It’s championship season, and I have been thinking and reading about athletic performance. I have long been fascinated by the concept of the champion. I just finished the book The Art of Mental Training by DC Gonzalez and want to share some of what’s in it.
Champion athletes know that after enough physical skill training, their best performances come from having the correct mental attitude, which includes working with disappointment and failure. A champion performer in any field is one who has learned to control their mental attitude, knows what they are feeling (good and bad) but does not give in to negativity.
Any event you engage in will have it’s own event-energy that will mix with what is already going on in your head. The more consistently you exercise effective self-belief, positive internal self-talk, focus, and create a proper mental climate, the better you will be equipped to handle whatever event energy comes at you. An ideal mental climate means understanding how your mental state effects your performance, and being able to shift into mental states that help you perform effectively.
Effective mental states help you achieve control by creating an expectation you will succeed. This means understanding and taking the necessary steps to succeed, focusing on the things that need to be done more than the end result. Doing this creates optimism and positive mental energy, energizes you to take action. This is not wishful thinking, it turning information into action, to create a mental edge.
In order to work with unwanted emotions like nervousness, anger, or fear, anyone wishing to become a champion needs a mixture of knowledge, tools and techniques they can draw on instantly.
When things seem stressful:
Remain task-focused, interrupt any negative self talk and images as soon as they arrive. Shut them down at once, replacing them with positive self talk, showing your brain exactly how you will achieve what you want. This should include recovering from any setbacks. This earned self belief is real, as it comes from you concentrating on developing your own competence.
When you experience a disappointment:
Don’t brush it aside. Allow yourself to feel the emotions run through your body in real time, so they won’t keep coming back at you later. Your emotions will surface and subside like waves, so let them run their course, then let them go. Learn something from what happened. As you get more proficient at surfing your emotions like this, you will develop the facility to recognize what you need to do to work with disappointments and losses.
When you experience anger:
Recognize you don’t need to act on it, and often you shouldn’t. Use the energy it give you to focus on positive actions.
What distinguishes average players (in any realm) from champions is that champions have trained themselves to do execute these skills as a reflex. To create a mental edge, you must also consistently practice mental skills and pre-event routines to tap your full potential so the are available when you need them.
World soccer champion Pele had a pre-game routine that helped him redefine the sport of soccer.
Pele’s pre game routine:
- Arrive an hour early and relax in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Close and cover your eyes.
- Find an internal place you can go to rehearse, visualize, and prepare to perform by playing and watching your own mental highlight tapes of past (and future) successes.
- Watch a film in your mind’s eye of your past successes and happy times, vividly recalling the sensations, emotions and most important, the love of your endeavor.
- Allow yourself to experience a flood of positive emotions, enthusiasm, and engagement.
- Connect with love you feel for your goal, the physical sensations and positive emotions associated with developing competence, and succeeding at something you love.
- See yourself overcoming any adversity by visualizing the specific steps you took to manage your anxiety, recover from mistakes, remain focused and in control.
- Then, visualize what you are about to do well, practicing specific moves and actions again and again, feeling the sensations that go with them, allowing yourself to physically and emotionally experience your own hard won competence.
- If you do not yet feel competent, visualize yourself taking steps to get there.
Here is a more detailed routine you can use to train yourself to keep doing what you need to do.
The big 3: Breathe, Relax and Imagine
- Draw the air in through your nose, taking it in slowly and deeply to the bottom of your lungs while expanding your diaphragm to make room for it.
- Hold the air for a moment.
- Then slowly let allow it out of your lungs by drawing your diaphragm in, with you mouth slightly open and your tongue on the roof of your mouth, resting just behind your front teeth.
- Just observe your body while doing this, and, if thoughts come to you, let them go and focus on your breathing. The thoughts will subside as you continue to let them go.
- The more you focus on your breath and body, the more quiet your mind will become.
With practice, you can focus on your breathing without effort, even in the midst of other activities. With practice, you can achieve mental control at any moment in time. Once you build this habit, it will be available to you for as long as you continue practicing it.
Your practice of deep breathing will allow you to enter deep relaxation whenever you choose.
- Move to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted.
- Be sure you can maintain a comfortable state (no tight clothing, temperature not too hot or cold) before proceeding.
- Lie down your back with your feet apart and your hands slightly away from your body.
- Fix your eyes on point above you on the ceiling.
- Staying as still as you can, remembering how you learned to relaxing breaths, take 3 long, slow, deep breaths, inhaling each through your nose, holding it briefly before you exhale it through your slightly open mouth.
- As you gently let go of each of the 3 breaths, allow your eyelids to slowly close.
- For the next 10 breaths, imagine your eyelids getting heavier and heavier as your relaxation deepens.
- Mentally repeat the word “deeper” to yourself each time you exhale, letting letting any thoughts and tensions that may arise dissolve with the breath as it leaves your body.
- Allow your self to go deeper into relaxation with each exhalation.
- Should your mind drift, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Continue breathing and repeating “deeper” slowly to yourself until you have finished these 10 deepening breaths.
- Next, focus your attention on relaxing the muscles of every part of your body.
- Start with you toes, and begin slowly moving up your body, as total relaxation takes over.
- Focus on relaxing each muscle in your body from your toes, to your calves, thighs, abs, chests, back, arms, shoulders, neck, face, head and scalp.
- As you visualize each muscle relaxing, allow yourself to feel a deep wave of relaxation flowing deeply into all your muscles, though your entire body. Allow yourself to go deeper into relaxation with each breath you take.
- Don’t try to rush or force anything, just allow your muscles to become loose, and yourself to relax naturally as you drop into total relaxation.
Deep breathing and relaxation, when used in conjunction with mental imagery (see the Pele Principle, above), allows your wise inner or subconscious mind to help you get what you want. Show your mind through images and feelings what you seek to accomplish. As you feed you mind these movies of success, it will set out to help you accomplish your goals by keeping you motivated and focused.
- As you allow yourself drift in a the state of deep relaxation for around twenty minutes, imagine watching a movie in which you are the main character.
- See yourself immersed in doing the work, taking the steps that will result in your achieving your goals. See yourself practicing what you need to learn to get there, making adjustments and improving your skills. Focus in detail on the process you must take to achieve outcome, not the outcome itself.
- Accept this image of yourself working towards your goals diligently, with focus and enthusiasm, as the truth. Show your deeper mind the images and feelings associated with what you want to achieve.
After 20 minutes of this success conditioning, you can slowly bring yourself back to full awareness by letting your eyelids open, inhaling, and stretching. Then, imagine a staircase with 5 steps going up. See yourself slowly walking up each of the 5 steps; at each step becoming more awake, alert and refreshed. At the top step, imagine yourself ready to go on with your day.