So, mental strength. A subject everyone thinks about but little talk about in this game. However, one of the most important aspects of any fighters game is having a strong mind. With Muay Thai being one of the toughest, grueling sports in the world, it is obvious why you require killer mental toughness.
I actually think fighting in some ways is more mental than physical. That is probably contrary to what you believe right now but here me out. I’m not saying skill doesn’t matter but let’s imagine everyone is equal in terms of skill, which at the highest level they are. The difference in this instance that decides who wins a fight is usually going to be who wants it more and who is mentally tougher.
To go anywhere in this sport you have to be able to push yourself to your limits and fight through the gruelling days of the game, and it is at this point you will see success on the other side.
Muay Thai fight training can push anyone at any level to the point where you want to walk away from the sport and then never come back but this is where the mental toughness is most necessary.
I get it, it can be so hard at times to find that drive and push when you are tired, aching and generally just beaten down. So here are 5 ways in which I have learnt to push myself and developed mental toughness.
1. Discipline – Respect yourself.
The first step in developing the mental strength you need for a fight is being disciplined. What I mean by this is sticking to your word no matter what. Not letting any excuses, no matter the emotion or physical feeling, get in the way of your goals.
What I like to do is set myself a clear schedule. Each day I know exactly what I am doing so there is then no excuse or confusion when it comes to the time to train. I can then just get it done.
Set yourself a training schedule and respect yourself enough to stick to it. Even when you’re tired, frustrated, aching, train anyway. You need to develop a little voice in your head that reminds yourself of why you are training. The end goal. Every time you feel like missing a session and letting yourself slip, this voice needs to pop up and push you along. It is these small wins that make a difference over time! You pushed yourself to do something you didn’t want to do. Imagine how much tougher you would be if you did that consistently for 6 months or a year!
The way I look at it is every time you choose not to train you are disrespecting the goal that you set out. So either your goal isn’t big enough or it didn’t mean that much to you.
I don’t care what anyone says running/roadwork is an essential part of any Muay Thai program. Putting the fitness benefits aside, it does wonders for your mental toughness.
Road Work can be extremely gruelling and knowing you have to run for miles when you are feeling beat up and tired is depressing, but as mentioned already it is important to stay disciplined and push through.
There are many mornings I wake up and really try to talk myself out of running. But that little voice says to do it anyway. And I remind myself why I need to run. That reason could be anything and is different for everyone. For me, it is to make sure I beat my next opponent. It may be the same for you, or it may be that you have made a promise to increase your fitness. Whatever it is, respect it.
In the times you feel particularly defeated it is important to take the smallest wins. Just completing the run would be a win so try not to pressure yourself on times, distances etc. Just be consistent and when you say you are going to run. Run.
Now during the run itself, as you will know there are times when you want to stop and take a breather. I have been there many times. What I like to do, which I find helps loads, is set little scenarios in my head that can get me through. For example, when I’m tired in the last mile or so I imagine it is the last round of a fight and I am losing. So I have to finish the fight by KO. This pushes me through to the end of the run and I often pick up the pace!
3. Quit the negative talk
There’s a famous quote that has always stuck with me since reading it, “Do not talk badly of yourself, for the warrior within is lessened by them”. This could not be more true. Your thoughts become things and I stick by this. Whatever way you talk to yourself becomes a reality. Your brain is like a sponge. What is interesting is 95% of it is subconscious, only 5% of it is conscious. Meaning the 5% of thoughts will be playing a part on the much bigger part of your brain. Everything you consciously think is training your subconscious reality. Meaning it will come true. You can use this in both a positive and negative way. It is extremely powerful.
