What are you doing today to get that little edge over your competition? Maybe it’s taking a new supplement, trying a new recovery regimen, or employing the latest DNA-specific training method. What you may not consider after focusing heavily on the hardware is a subtle software upgrade might serve you better because training to be mentally tough is the single most important thing you can do to get your game to that next level. This kicks in when you have given everything and you’re dead tired because it’s your mental toughness that keeps you going. It gives you the best chance to win against the fiercest competitor, but you need to know how to employ the right steps at the right time.
Seeing Is Believing
Some athletes have a seemingly super-sensory edge. One such athlete is tennis champion Novak Djokovic, who won his fifth Wimbledon title this year defeating 20-time Grand Slam winner, Roger Federer, in an epic battle that lasted 4 hours and 57 minutes. Novak said it was the most mentally demanding match of life and credits visualization for his mental endurance. And he is certainly not alone. Arnold Palmer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Phelps, Carli Lloyd, and countless other elite athletes and Olympians swear by it. According to Activeacuity, research has shown that thinking about an action stimulates the same regions of your brain as physically performing the action. Imagine that a quarterback visualizing the perfect pass is activating the same neural pathways in his brain as throwing the “same” pass on the field. Visualization is also a great training technique because it creates mental memory or a type of imprinting on your brain. Try setting aside 10-15 minutes a day to close your eyes and visualize yourself in competition with all your senses. Picture and “feel” the ball as you shoot the perfect jump shot. Work on overcoming distractions by preparing for them with visualization. If you’re not competing then this is still an exercise worth practising. Visualise how you’ll break a new personal best in cardio or shoot for a bigger sized weight in the workout that you’ll enjoy later in the day. This will prime your muscles to function in the ways you want them to.
Live What You Love
It’s all too easy to double tap the like button when you see a little quote or saying that inspires you, but you can take it to the next level by even displaying it in your home gym or on a practice jersey. If it somehow speaks to you then you should embrace it because mantras or any positive self-talk can be an effective motivational and calming technique. According to the >Global Journal of Human Social Science, self-talk is highly effective in two ways: it can increase confidence and concentration and be a great weapon against those nasty negative thoughts. David Goggins, the only member of the armed forces to complete SEAL training, U.S. Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training, credits self-talk for much of his success. Goggins says we say up to 1,000 words to ourselves every minute, so it pays to turn these into positive affirmations. They can push you further, even after your body is begging you to quit. So, rehearse your mantras in practice and use them in the game. They can be as simple as, “I’ve got this” or “keep going”. Whatever motivates you – use it. This is worth doing, even when you’ve got that run of the mill Wednesday workout to drudge through. Pick a small phrase that speaks to you and write it on your hand in pen before your workout. Your goal should be to train so hard your sweat either rubs it off or smudges it so you can’t make out what it is. Think of it as a literary fitness tracker that you should aim to update before each session.
Silence Your Detractors
A first cousin to positive self-talk involves blocking out external distractions. Some call it “performing in a bubble.” This is worth practising because to be mentally tough, you must identify, confront, and make a plan to deal with outside distractions. It takes a stronger mindset than you might imagine to achieve this feat. You need to ignore other people’s opinions (think Twitter), the media, or a teammate or coach’s remark. An article in >Peak Performance Sports describes Chicago Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky’s struggle with negative chatter until he finally decided not to let other people’s opinions reside in his mental space. He said, “People are one keystroke away from accessing you. Why would I allow people who know nothing about me to have an opinion? Why would I allow them to have that space in my mind?” Remember, it’s healthy to set boundaries with any potential distractions. Be honest about what they are and then refocus on your goals. When you’re working out, it’s okay to have your phone with you but shut that screen down and focus on what you’re doing. Even if you’re browsing another person’s social media feed, negative comments about them can filter into your headspace. Block out distractions and lift the weights like it’s the 1980s and bullying was done in person and with punches, not virtually with offbeat emoji choices.
One of the most indelible marks of success is to be confident. It may seem impossible if you’re internally insecure but whether you choose to believe it or not, you can improve confidence with discipline and planning. To do this you need to set clear, reasonable goals and enlist the help of a teammate or coach to track your performance. Meeting your training and performance goals builds confidence. They are also something you can control with hard work, which isn’t something you could say for a puzzling referee call, the level of play by teammates or opponent, or the outcome of the game. A research study called >Mental Links To Excellenc” revealed that both Olympic athletes and Navy Seals were laser-focused on meeting their daily goals. Most importantly, they thought only of their goals and performance- not the results. Do not compare yourself to other or focus on the outcome exclusively because this eliminates external stresses and chatter. When you aren’t fearing the outcome, you play more loosely and grow as an athlete. Achieving greater confidence requires self-discipline; but, in the end, disciplined athletes rebound much quicker from mistakes, bad games, and injuries. So, begin building that internal bank of strong mental toughness today.