Mind Gym

This is an older writing but I wanted to post it here as it has some great points to revisit. I wrote this after reading the book “Mind Gym“. It is an excellent book dealing with the mental side of sports and life. I combined aspects of the book with various thoughts and opinions of my own. Enjoy…

The mind is a powerful thing. It has capabilities beyond our imagination. However, it has been said that the mind can concentrate on only one thing at a time. So, rather than suppress what you don’t want to happen, focus on what you want to happen. The mind works most effectively when you’re telling it what to do rather than what not to do. Positive self talk, not negative self talk.

Of course, everyone has self defeating thoughts and behaviors that negatively affect us and undermine our performance. One sports psychologist refers to these as ‘gremlins’. Little demons that eat away at our confidence and hinder our potential. Each of us has different gremlins and the affect us in varying ways. Maybe it’s anxiety, fear of failure, self doubt, anger issues, etc. Whatever your gremlins are, the first step to conquering them is acknowledging them and becoming aware of when and why they invade your mind. Then you can work to replace them with positive ideas. While a positive attitude doesn’t always work, a negative one almost always does. You don’t know what is going to happen, so why not act like something good will. Change your thoughts to positive ones and good things will happen. Look at it this way. Thoughts become words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character. Character becomes your destiny.

Remember, you can’t outperform your self image. If you don’t perceive yourself as successful, then your chances of success diminish greatly. The self consistency theory summarizes this well in stating that we act consistent with our self concept, or image. Muhammad Ali was the master of self image. “It’s a lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges and I believe in myself,” Ali said. “To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.”

This belief in yourself stems from confidence, which can be defined as the emotional knowing that you are prepared, mind, body, and spirit, for anything. Are you prepared? One of the best ways to gain confidence is ensuring that you’re prepared. In order to be prepared, you must practice and train. The conscious practice of routine leads to the unconscious habits of success. Through focused and intense training you can teach your body to perform as if it is second nature. It simply happens because that is what your body has always done. Over-prepare so you don’t under-perform.

During your training, rather than work on your strengths, you should focus on weaknesses. This takes work. It’s hard. Learning to learn is difficult. No one wants to do things that they are not good at and make changes. Most people resist change because it’s hard and uncomfortable. You need to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sometimes this involves getting worse before you get better. And by getting worse you become more uncomfortable. In the short term you may feel that it’s not working and hindering your performance. However, in the long term you will grow by leaps and bounds.

Think about it. You’re already good at your strengths. An elite athlete is already good at his strengths. How much more can he really improve at them? How much do they really need to work on them each day? Imagine a small child learning a new skill that they have never tried before. How much more will they improve at this skill in comparison to an elite athlete improving his strengths? The small child will improve astronomically more.  Now think about how most people train. What do they work on? Their strengths. If a person is strong, they want to lift weights. When you drill, what do you drill? You drill your best moves, not your worst. Why? Because it’s easy. It makes you feel good. If you focus your efforts on your weaknesses, your overall abilities will improve dramatically. And if you’re the only one doing this, imagine how much you will improve in comparison to everyone else.

As you train and think about your goals and plans to achieve them, remember this motto. Success depends on four factors:  1) Physical ability, 2) Physical training, 3) Mental training, and 4) Desire or drive. We have touched on some of the others but at this time I’d like to discuss Desire. Your desire to achieve your goals or be successful is what drives everything. Without the desire, nothing else matters. If you lack desire, you will never be disciplined enough to sacrifice and work towards your goals. Simple desire can elevate everything else because you are motivated to do whatever it takes.

This involves making a total commitment to whatever you’re doing. If you can’t make this commitment you’ll start looking to bail out the first time the boat starts leaking (Lou Holtz). You must make the right choices and do the right things…all the time…not just sometimes. Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do (Vince Lombardi). You can’t take shortcuts. You can’t be a champion some of the time. You must be one all of the time.

Joe Frazier, Olympic and World Heavyweight boxing champion, had the desire. “I hated every minute of training. But I told myself, don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.” If you don’t have the desire to put the work in, then you’re missing a key ingredient to success, and it will haunt you later. If you cheated on those early morning sprints, two-a-day practices, off-season lifts, or technique sessions; skimped on watching film, nutrition, sleep, or proper weight cutting; made poor choices, drank, did drugs, partied, etc…you’re not being found out right now, you’re getting found out under the bright lights, when it matters most. Where everyone can see. And no one will have any sympathy for you then.

It’s easy to cheat yourself and do just enough to get by but remember that’s what everyone can do, and most will. It’s human nature to take the easy road. Make sacrifices and take the road less traveled. It’s tough to sacrifice instantly gratifying things (fun, parties, friends, girlfriends) for a future goal that provides delayed gratification. Always ask yourself two questions before doing anything. First, “Will this help me accomplish my goals?” And second, “Will this make me a better, stronger person?” If the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions, then it’s not a good choice. Parties won’t take you where you want to go. Drugs and alcohol sure as heck won’t. Associate with people who will make you better. The people you surround yourself affect you greatly. And don’t you think for a second that they don’t or that you can resist, because you are wrong. Surround yourself with the right people.

As I end this rather lengthy rambling of thoughts, I want to leave you with some lasting impressions or quotes. Always remember, “A man can be as great as he wants to be” (Vince Lombardi). Focus on the process of getting to where you want. Do the right things along the way and it will be worth it no matter the outcome. Each of us has greatness buried somewhere within. You simply need to remove limitations and let it out. Limits are perceived. Limits begin where vision ends. Ralph Waldo Emerson has a great but simple quote about heroes that I like. On that note I’ll leave you with this…”A hero is no braver than the ordinary person. He is just braver for five more minutes.”