White Smoke vs. Black Smoke

With the recent vote of the new Pope, there was a lot of talk about whether we would see white smoke or black smoke after each vote.  In order for a the new Pope to be installed, the eligible cardinals vote and a majority must be reached (2/3 +1).  The ballots are burned after each vote.  The cardinals vote in isolation, so the way they communicate with the public on the election of a new Pope is through the release of smoke from the chimney in the conclave room.  Black smoke = no new Pope…White smoke = new Pope elected.

Black smoke over the Vatican from the chimney in the conclave room. No new Pope was elected.
White smoke over the Vatican from the chimney in the conclave room. A new Pope has been elected.

This similar analogy can be used to illustrate the mental perspective while training and racing endurance events.  Black smoke = negative attitude…White smoke = positive attitude.

When your body is under physical duress, you can fall to the whims of the “black smoke” or you can adjust your attitude and succumb to the “white smoke” mentality.  If you fall to the whims of the black smoke, you are allowing the negative, unhelpful internal chatter to win out.  Your body will always say it is tired or it hurts all of the time in endurance training and racing.  Your mind must succumb to the white smoke and do those things you never thought possible.  The key is to extinguish the fire that burns that black smoke.

no negative thoughts

Our mind sets up 100% of the perceptions of our experiences via external stimuli, our past, various aspects of our current mindset and stuff we just plain make up.  All of this information runs through our brain each moment like an internal twitter feed.  This internal twitter feed can be clouded with the negative black smoke or the positive white smoke.  Regardless of the case, we become what we think and our thoughts generate our actions.  When that infamous black smoke starts to infiltrate the brain, it is important to break up the race/workout, self-talk, include affirmations and include imagery into your race/workout to draw your mind back to the white smoke.

  • Break up the race/workout:  Focus on making it through the next 5 minutes, or the next mile.  Once you get to that point, you can reevaluate.  At this point, you can then focus on the next 5 minutes or the next mile and then you can reevaluate.  This “mental game” you start to play with yourself will pull you to the finish!!
  • Self Talk:  “I came here today to do my best in this event (or workout).  I will do my best.”  “I may be struggling, but I am going to keep moving forward.”  “I may be struggling, but I will reevaluate where I’m at in 5 more minutes.”  “I am going to push through and I will finish strong.”  “I will do this.”  “I will conquer this pain.”
  • Affirmations:  “I am strong.”  “I can do this.”  “I am the best.”  “I am a winner.”  “Today is my day.”  “I am fast.”
  • Imagery:  When I feel that black smoke start to invade my brain, I push it aside and visualize myself doing the best I’ve ever done and feeling the best I’ve ever felt.  This takes some practice.  You have to already know when you did your best and when you felt your best.  You need to practice visualizing yourself in these experiences, so when that black smoke starts to invade the brain, you can easily switch your brain to these previous white smoke experiences.

 The key to being able to properly access the white smoke is to train your brain each and every day.  The biggest game in endurance sport is the mental game!!  If you focus on the white smoke, you WILL have the best race/workout of your life!!

Henry Ford

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