ARTICLE FOUR: Mat Tippett - State Control

December 1, 2014


Reflecting on the Athens Olympics, one image comes to mind - the
vision of track cyclist and Olympic gold medallist, Ryan Bayley on
the start line for the second race in the sprint final. I remember
the commentator directing our attention to the look on Ryan’s
face. He announced “Ryan is mustering up every ounce of aggression
he has.” As the camera zoomed in, you could feel the energy.

Imagine if you were able to harness and control that type of
energy or aggression during a training session or race. What would
it mean for your performances if you were able to create a desired
state of mind? How much harder would you train or race?
Alternatively, how much more “relaxed” could you become if you
understood the feelings or code associated with relaxing? Would
this impact on your pre race behaviour?

If you revisit the first report in this series titled “Motivate
Me” (TMSM January 2005), I introduced a technique in the
“Understanding the sensory experience of emotions” section. You
will need to familiarise yourself with the content discussed. It
is critical that you have a competent level of skill and a
detailed understanding of the process of determining your code for
emotional states. If this is the first article you’ve read in the
series, you will need to follow the drills as directed and way
them for a week or so.

Emotional states during training and racing are similar.
Therefore, we are exposed to the same “stressors” whether they are
positive or negative. Here are four examples of emotional states
that are typical throughout the sport of triathlon for both sprint
and Ironman distance:
1. Powerful
2. Nervous
3. Relaxed
4. Angry


It is worth noting that the individual may use different
terminology for the same emotion. For example, strong, powerful
and fit may all be used to label the same emotional state
depending on the references we have for them. If my examples don’t
fit with your terminology please change them to reflect your
interpretation. Following is an example of how you can understand
the emotional state of feeling powerful. You will then need to
follow the same protocol for all four states.


Close your eyes and search for a memory in which you were
successful. It could be finishing a race, standing on a podium
receiving a medal or running past a group of friends who are
cheering for you. If you are unable to find a memory like this
don’t worry. Rent the first Rocky movie or Chariots of Fire and go
to a scene that provides the emotion that you are trying to
achieve and use that.

When you find the state of feeling powerful, document the code.
Write in detail the feelings associated with the emotion. Follow
the checklist provided in “Motivate Me”, but please re-write the
example on a separate sheet of paper ie. When you were feeling
powerful what did you see, hear, feel, smell etc.

Pick a symbol that reflects the nature of this emotion. When I
think of this emotion, I instantly think of a winner’s trophy or
three people standing on a podium accepting medals. When you have
chosen a symbol, draw it on the same piece of paper as the code.
Please see Figure 1 for an example of a symbol.












Figure 1: Example of symbol.


Now that you have documented both your code and symbol, repeat the
same process for the three other emotions identified earlier. If
you have any other emotional states that you would like to
understand further, please feel free to use this process - it is
not limited only to my examples.

Use a variety of resources to help achieve the desired emotional
states - memories, movies, music or photographs. For example, find
a photo of yourself sitting on the beach to achieve the state of
relaxation. You should now have a code list and symbol for each of
your desired states. Now you need to link the symbol to the code
so they become synonymous with each other. This process will allow
you to recall the symbol and feel the code of the specific
emotion. Follow the drill below for each of the four emotional


Step 1

· Close your eyes and recall the code for the emotional state you
desire. When you have that code I want you to look for detail in
the sensations as with the earlier drills.
· Let go of the code and bring it back ten times, holding it for a
few seconds, looking for detail.

Step 2

· Make a visual picture of the symbol that you have designated for
the emotion.
· Practice this until you are able to hold a clear, still and
detailed picture.
· Move the picture to the left-hand side of your body just above
your left shoulder and in front of you. Again you will need to
bring it back ten times.

Step 3

· Utilising techniques in Step 1 and Step 2, flick between the
symbol and your code. Think of the code then flick across to the
· Chose an event that happens regularly, such as making tea or
coffee and practice Step 3 each time this event occurs. Do this
for a week.
· It is important that you embed the code into the symbol and keep
reinforcing the connection over the course of the week. The time
that is required for practicing should decrease as you progress.
By the end of the week it should only take a second or two.

Step 4 (A)

· Practice seeing the symbol only.
· Your goal is to think of the symbol and have the entire code for
the emotions come flooding back instantly.

Step 4 (B)

· Recall your symbol at times when you are felling the desired
emotional state. You may feel the emotional state during
training or when out with friend’s etc.
· Your emotional state does not always need to be manufactured. If
they come on naturally because of environmental stimulus, simply
recall the symbol to reinforce the state control process.


The underlying idea is that your symbols become a gateway to
harness and control your emotional power. What you need to
consider is when to use these skills? Let’s use a typical race day
as an example, assuming that we all generally go through the same
process during the day. Below is a summary of a typical race day
offering suggestions as to when you may need to use state control

Pre race at home (morning of the race)

Generally a nervous time for all athletes. A key time to use the
relaxation technique. Frequently revisit your code and symbol at
regular intervals depending on your level of arousal.

Pre race at event

The tool you use at this stage is critical. When setting up in the
transition area you should use relaxation as your main emotional
state as it may allow you to get everything done on time and
without any negative stress.

Race start

This is a very personal time for a lot of athletes. Some people
like to be relaxed, some like to be a little more on edge. If it’s
a sprint race and you are a strong swimmer perhaps angry or
powerful may be a good state. If you are competing in Ironman
relaxed or powerful may be the desired states.


You may have ups and downs during your race. The key is to look
for any changes and use the state control process to stop negative
emotions inhibiting your performance. Alternatively, use the state
control process to maintain a feeling. As an example, when I ride
at a hard tempo, I find that I move into my powerful emotional
state regardless of how much I’m hurting. This has a snow ball
effect. I’m riding fast and feeling powerful, so I start riding
faster. You should be able to develop specific emotional states
for the bike and run leg that will help with your performance.

Post race

Most people say this is a time to relax. They are generally
correct. However, this is also a time to reflect on all of the
positive things. Reinforce the states of powerful, successful or
angry. This is the time to create strong emotions, that you can
recall assisting you at a later date.

Good luck

Mathew Tippett



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