Harris has a great app called the Waking Up app (IOS and Android). Through his daily meditations you are learning a myriad of different ways to meditate. When we meditate, we’re not looking to stop the thoughts. Rather, we’re looking to create a buffer inbetween our conscious awareness and the ceaseless thoughts and stories of the mind. 

Meditation helps us step back behind the thoughts
Image from a yoga class by Alethia

There’s a place within our beautiful sport of skydiving where you can be 100% focused on progression and athleticism. If you’re not within the dropzone or circles that absolutely obsess over training and progression and body and mind awareness as it relates to flying, it’s not because there’s a lack of this within our sport. Start to implement an athletic mindset into your relationship with flying. Take it seriously. Enjoy the learning and progression that comes along with that. The road of learning and flying and failing and learning some more is what makes this sport an endlessly dynamic gift of adventure and fulfillment. 

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Meet: Alethia Austin

Alethia is a passionate full time international angle and freefly coach. As the creator of LSD Bigway Camps and LSD Angle Camps, she's been running skills camps in skydiving for over 8 years around the world. Some of her coaching and LSD camps have taken her to Botswana, Egypt, Central America, North America, Europe and more. Alethia brings her years of yoga teaching, love of good health and healthy living into the way she coaches angle flying and vertical flying. Alethia was a regional captain for the Women's Vertical World Record and has two world records. Her sponsors include UPT, Tonfly, PD, Cypres and LB Altimeters.

You can find her on Instagram at Instagram.com/alethiaja

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