This is the first of five live trainings that I’m going to do this week in the spirit of “New Year, New Mindset.” It’s basically a look at the athlete from the inside out. We’ll start with the mind, and then we’ll go to the body, the spirit, the inner circle which is the very close people, and then the team or the community is the outer most ring.
We’re going to start with mind today. Before I get into that, I’ll give you a little bit of information about myself in case this is the first time we’ve met.
I am a sports psychology expert. My background is in gymnastics. I was a competitive gymnast for a decade. I let the mental blocks and fear get in the way of my fun. I didn’t have any way to solve it, so I quit. But I was so in love with gymnastics that I became a coach. I coached for 15 years.
Midway through I realized that it was the mental side that I really loved to coach, so I went to school and got my masters in sports psychology. Now I work with primarily kids and teens. I love working with young people on building confidence, getting over mental blocks. This is what I do. I help a lot of swimmers, gymnasts, tennis players, golfers, soccer players, basketball players get the mental toughness that they need in order to do their best.
How the brain affects performance
I’ll give you the tiniest overview on how the brain works just to give you the first peek into why the mind is such an important piece. Anybody who’s a gymnast or a swimmer probably is very aware of how mental sport can be. Probably any sport really. But the brain, think of it like a field of grass. When somebody walks through a field of grass it’ll smoosh down a couple of the blades. Then if somebody walks behind that person in the grass, it’ll smoosh down a few more of the blades. But if it rains and the sun comes out, no one will ever know that those people had walked through the path.
But if the same person walks that path everyday or a stampede goes that way everyday, the grass starts to move out. Then you’ve got a dirt path. But if nobody walks that path anymore, the grass will start to fill in. Next thing you know, months down, you’ll never know that there was a path there. That’s how our brains work. It’s called plasticity. That means that things you do often are very well ingrained. Things you don’t do are not. That’s why you physically train repetitions because you’re building it into your brain.
If you’re a competitive gymnast and you do your routine over and over and over and over you stop having to think about it because your brain is locked into that routine. One thing I wanted to mention also before I get too deep into it is there is a toolkit that you can download for free down below if you’re interested. It’s got different logs and all kinds of different things that’ll help you get the most out of the training.
Anyway, you’ve got your brain. Your brain is getting locked into whatever you’re doing regularly. If you are regularly confident, your brain will actually continue to strengthen and become more confident. If you are regularly negative, your brain will continually respond with negative thoughts. It’s wired to continue doing the things that it does, whether or not that’s for good or bad. If you’re already super positive, great. Keep training it, because if you stop…. you use it or you lose it. That’s how your mind works.
You know the saying, “practice makes perfect?” Well, actually, practice makes permanent. If you are practicing negative thinking or negative imagery, without even realizing it, you are making that permanent, at least until you’ve walked a different path.
What is your mind responsible for in sport?
You’ve got your thoughts, your images, your confidence, your focus, grit–whether you stick to it or not when things get hard. Motivation, how resilient you are. If you have a bad day or a bad practice or a bad game. If you can bounce right back and have a good practice the next day or a good next event. Also channeling the energy in your body. Your mind is surprisingly powerful when it comes to tension or relaxation: where the energy goes in your body has a lot to do with what you’re thinking.
How thinking affects your body
I’ll give you a little example of this. Some of you guys may have already done this with me, but it’s one of my very favorite exercies. I don’t think you can do it too many times. We’re going to spend 15 seconds and I want you to just think of a common negative thought that usually comes to mind. Maybe it’s when you’re stressed or you’re tired, or you don’t want to do something, or you’re not feeling motivated. Whatever that common negative thought is that just tends to pop up.
Once you’ve thought of that, then we’re going to take a minute and we’re going to put that on loop. That negative thought, that’s your common negative thought, on loop over and over. I want you to really believe that it is true. We’re going to do it for 15 seconds. Ready? Get set. Go.
Okay. Now feel your body. Does it feel more energized? Does it feel weighed down? Do you feel sad? I get this chest tightness or this lump in my throat and this kind of “gut bomb” feeling.
That’s 15 seconds of a negative thought. Not just any negative thought, that’s the one that you probably carry around in your pocket with you all the time. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be good. They’re not going to like me. Whatever that thought is for you, and we all have them, whether your positive or not, we all have them. You want to be able to catch the thought and notice it’s there and then have something to replace it with so you can start walking a new path in the grass. That’s just a quick example.
3 steps that get your mind ready for competition
I’m going to go through three steps that’ll get your mind tightened up for competition. The first one is knowing your default. It’s awareness.
If you know what your paths is in the grass are, if you know your current default mindset, then you can start to see where there are holes in it, or it might weak. Or where maybe it’s already strong but you can always make it stronger.
I’m going to ask you some questions… Just ask yourself, “has that ever been me?”
Have you ever thought you did well, and then you checked your score or your time and you went “Oh that was horrible?” Meaning you thought you performed well, but the score threw out the effort?
