It turns out Pixar was a genius in creating code words for mental strength. I found this out as I was ski touring for the first time in the Purcell range in BC. As I slogged up a hill for the third time, trying to keep up with my friends ,I found myself chanting/singing "just keep swimming, just keep swimming" the mantra that Dori the Clown Fish made famous in Finding Nemo. She was onto something, that Dori. By finding her mantra she was able to get her brain to relax around the difficult task at hand, and once her brain could relax her body could follow suit.
Code words are words or phrases that athletes use to remind themselves that everything is going according to plan, even when it isn't. They get developed before race day, a necessary part of mental training that ingrains connections between brain and body. The purpose of a code word is to help the brain relax when it experiences pain or mental stress. In a race or adventure pursuit ,like my ski tour, the brain registers signals that it is under duress- heavy breathing, painful muscles, pounding heart - which the brain reads as problematic and encourages us to stop what we are doing. It might sound like "I'm done", "I hate this" or as my brain was screaming loudly "how much better could those turns be up there? This is far enough".
The code word is the antidote to these sticky thoughts that plague us. They are Dori's "just keep swimming" mentality that soothe our brain and let it know that we aren't going to die from this exertion, we might just be really tired. I realized that I've always used some form of code word to relax when I've found myself training or outdoors. Marathon training resulted in "it's all good" as my go-to statement regardless of the hill or mile mark. "Every day ends in bed" was what kept me going as I led teens up mountains requiring 3am alpine starts. Now I rely on "29ers like rocks" while I'm mountain biking things my mother wished I wouldn't. Add on some reminders to breathe and now the body and brain can work together to get beyond the damaging thoughts.
There are times though when we don't want to relax and maintain, but want to charge, blow past our competition and ride the wave of adrenaline that feels so good. These are charge words, also honed in training, that fuel our efforts serving as a mental steroid when we need to make a move. Rowers are notorious for Power 10's, a call out from the coxswain to find 10 harder strokes than the rowers are already pulling. Swimmers I have worked with report using phrases such as "Now!", "get 'er done" and "explode" as they find inner strength to put the hurt on their competitors. By the end of the day, and nearing my end with more ridge still above me, I heard the phrase "let's get this over with!" and realized I had my charge phrase for the week.