I've always been disturbed by the concept of brainwashing. The idea that someone can subvert somebody else's thought processes has always given me the heebee-jeebees because we all know people who have been taken advantage of. A good friend of mine got taken advantage of when he was a troubled teenager and ended up in a cult-type religion for 15 years. Every year, I would bet him 5 bucks that this year would NOT be the "End Of Days". He's extremely smart and eventually reasoned his way out of it. Few people do.
To me, going from fat to fit was a bit scary because it required a self-inflicted brainwashing. You buy books, or read blogs, that tell you what to do and how often you should do it. There are chapters on positive reinforcement where you are encouraged to use mantra-type statements (think "you fell strong"). I went around my discomfort by using mostly-technical training plans and I feel it was the right thing for me. Basically though, you have to change the way your brain thinks and make it seek something different. You need a different carrot. You have to go from a belief system where a nice vacation is a week on the beach drinking margaritas and stuffing your face at an all-inclusive, to one (in the case of a triathlete) where you go basically anywhere so you can swim a few km, bike a few dozen and run a half or full marathon. The rest of the family is rarely thrilled, so you might have to alternate.
Some people manage to train and not compete. Training as maintenance. I don't know if I envy or pity them. This is not my case though. I seek the thrill of the competition. I don't expect to "win" but I need those moments where I can do what I trained for at the highest level I'm capable of.
As I escalated the type of events I'm participating in (Olympic triathlon, marathon) I'm started to experience the "epic" state of consciousness. To me, the epic state starts when some subvertive part of my mind starts talking to me and tells me to stop RIGHT NOW (some hard-core people might say that nothing short of an Ironman or a 100 miler is "Epic" but they can go to hell). Funny that I should seek a state that is defined by that fact that I want it to stop. Yet that's how it is.
Once you've experienced that epic feeling, you have changed. The epic state can be shortly experienced by looking at people in wetsuits, on bikes (with aerobars works better for me) or in running gears. Watching certain sport videos where the athletes are obviously experiencing an epic moment themselves can actually make you cry. Their pain is your pain and their victory is shared as well. You know.
As big races get closer, I tend to seek mental reinforcement, the very brainwashing device that I was scared of. It just cannot be helped. You just can't run an epic race like a marathon without some mental manipulation. There's no logic to it. Each increasing level of "epic-ity" requires increasing levels of self-reinforcement that become harder and harder to sustain by yourself. You seek your peers on the internet. You quit your regular gym and join an endurance-sport-specific gym where you can meet other crazy people like you. Anything to elicit the epic state.
The next two weeks are going to be mentally challenging. After tomorrow's 20 miler, I'm starting a 2 week taper leading up to the race. Nothing more can be done. I need my body to recover and refuel, but I also need my mind to accept and embrace the upcoming epic experience of running 42.2km.
Some might argue that I'm not that different from my friend. I've been ensnared. Maybe. But NOBODY is telling me what to do and what not to do. Other than "Thou Shall Not Draft" of course.