Have you ever felt your emotions getting in the way of your performance or maybe your strategy? You get angry or sad or nervous and then everything is out the window and you don’t know how well you’re going to do?
Or have you practiced really well, really consistently in competition, then when the big day comes, the pressure comes up and then, where were you? What happened?
Have you ever gotten overly nervous and messed up? Or let a mistake … If you make a mistake early, then the whole rest of the day is doomed? Or if you’ve had self doubt or negativity get in the way of confidence? Any of those things are all solvable by retraining your brain and the way that you think.
Why are thoughts so important?
Well, in the toolkit, there’s a little diagram that just shows thoughts beliefs and actions are all in a triangle. They’re all so closely related because if you think a thought, like that negative thought, and you start to believe the thought and then you start to act accordingly, it creates this feedback loop of, “I feel like it’s going to go bad.” Then you really believe, “this is not going to go well.” Then it doesn’t go well and then the next time you go, “Well, it’s probably not going to go well because last time it didn’t go well.”
The belief gets more ingrained. The actions continue to fall short, and it all started with a thought: “I don’t think this is going to go well.”
Why do we think that? Well it’s probably for some kind of self preservation. If I keep my expectations low, then I won’t have to let myself down. That’s often what it is. It’s different for different people. But just consider, does that resonate for you? If so, you might consider changing that first thought. Now I don’t mean going “I’m going to be great!” Then your mind is arguing. You’ve got the “Well no, I’m not going to do that well.” And the “I’m going to be fine” battling. You’ll go back to default. Whatever the default is, which was probably the negativity.
I recommend you actually go into neutral rather than positive when you’re starting to rewire your thinking. You take your negative thought, whatever that is. Mine’s usually about perfection or failure or it’s not going to be good enough. Then you flip it into the neutral. You take that same thought and you go “Okay, let’s take all the negative out of it and find just the facts.” The facts that you can’t have an argument about, that both sides of your mind, the optimist and the pessimist are going to go “Well yeah, that’s a fact so we can’t really argue it.”
For me, it might be “I don’t know if this live stuff is going to go well.” But I can think to myself, “I’ve done a ton of live presentations. They went fine. Okay. I’m going to be as prepared as I am.” I can think back and go “I’ve done this a lot of times. I’ve done this a lot of times.”
I want you guys to do the same thing. Take that thought, flip it to neutral and make sure you’re not going too positive and that you can ask yourself, “is that a fact?” “I’ve done that skill plenty of times.” “I’ve been training for five years.” Whatever your fact thought is, I want to have you try that for 15 seconds and really try to believe it. From there we’ll see how you feel after. Ready? 15 seconds. Get set. Go. Think your neutral thought.
Okay. That’s 15. You might feel yourself feeling a little lighter. Smiling. Letting the energy kind of lift from down deep in your gut up and your shoulders relax. Just check in with yourself. How did that work?
For some people, it doesn’t work. Some people works amazing. That’s another point I want to make about mental training is that everybody is different. You might be like, “Oh, I’ve tried mental training. It didn’t work.” Cool. That means what you tried doesn’t work. Let’s try what does. What I recommend is to keep an open mind, then also really try to be aware of your default. Once you know what your default is then you can start to move into the new territory of mental toughness.
Step two. We’ve got step one. That was awareness. Once you know what your default is you can go to two, which is what is your ideal mindset?
2. What is your ideal mindset?
The best way to find your ideal mindset is to go and think back to the best performance you ever did. The very best version of yourself. Were you present in the moment? Were you thinking about a goal? Were you thinking about a motivation that you had? Was your mind completely clear and blank? There’s no right answer, but for you, when you were in your zone, in your flow, what was your mind doing?
Then also, you can think about the people who you look up to. The different people who you see in the Olympics. Or maybe someone on your team who just “has it” and who gets in flow all the time.
The best version of you
What are the common themes? Confident? Focused? Think about the top three performances, and just tune in. What was that like? What was driving you? What were you focused on? What was your level of energy? Were you rattling out of your skin? Or were you really relaxed? Did you listen to music beforehand? Were you completely shut off from the world? What worked for you? That’s the way you can start to construct your ideal mindset.
You can even write it out. “The ideal version of me is …” Then you look back at that list and you can give yourself a ranking on each characteristic. Let’s say the ideal version of me is relaxed, present, confident, and then I’ll go back and go “Okay. My energy level is a 9, and it needs to be a 7. That means I need to breathe. I need to meditate. I need to do the tools that I know can help bring my energy down.” Or I need to be confident and right now I’m at a 6, but it needs to be at a 9 or a 10. I need to do visualization or imagery, or even just more repetitions in training. More drills to build the confidence up.
You figure out for you what your ideal mindset is, then we go into step three, which is the mental toughness training.
3. What is mental toughness training?
That is the big process of rewiring your brain. Once you figure out what for you is the priority, like:
- I need to dial in my focus.
- I need to be more present moment focused.
- I need to be less distracted.
- I need to get rid of the negativity.
