You’re NOT fixin’ to die…


coaches corner

RPE is a measure of how much we think we are exerting. We each create an exertion threshold based on preferences, comfort level, and experience. Understanding this concept, and how it affects psychology and performance, will help athletes (competitive or weekend warriors), parents and coaches build a performance mindset. First, the scale:

10 Max Effort
It is hard to maintain and talking is impossible

9 Very Hard Activity
Hard to continue, hard to breathe, can speak one word

7-8 Vigorous Activity
Becoming uncomfortable, breathing is becoming labored, can speak one-word sentences

4-6 Moderate Activity
Sustained for a long time, heavy breathing, can carry on short conversations

2-3 Light Activity
Sustained for a long time, easy breathing, easily carry on conversations

1 Very Light activity
Awake, doing normal leisurely activities

The brain is like a breaker in a fuse box. It senses labored breathing and a higher heart rate as a survival threat. It wants to tap the brakes, moving us from effort to comfort, based on how much we believe we are exerting. Self-talk becomes a devil on your shoulder that keeps negative thoughts front and center in your mind. The devils want to convince you you’re doing too much. The more you engage the devils, the more likely you are to flip the switch. We all have our own devils that flavor the truth in a way that will shut us down.

Look for one of two self-talk avenues:

Avenue one is physical. It says that if we don’t stop, we might die. Or that the pain in our ankle (knee, back, whatever) is very serious and we should stop.

Avenue two is that anything would be better than what we are doing now. It tells us we deserve to skip the last set or lap and get some pancakes because of all the hard work. Or, suddenly, our to-do list, or work project is more important than it was before exerting ourselves and we had better get right on it.

It is important to know a few things.

  1. Each zone has its own devils.
  2. As you get better, so do the devils.
  3. There will always be another devil.
  4. Perception of exertion isn’t usually a physiological reality, but the devils are very convincing that it is.
  5. Negativity degrades performance, positivity enhances it.

Some Suggestions:

  1. Build high performance mental habits. The devils come automatically, but you don’t have to listen.
  2. You can choose the things you tell yourself. Use motivational self-talk, “You got this,” or “Not today, devil.” Or instructional self-talk like, “one foot in front of the other,” or “count to thee and go.”
  3. Learn to shift focus away from internal sensations. Check in on physical sensations, pain, etc. and then move focus externally. This might be the 10 feet in front of you, the horizon, or a spot on the wall.

I’m Dr J. I work with athletes, parents, coaches, and teams of all levels to get their “Mind Right” through the art & science of sport & performance psychology.
In my practice, I work with individuals, teams, and organizations face-to-face or through Zoom.
I also offer comprehensive online sport psychology programs, one for athletes, and one for parents of athletes.
Check out my website, for more info, or email me at

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