It is about focus
“Perseverance without concentration of mind can hardly produce results. If we look at flowers form a galloping horse, even though we may look daily, it is like not having seen them at all. (…) During exercise, the mind should be on the exercise. Idle and confused thoughts should all be put aside.
The superior man’s deportment is cultivated and agreeable, but one cannot say this about exercise. Exercise should be savage and rude. To be able to leap on horseback and to shoot at the same time; to go from battle to battle; to shake the mountains by one’s cries, and the colours of the sky by one’s roars of anger; (…) – all this is savage and rude and has nothing to do with delicacy. In order to progress in exercise, one must be savage. If one is savage, one will have great vigour and strong muscles and bones.” – Mao Zedong, “A study of physical culture.”
Sure, you could read this and think, "yeah, I should be an asshole during training", but that's not the point. It's not about you being savage and rude as a person, but about attacking your training instead of half-assing it. It's about not coming into class stressed out from work and completely unfocused, only to screw up your workout. It is about focus.
When I have trouble focusing when I'm supposed to work or train, I use what I refer to as a 'reset button', an activity that helps separate the 'now' from what needs to be 5 minutes from 'now'.
Back when I did aikido (a martial art), at the start of the class, we would sit in 'seiza' (on our knees, in a row) with our eyes closed. We would breathe deeply and try to unwind. We would not move or speak until the teacher told us to. 'Leaving behind' what happened during the day to focus on what needed to happen – focus on training.
Things to do right
I'm not telling you to sit in a corner awkwardly with your eyes closed, but here are a few suggestions for things to do right before training if you're coping with stress and have a hard time focusing on training.
- Socialize, especially before class. Connect with people positively. Don't distract others (or yourself) from training properly, but let the good vibes help you through.
- Visualize. Take a look at the workout, try to visualize what you're going to do. Try to decide if you want to hit a certain number of rounds or a certain weight and what your technical focus will be. Even if those targets change when you hear the actual briefing, visualizing gets you into 'workout mode' instead 'my life sucks, and everything is terrible mode'.
- Flow. Get moving. Do a simple warm-up or some stretches and focus on what you feel in your muscles or concentrate on your breath. Do something that requires your attention without causing frustration. Something easy that allows you to move continuously. An example would be lunges, alternating with shoulder dislocations, and perhaps a series of stretches done back to back.
- Detach. On occasion, I go full aikido mode and sit with my eyes closed and count my breath 50 times – it works like a charm (actually, I lose count at some point, by that time, I know my mind is empty enough to focus on training.)
See if any one of these things works for you. Set your mind straight, so you can focus on training and get the most out of it so that you may be savage and rude in training (instead of savage and rude as a person to your coach or fellow athletes because your boss was an asshole to you today)!