Now I know this sounds complicated but when I wrapped my head around this it changed my whole outlook on life. The way you talk to yourself becomes ingrained in your subconscious. This then runs on autopilot response. Let’s say every session when you are tired you say “ah forget it I can’t be bothered” and you stop training or don’t push yourself as much as you know you should, or can. This becomes a natural response. This becomes ingrained in your subconscious mind. So then when it comes to the fight night and you are in deep waters, your brain triggers the same way. The exact same response. “Ah, I can’t be bothered”. It knows no other way. It can’t suddenly produce a response it hasn’t been trained to do. Some of you may not know exactly what I am talking about so let’s put this into a more relatable perspective.
If you throw a kick every session poorly, your guards down, you’re off balance, the angle is wrong. You will throw that same kick in a fight. Perfect technique doesn’t just magically appear. This principle is the same for your mental voice.
So in short, start talking to yourself more positively each session. Instead of “I can’t be bothered”, say “I need to do this. I need to win.” this will carry over into everything in life.
Visualisation is one of the most powerful things any fighter or anyone can do. And something I have had great success with myself in ways you probably wouldn’t even believe if I told you. But I will tell you anyway.
A few years ago I visited a sports psychologist, Tom Bates, he is the mental coach for some of the best football clubs in the UK. He taught me some really powerful stuff about visualization that I use every day.
The way he explained visualization to me was the more you visualise something or yourself in a situation the more your mind gets used to it and familiarises itself with it. So when it comes to you actually being in that same situation your brain feels like it has been there before and knows how to respond in the way you have taught it to. Almost like deja vu. Crazy right.
This can have some real positive effects on fights. In one of my most recent fights, I won by KO. I threw two elbows and knocked my opponent out in the first round. What’s mad is that this is exactly the outcome I had visualised leading up to the fight. I even said to my girlfriend I am going to knock him out with an elbow. It happened.
Now I’m not saying that if you think you are going to win in round 1 KO it is going to happen every time. All I’m saying is thinking positively, picturing yourself in a situation can have a great effect when it comes to real fighting. So your mind is clear on what you want it to do on the night.
Tom made some even more interesting points about this process too. It is not just as simple as thinking of all the positive outcomes. As you know fighting is never this easy no matter how much you visualise things going your way. He said you need to think of potentially negative situations that may happen too. For example, things aren’t going your way in the fight and you are getting hit with shots. You then need to visualise how you respond and adapt to what is happening in a positive way. Instead of panicking and freezing when the round 1 picture-perfect viral KO hasn’t happened as you visualised it. This leads me to my next point.
5. Exercise your mind – your brain is a muscle
Your brain is like a muscle, it can be trained to withstand punishment and become stronger over time just like your physical body. However, it takes consistency to do all of the following I have spoken about. Visualisation is not just as simple as thinking about the best possible outcomes like winning by KO once and never visiting it again. You need to think of negative outcomes too, the beauty is in visualizing yourself to respond to them in a positive way. This is the most important aspect of it for me.
These are the tough situations in a fight so instead of panicking and freezing wouldn’t it be good to have trained your mind to be ready for them? This is where it becomes ingrained in you and you become ready for everything and anything a fight can throw at you. Imagine that, you have visualised overcoming every possible negative outcome within a fight. You would be untouchable.
This needs to be practised and done every day for a good amount of time. You wouldn’t do one pad session in the lead up to a fight and never do it again, would you? Well, I hope not, you wouldn’t be fit right. Mental training is the same, you need to work consistently over time and you will see some major results.
It is the same with positive talk. It is no good talking to yourself positively sometimes and negatively other times. You need to do it all the time for it to have real effects.
Now take my personal result in this fight here with a pinch of salt. This is the fight game we are talking about. Things aren’t always going to go your way and pay off. All I am saying is with the right thought patterns you can put yourself in the best frame of mind leading up to a fight. This stuff can be applied to any aspect of your life!
You will find that doing things like this over time consistently will build up your mental strength. You will feel as though you can push yourself more etc and in turn, because you have constantly trained harder your physical body will have gained too! It is just about making sure that the voice in your head is positive and always wins!
Try some of this stuff out and let me know what you think!
Train hard and push yourself.