Are Mental Performance Blocks Holding You Back?

Helping you perform your best, Mental Performance Coach Neil Edge breaks down his process to overcome mental blocks.

Helping you perform your best, Mental Performance Coach Neil Edge breaks down his process to overcome mental blocks.

Many athletes experience mental blocks over the course of their season.

A mental block is a psychological obstacle that prevents you from achieving your objective. Your mind has convinced you that the particular task at hand is impossible. Your thoughts dictate your actions and your actions dictate your reality.

They appear in many different guises to us as athletes. 

For some, self doubt creeps in and you start to believe that you are unable to maintain a faster run pace or increase your swim speed. 

For example, you glance down at your watch and see your run/swim speed is faster than usual so you back off and run/swim slower. In this instance, your fight or flight response is being triggered by your thoughts that you won’t be able to maintain this pace so you slow down.

In some cases, it’s fear based. The athlete may be afraid of descending fast downhill after experiencing a bike crash. 

Here, the fight or flight response is triggered every time you come to a hill so you slow down in anticipation of a crash.

The emotional part of the brain, which takes over in fear situations, subconsciously associates any situation that looks, sounds, or feels like the traumatic/feared event, with a threat to survival, and immediately activates the fear response.

The following are tips and tools that can be used to counter these responses.

Positive Self Talk

Positive self-talk is conscious statements that we say aloud or in our mind to change a particular belief. These beliefs are housed in our subconscious mind and dictate our reality.

State a positive affirmation or belief in the present tense, “I am,” or “I feel” within the first three to five minutes of waking or during the few minutes right before going to sleep. This window of time is critical because our brain is in the theta state, which is the gateway to your creativity, learning and intuition, allowing you to access the power of your unconscious mind, which is inaccessible during our awake, alert state. 

Try to add emotion to the statement, for example, “I felt wonderful when I swam fast during drills last week.”


Next you must visualize or imagine a successful outcome. In doing so, you are actually stimulating the same region of the brain as you would if you were to physically perform that same action.

Sit, close your eyes and focus on an element that created the mental block and imagine a positive outcome and positive emotion to accompany it. You are in essence, creating a memory for the brain to recall next time you are in that situation. 

It is important to utilize all of your senses during this process. What would you see, hear, feel, smell and taste?

Manage Your Expectations

Is the speed that you are trying to achieve within your current physical capabilities?

Do you have the bike handling skills to be able to ride descents faster?

Will the conditions (heat, rain, etc.) allow you to maintain that faster pace for longer periods of time?

Managing expectations is an important part of the process so take a moment to assess your current situation and skill set while setting goals for yourself.

Performance Cues

Performance cues are words or phrases that can be used to refocus our concentration and lift us up out of our downward spiral. For example, “relax,” “I’m feeling strong,” “I’ve got this,” “maintain,” etc.

They can be prepared in advance, so when thoughts of “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t,” start to creep in, you can tap into your catalog of performance cues.

The key is to find words and phrases that motivate and help you refocus.

Setting Smaller Goals

Improving confidence is key to removing mental blocks. 

Break down the task into smaller segments, shorter distances, smaller hills, longer rest times, etc. Seeing and feeling that you can hit the splits consistently, or descend the hills successfully, will give you the confidence needed to succeed in training and on race day. As time goes on, add distance, elevations, etc.


Neil Edge is an experienced triathlon Mental Performance Coach, working with age groupers and pros. He works with triathletes to overcome fear of open water and fast descents, setbacks including a less than expected performance and injury, increasing motivation, removing performance anxiety and building confidence and resilience. You can learn more about his mental performance courses at 

rachel schuster