Tough Mudder training: 10 ways to improve your mental game

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Whether you did it because you were in a self-improving mood or borne along on a wave of confidence from your team-mates, signing up to a Tough Mudder is the easy part. Now the initial buzz has worn off, it might have occurred to you that now you’ve got to actually run the damn thing. Mercifully, though, the prep doesn’t have to be as pain-filled as the race itself. By harnessing the latest research into willpower and habit formation, you can make training easy – even if the race won’t be. Here’s how to get it done.

1 Form good habits

A study published by Duke University in the US found that 40% of participants’ daily actions weren’t the result of conscious decisions, but ingrained behaviours – so you need better habits, not more self-discipline. The secret? Start small. ‘Make behavioural changes tiny,’ says Stanford University’s Dr BJ Fogg ( ‘Begin a running habit by putting your trainers on at the start of every lunch break. Then move on to running up one street and gradually begin to go further. Your run will quickly become absorbed into your daily routine.’ Follow our 8 week Tough Mudder training plan to get you in the right habits ahead of the race.

2 Don’t rely on willpower alone

In studies, test subjects forced to resist biscuits do worse on geometry problems. The lesson? Willpower, like a muscle, becomes fatigued from overuse, so stack your tougher workouts so they’re before lunch or early in the week. The bonus: by exercising your willpower daily – via training, say – you’ll build more reserves for the tougher stuff like the Arctic Enema 2.0. 

3 Remember the magic number

It’s 66 – according to University College London, the time it takes to make a new habit automatic. The odd slip-up won’t hurt – so keep plugging away, and remember that’ll it’ll all be easier in a couple of months. If you’re struggling to make it to the magic 66-day mark, get help with motivation from the Smartwatch 3 by Sony, which has an activity tracker to record your daily totals so you can see if you’re slipping, and can be synched with Sony’s Lifelog app to allow you to set goals.

4 Focus on the positives

According to research from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, focusing on what you aren’t going to do can lead to a ‘behavioural ironic rebound’ – or, in plain English, if you plan to stop drinking beer, you’ll drink more beer. Instead of negatives, focus on positives – such as resolving to get regular training sessions in and drinking lots of water.

5 Reprogramme your brain

Use If >Then patterns to stop your brain having a chance to flirt with temptations. Set up cues to prompt planned behaviour. For example: ‘IF I feel too tired to train before work, THEN I will train after work.’ The bonus: conserving willpower in this way means you’ll have more left over for other things.

6 Enlist help

Partnering up will boost the chances of sticking to your resolutions, according to research from the University of Leeds. When groups were told to make If >Then plans with and without the help of friends, those who used a support group were more successful. Even better, enlist the help of technology: SmartWatch 3 from Sony has a built-in GPS to track your runs for you and it can be paired with Sony’s Lifelog app to help with goal-setting, especially with its notifications and stopwatch.

7 Avoid weak temptations

In a study published in the European Journal Of Social Psychology, ‘weak’ temptations were found to be more likely to lead dieters astray than strong ones. Translation: you know a trip to Vegas is bad, but it’s ditching that one post-work training session for a beer that’s more likely to derail your programme.

8 Exaggerate the challenge

In studies from the University of Texas, volunteers who overestimated the calories in biscuits or the likely length of a party were more likely to stick to their new cake-and-party-avoiding regimes. What’s more, they were more likely to exaggerate the threat in the first place if they had prompts on hand reminding them of their goals. You can easily apply this to the Tough Mudder: it’s not just an obstacle course race, it’s your Everest.

9 Don’t focus on shame

Don’t think about how ashamed you’ll be if you can’t finish or turn up in bad shape – focus on the pride you’ll feel if you cross the finish line triumphant and caked in mud. In studies at the USC Marshall School of Business, volunteers who focused on the pride they’d feel from sticking to resolutions reported much less desire to eat slabs of cake.

10 Commit yourself

Use what psychologists call ‘precommitment’ – tell friends your intentions and input your goals into Sony’s Lifelog app and get them to help. And up the ante – when psychologist Dean Karlan committed to losing 17kg, he told a colleague he’d give up half his earnings if he failed. He’s now founded, which you can use to donate money to charity if you don’t stick to your plans.

Read our complete guide to Tough Mudder for more practical tips for getting through the race.

Find out more about XperiaZ3 from Sony and its benefits for your Tough Mudder preparations. 

Coach Staff

Coach is a health and fitness title. This byline is used for posting sponsored content, book extracts and the like. It is also used as a placeholder for articles published a long time ago when the original author is unclear. You can find out more about this publication and find the contact details of the editorial team on the About Us page.