All too often when training, athletes focus only on physical preparation. Don’t get me wrong—being physically prepared is extremely important. However, I believe that mental preparation is even more important. It is often a mental barrier that cripples us the most.
At O.B. Training & Sports Performance, I refer to athletes who are mentally prepared as having “It.” They possess the intangibles: the mental fortitude to set goals, overcome adversity and push through pain; a high level of self-awareness; and the ability to clearly see the path they need to take to reach their goals. They don’t get hung up on making decisions, and they can break through mental barriers in order to execute.
These attributes are very hard to teach, because they must come from within. Here are three ways you can work on developing these mental attributes so you can break down mental barriers and succeed in your sport.
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Reading may be one of the most important habits you can develop to keep your mind sharp. With all of the technology available, it’s easy to forget that the best entertainment can be found in your own head. Reading allows you to create space in your mind. When you have space in your mind, you can organize your thoughts, objectives and goals much more effectively.
Reading also inspires creative thinking and forces you to exercise your imagination. Take time to read a variety of books that excite, inspire and drive you to expand your mind. One of the goals I set for myself is to read three books every 90 days—one for business, one for coaching and one for pleasure. Find something you enjoy and start reading, even if it’s only 10 minutes each day. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the difference it makes in your mental outlook, both on and off the field.
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Reading and writing go hand in hand. Reading creates space in your mind and inspires creative thinking for you to have ideas—plus the goals and plans to develop them. To implement them in your preparation, whether for training or studying for your sport, you need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve. Writing creates clarity, and clarity precedes change. Putting your thoughts into words helps your mind make sense of all the wonderful information you have racing around up there. Achieving clarity allows us to keep the important info and trash all the nonsense thoughts that run through our minds each day.
Also, establishing your ideas on paper, especially your goals, makes them real. When you have a piece of paper with your goals written out, they gain importance. You can make notes about your training goals and check them off as you achieve them. It may seem silly, but it’s very powerful.
So after you read, take time to write. Write your thoughts, ideas, goals, complaints, anything—it doesn’t matter, just write.
Aside: If you haven’t set goals for yourself, do so immediately. You can’t hit a target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.
Isn’t that for monks? Well yes, monks do meditate, but so can you. A mentor once told me the only wrong way to meditate is not to meditate.
The world we live in is constantly moving, especially for athletes. You have to split your time between school, practice, training, competition, family and friends. The constant barrage of obligations creates a high level of stress and anxiety, both physically and mentally. This stress and anxiety are cumulative, and over time they can cause issues and even illness. It is important to take time to de-stress and relax.
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Mediation is an extremely effective way to achieve this. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t take a lot of time. Five minutes of meditation can do wonders for your mind. Find a quiet space to sit with your eyes closed and relax. Don’t try to think about “nothing;” it’s impossible. Instead, give yourself a mantra (short phrase) and repeat it to yourself. This will keep you focused and prevent your mind from drifting away. An example of a mantra for use before a competition is, “I am Prepared. I will succeed.” Afterwards, you should feel refreshed and ready for action.
If you start taking your mental preparation as seriously as your physical preparation, I can guarantee you will crush any mental barrier that gets in your way and improve your performance. In today’s sports world, their mental edge is what separates elite athletes from the rest of the pack. Focus on these three mental activities, and you will be on your way to elite.