Today we’re diving into the mental side of training and racing with performance psychologist Adelaide Goodeve. Not only is Adelaide a successful coach, but she’s an endurance athlete and multiple Ironman triathlon finisher. Rewind to 2009, however, and it was a totally different story. Adelaide was bedridden with debilitating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which doctors told her she would never recover from. Incredibly, after years of searching for a solution, she transformed her health within days using a brain training method, which later inspired her to pursue a career in performance psychology.
These days Adelaide helps amateur and elite athletes achieve their goals (she has coached clients to world champion and world record holder status.) In this Q&A, we dive into the strategies Adelaide uses with her clients, plus the importance of language, including the do’s and don’ts of self-talk and mantras.
FYI, Adelaide offers a complimentary 15-minute performance audit call, so hop on it!
Your career was inspired in part by your own experience having CFS. Can you share more about this?
My journey into becoming a performance psychologist started when I was told ‘no’. After years of suffering from a debilitating condition that left me bedridden, London’s top specialist confirmed I had severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME). I was told I would have it for the rest of my life, and it would likely get worse. I was 21, and I refused to accept my fate. I delved into alternative ways to heal my body, and after countless trials with little success, I finally discovered a 3-day brain training seminar – and I fully recovered!
My CFS experience taught me just how incredibly powerful your brain is. Within 10 years, I’ve gone from bedridden to endurance athlete, international speaker and elite performance coach for some of the world’s best companies, leaders, teams and athletes.
What does your work involve?
After five years of performance coaching and hundreds of clients, I’ve developed my tried, tested and proven Elite Performance Methodology. Based on my Champion Ethos, it’s a blend of my experiences and my clients’ experiences and is grounded in scientific research. It helps athletes, athletic professionals and corporate teams to optimise cognitive function, improve their performance ten-fold, enhance wellbeing and ultimately, become champions of their lives.
I guide my clients in moulding their minds to harness their inner Champion so they can achieve their goals and live their best life – we do whatever it takes! Change doesn’t have to be hard or take a long time. We create major transformations in just hours. We go deep, peel back the layers and keep the transformation going on a consistent upward trajectory to help them become the best champion version of themselves.
I imagine language is an integral part of your coaching. How important is positive self-talk in our training, racing and life?
The number one thing that keeps athletes and athletic professionals stuck, no matter what level they compete at, is their language. Your language is fundamental to your success. It determines if you achieve your goals or fall short; if you’re doing confidence or self-doubt, chronic fatigue or energy, how fast you go or how heavy you lift. And the list goes on.
Because of this, Thinking Like A Champion is a compulsory module for my corporate Elite Performance Training, and it’s the first thing I cover in 1-1 and group coaching. We always talk about ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ self-talk, and it’s my biggest bugbear. The world just isn’t that black and white. Your brain changes, grows and develops as a result of how you use it – and this comes largely down to your language, which strengthens your neuropathways, impacting how you respond to certain situations. But here’s the kicker: your brain doesn’t differentiate between what’s helpful to you and what’s not – it only differentiates between what neuropathways you use the most and the least. So, if your language is predominantly around you not being good enough, these neuropathways will be the strongest and fastest at their job, helping you to think in ways of self-doubt now and in the future.
How do you suggest we use language to enhance our performance instead?
If you want to get unstuck and create major transformation in your life, start by changing your language. Studies show that just saying “I’m excited” immediately before a task can increase accuracy by 30% and help you outperform the competition every time if they’re saying, “I’m calm” or “I’m nervous”.
I was doing a performance audit (a complimentary 15-minute call Adelaide offers to individuals interested in working with her) with a triathlete the other day, and his greatest challenge was his brain ‘turning to mush after 80km on the bike’ and thinking things like ‘I’m tired’, ‘this boring’, ‘do I have to continue….’ I told him to talk to himself in a motivating and performance-enhancing way next time he cycles and to continue speaking to himself like this throughout the session. He tried it and sustained 38/kmph for 8 minutes for the first time ever.
Your language not only impacts your immediate performance, but it determines how you think, act, feel and respond over time in your everyday life. It is the difference between ‘impossible’ and ‘I’m possible’.
What are your thoughts on using mantras in racing/training?
A mantra is a short, performance-enhancing phrase with a rhythm to it which drives your mood and performance. For example, it could be: “I’m a strong, powerful paddler”. Recently a client of mine completed the toughest kayaking race in the world, The Yukon River Quest Trail. She absolutely smashed it. We trained and prepared her brain in the months leading up to it, and one of the strategies I really encouraged her to use was a race mantra. She found the mantra to be one of her most powerful strategies.
I don’t believe a mantra is quite the heralded strategy it’s made out to be, as it’s not the only thing or the first thing you need when racing. But when training and racing, it’s a very easy thing to pull out of your performance toolkit to keep yourself going and flood your brain with performance-enhancing words and feelings.
Can you share why using words like ‘don’t’ in self-talk and mantras, such as saying ‘Don’t stop’ to yourself during a run, can actually be unhelpful?