Whatever it is for you that you, go “Okay, that’s the main priority. That’s the first thing I want to work on.” Then make a commitment to adding that to your physical training.
You can’t just train your body. Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the body, but if you don’t train the mind, your body can’t do everything it has the potential do because often we’re stuck either in the future or the past, and we can’t lock into that flow zone unless we’re in the present.
If you’re still not sure where to go with your mental training, I have three suggestions. These are the top three things that I recommend to get into the zone or the flow state. Number one is awareness.
If you get nothing more from this video, just be aware of your current mindset. Is it working? Is it not? That is the absolute foundation for mental toughness training. Even if you just go to practice tomorrow and go “Wow I got really mad and then I performed well.” Okay. Interesting. Or “I got sad and then I couldn’t do anything.”
If you just start to shift your attention to how your mind affects your performance you can start to get more control, which is the second one.
The second one is control. Now this is, it’s going to start really simple, but the more that I work with athletes on this, the more I see how powerful it is. You can come up with two lists. On one side, you can write “controllables” (or things I can control). On the other side, I call them “let-go-ables.” These are the things you cannot control. It seems simple but if you start to write down the things that you can’t control, the competition, the weather, the uniform. Whatever it is, all the different things, like the equipment at the competition. How the judge feels that day.
Then you can go into the column of the things you can control. It really boils down to … spoiler alert… It boils down to attitudes, actions, beliefs.
That’s basically it. It’s you. You can control you, and you cannot control anything else.
If you shift your focus away from comparing yourself to other people, worrying what other people think, worrying how your leotard is going to be in relation to your tooshie. Whatever it is that stresses you out or takes you out of the zone. The future, the goal that you haven’t reached yet, the pressure of college.
Whatever it is that stresses you out, if you cannot control it, you have to let it go.
I know it’s easier said than done, but one of the best ways I like to have people do it is just write down everything that stresses you out, everything you’re worried about, everything swirling through your head, especially as you walk into the competition arena, write it all out. Crumble it up on a piece of paper. Smash it hard and let it go into the garbage. It seriously drains that negative energy out of your body for that moment and allows you to be present which I think you might have gathered that that’s a theme. Be present. Be able to compete at your very best. That’s if you can get one takeaway. Control, and that’s controlling your mind, your attitude and what you do with your body. That’s basically it. If you can get your mind tightened up, you can have control over your ability as an athlete, the best you possibly can.
Third one is clear goals. This is a huge motivator for a lot of people. Goals, for some people is a really big stressor. Like I said before, it’s not black or white here. There is no one size fits all way to train your mind. But, having clear goals, this doesn’t mean “My goal is to go to the Olympics.” This is: “during this practice I would like to accomplish x.” Or, “during this drill I want to do this many in this way.” It’s having an intention when you set out to do anything. That focuses you in so that you can give your very best effort and start to build confidence.
Especially if you’re the kind of person like I was, “Well if the score isn’t good the routine isn’t good.” Instead, you have to think, “okay my goal was to wink at the judge 10 times because it’s hard for me to get out of my shell.” That’s what you do. You’re like, “Okay, I got a seven, but I did what I set out to do.” Or, “I’m going to keep my leg straight on that one skill.” You know, whatever it is, a performance-based focus, something you’re going to do in the moment is going to free you up to actually have a better performance overall.
That’s kind of a quick crash course on the importance that your mind has.
What’s coming tomorrow
Tomorrow we’re going to go into the body. I look at “the machine.” I call it the machine, which is basically your body, because that’s what does the sport. There are four inputs. I’ll go over those four inputs tomorrow. You already know what they are if you have the toolkit. If you’re going to miss any of the trainings, or if you’re joining it late, download the toolkit below.
There is something in the toolkit you can use today, which is a mental toughness log. I was talking about awareness. It’s just a really simple format to write down your thoughts and start to notice how your thoughts affect your performance. Grab a copy of that and start to pay attention. It’s just three days, so for three days pay attention to your thoughts at critical moments and notice if they help you, if they hurt you, or if they’re neutral. Then you can start to see some patterns and notice if there’s anything that you want to change.
The three things that you want to do to get your mind tightened up for performance:
1. Get aware.
2. Set your ideal mindset.
3. Start training your mind.
There are so many different ways you can train your mind, but the three that I would recommend you starting with are:
Awareness, so important.
Control, what can you control and what can’t you control.
Set goals in the moment. Set little goals so you can start building successes along the way.
That’s going to up your confidence, which then your thought-belief-action cycle starts to do the upward cycle. You’re starting to think more positively. You’re starting to believe in yourself more because you’ve got more successes under your belt, and then your body starts to do what you want it to do.
That’s it for now. Tomorrow we’re going to talk about the body and the inputs that … Basically anybody who doesn’t get enough sleep, doesn’t eat right, doesn’t train the mind, and then doesn’t have the quite right physical training is leaving something on the table. We’ll go into that more specifically. Also if you want to reach me, you can contact me here.
Day 2 – Body (Link coming soon)