If I told you not to think of Einstein riding a purple unicorn juggling five pink fluffy cats, I guarantee your brain has already conjured up that image in your mind. Because in order not to think about it, it first has to understand what you don’t want to think about, so it activates that thought and feeling. So when you say things like, “I’m not a loser”, “I’m not weak”, “I’m not in pain” “I don’t feel nervous”, your brain doesn’t hear the ‘not’ or ‘don’t’. It just hears ‘loser’, ‘weak’, ‘pain’, ‘nervous’.
And what happens then is your brain strengthens and activates the neuropathways for all these feelings, creating the associated physical manifestation, whether you realise it or not. Despite scientific studies proving this to be the case, some of my athletes were sceptical, so we tested it. And I was proven right! Every single one of them performed worse when they said, ‘I’m not weak. I’m not a loser’ compared to when they replaced those phrases with “I’m strong, I’m powerful, I’m fast, I’m a champion, I can do this.”
You’re a multiple Ironman finisher yourself. What strategies do you personally use during a race when it gets tough?
Hands up, due to covid, an injury and an operation, I’ve not raced for years. I have Celtman (iron-distance triathlon) in 2023, and we’ll see how it goes, as I won’t have much time to physically train due to another operation. However, this is what I’ll be doing and have already started:
- Brain Endurance Training using neuro-performance technology (I also coach my athletes to increase their resistance to mental fatigue – the no.1 performance stopper)
- Performance-enhancing language only
- Removing any doubt or sabotaging habits, thoughts and beliefs that pop up along the way
- I’ll have a game plan, but I’m going in with an adventure and gratitude mindset just to have as much fun as possible!
Talking about goals, you encourage your athletes to avoid time-focused race goals. Can you elaborate?
When athletes tell me they have a time goal, that’s awesome, we all have time goals. But when you’re in the race, it’s not the best goal for optimum performance. Time and time again, I see athletes getting so caught up on their time and splits that they don’t focus on the key things that will optimise their performance – such as technique, nutrition, hydration, and performance-enhancing thoughts. Looking at your watch and worrying sabotages your performance.
The other problem is around perception. You might start thinking thoughts like:
- I’ll never make it
- So and so is faster
- So and so will catch up
- It feels too hard
- Am I going fast enough?
- Am I going too slow?
All these thoughts will sabotage your performance and may trigger a downward spiral, even if you are on target. Instead, ask yourself, if you swap this for a performance-based goal to race as fast as possible, would you hit your target or more? Choose performance process-based goals over time-based goals every time. If you set them correctly, you’ll be completing your time goals too.
How much athletic success is down to mental strength?
It’s all about your brain: without a healthy brain, you have nothing – I learned this the hard way with CFS/ME. Your brain determines how you perform and, importantly, what your effort feels like; when you’re becoming increasingly mentally fatigued, it feels harder to push the same power, so you slow down. Hundreds of studies dating back 50+ years show that mental fatigue is the number one performance stopper – not heart rate, breathlessness, pain etc.
Spending hours on a turbo or a treadmill facing a wall is often talked about as a resilience-building technique. Can you share why this isn’t the best strategy?
Over the years, I’ve been told by a few pro athletes that they train resilience on a treadmill, so don’t require a sport psychologist. I’m shocked every time. Elite athletes are incredible machines, but for some reason, the brain in many sports is still hugely undervalued. Bottom line, if you want to be the best in the world (or want to achieve your full potential), brain training is absolutely key.
Your brain is a muscle, just like your body. It has to be trained like one. Resilience and mental toughness are psychological resources that can be trained. But they have to be trained purposefully and deliberately. If you run on the treadmill for resilience, all you’re doing is a very boring run. I guarantee you will exercise the same thought patterns, so if you’re thinking, ‘this is boring,’ ‘my body hurts,’ etc., and you just let those thoughts run, you are actually achieving the opposite. You are strengthening these neuropathways, so it’s easier to think in these ways when you run. You’re on a one-way track to sub-par performance.
What brain resilience methods do you use with your athlete clients?
I’ve recently released my 9-week Champion Performance Re-Programming, which is my highly proven blueprint that’s helped 400+ men and women across 20+ sports and countries to fully transform their mindset and harness their inner Champion for ultimate success and supercharged mental toughness. It is a sustainable lifestyle solution that gives you the tools and strategies to stay in the best mindset of your life.
With 1-1 clients, it becomes very bespoke; we implant very purposeful and deliberate tools, routines and strategies for their effectiveness according to the problem and the athlete’s personality and lifestyle.
One of my favourite ways to train resilience and mental toughness is with Brain Endurance Training using neuro-performance technology. Using a specific brain endurance training plan (Adelaide uses a particular app with her athletes), you can train your brain to increase its resistance to mental and physical fatigue, enabling you to push harder for longer and more easily handle the pressure and stressors of training and competing.
What upcoming adventures or endurance challenges do you have on the horizon?
I am moving countries and have another operation this year with a long recovery time, so I’m just seeing what happens! At the moment, I’m following a body-building program for something completely different, and I’m just so excited for the ski season!
To learn more about Adelaide’s performance psychology, visit www.adelaidegoodeve.com.