By: Dr. Terry Weyman
“Athletes are mental” I overheard a kid at a local race say. “They are crazy to do these things”. In some cases he is correct. They are mental. In even some cases, those who are “more mental” are the ones that win. But being “mental” is not a bad thing, but a good thing. Most people train the body, get adjusted to strengthen the structure but very few train the mind. Mental toughness separates the champions from the contestants. Not only can mental toughness separate you from your other competitors, but it can also separate you in the board room, the class room or in times of depression or tragedy. Just as you train and work harder on the physical, training the brain to be tougher takes time and practice, but the pay off can be great.
Jason Taylor, the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year said it best when he said “Pressure does one of two things to people, it either crushes you or it turns you into a diamond”. Top Athletes KNOW where they belong and won’t settle for anything less than the top position. Some call it desire or will but the fact remains, they KNOW with every cell of their body. They have also learned, through experiences, that their body will do whatever their mind tells them to do. This is true for either positive or negative experiences. Your mind is always looking for the “easy way out.” If you give your mind that option, your body will go there. If you take it away, your body will dig a little deeper to find a solution. Our world is riddled with “mediocre” athletes who have become superstars because their minds BELIEVE they are capable of greatness. Have you ever heard someone say “he/she is not the most talented athlete out there but they work harder than anyone we have ever seen and no one can seem to beat them”. I have even heard coaches and trainers say “give me work ethic, passion and commitment over natural talent any day”. That is another word for, give me someone who’s MIND is the most determined and I will make them a champion. Another example of how powerful the mind can be is to look to hypnosis. There are people who use hypnosis to have surgery instead of being put out by pharmaceutical drugs.
So how do you train the mind and how do you learn to stay focused and cool under pressure?
First and foremost learn this: “what the mind believes, the body achieves.” In order to achieve peak performance, your mind and your body must work in concert with one another. It must learn resilience and adaptability. Being mentally tough is learning how to sustain ideal performance no matter what life throws at you. Finding the positive, no matter how deeply buried, in all things. You get stuck on the freeway behind an accident, late for a meeting, you see it as “more time to prepare”. You get injured prior to an important match, you view it as more mental time to watch and discover an opponent’s weakness. Instead of being that block of solid wood, learn to be that supple tree than can handle hurricane force winds and still stand.
The next step to mental greatness is to “Change your vocabulary”. Replace “I will try” with “I will do”. Or “I hate this part” to “I dislike this part and can’t wait to figure it out”. In sports or life, there are no “problems” just “challenges”. Take out the word “I can’t” and replace it with “I will”. Look at your heroes in your sport, your industry or your life; listen to what comes out of their mouths. Don’t reinvent the wheel, learn and study the masters.
Avoid negativity! Negative people are like cancers. Their view is if “they can’t do it, they want to make sure others can’t do it as well”. You will hear them around the field, at the water cooler or in the stands. Saying things like “yea I tried that, did not work” or “you should not try that, you will just get hurt”. These comments are infectious and deadly to the champion. As in building your body up stronger to resist infection and disease, build your mind up to resist the “misery of failure” by cataloging many positive experiences and happy thoughts to go to when you hear a negative comment. Build that wall up to make your self immune. I have a statement, “why waste a day by having a ‘bad day’ when you can change that and have a ‘phenomenal day’. It may take you all day to find a reason to have a ‘phenomenal day’ but never stop the quest.
Ever see an Athlete with ear buds in his ear connected to his iPod? These athletes are using their favorite music to inspire, relax or motivate themselves. USING MUSIC can have various effects and used right can bring you the desired effect. From calming you down to pumping you up, Music triggers synapses in the brain that can be very powerful. It has been shown that listening to music can increase your focus, your heart rate and certain neurotransmitters that can have a powerful physical influence.
The mind also is your CPU so to speak. Your central processing unit, and like every great computer, its love a strong routine. Some athletes call this routine a “superstitious pattern” but all it is a routine that an athlete draws upon for stability. Routines help us stay calm under pressure by giving our minds something to focus on instead of the pressure of the moment. To take that big race and boil it down to “just another regular day”, by having a regular routine, you allow your mind to stay focuses on the task at hand instead of the “distracting noise”.
Understand this, we are not perfect! God did not make us perfect for a reason. If we feel we are perfect than we have nothing to learn. We all make mistakes; the true champion does not get upset but studies and learns from his mistakes to minimize the reoccurrence of the incident. My father had a saying, “to make a mistake is human; to repeat it is stupidity. Learn from your mistakes so you never enter the realm of stupidity!” Even the greatest of all athletes and CEOs have coaches and are able to be taught. Strive for perfection by being teachable.
Get Psyched! You know how you feel when you’re getting ready to go on the long awaited vacation? Nothing seems to bother you, no matter HOW MUCH GOES WRONG prior to departure. You are so pumped on the final outcome that the journey is just that, a journey. But the real reason is you REMEMBER what vacations are. You may have caught your first fish or had your first kiss or flew on your first plane. Whatever it is, your excitement is drawn from a past experience. Use past victories or positive moments to get pumped and inspired so much that no matter what happens prior, it does not deter you from reaching your ultimate goal.
Learn how to be an island! Have you ever heard, “you can’t do this” or “no one has ever done that” or my favorite, “don’t try that, it’s too hard”. If you buy into these negative thoughts, then you fall back into the masses or the ordinary. How do you think World records are made, or new tricks at the X-Games are done? These boundaries are shattered by athletes believing so strongly that they can do it that it is done. They have replayed the success so many times over and over in their mind that their body already knows the outcome. Even when nobody else believes they can do it, they are able to stand alone with their belief. They have found their inspiration and used it over and over till they own it. Travis Pastrana said he had done the double back flip on a motorcycle, (one of the greatest single feats in extreme sports ever) over a thousand times in a foam pit but over a MILLION times in his brain before he accomplished the unbelievable at X-games a few years ago. He was the ONLY one who believed he could do it and when the doubters gathered, he pulled off the unbelievable. Never doubt yourself; ANYONE can be BEAT at ANYTIME.
If you can’t see it, you won’t be able to do it. VISUALIZATION is one of the biggest keys to training your mind. Close your eyes and see you accomplishing your goals. Tap into all your senses and make it happen. Find the path and learn how to do it. Close your eyes, and visualize the journey to the top. What does the air feel like against your skin, what does the day/night smell like, what are the sounds surrounding you and what do you see? Practice your victories over and over again until it becomes second nature. A good example of this was a P.O.W. who was stuck in a hole during the war. Over and over he played golf in his mind. Felt the cool grass under his feet, the wind in his face, and the crowd’s thick hush in his ears. He played over and over. When he finally got released two years later he went to the golf course and shot two over par on his FIRST ATTEMPT at the game! Teach your body how to achieve the victory first by visualizing it in your mind. Ever see a dog sleep? They sometime run, in their dreams they are running but they are asleep, YET their muscles still work. When you visualize in your mind you are still are teaching your muscles how to react and move. IF you can’t see the victory in your mind, your body will never deliver the victory.
By following these steps and practicing these tricks you too can be on the road to greatness.
Dr. Terry Weyman has been working with athletes from high school to the Olympic and Professional level for over 20 years. He drew inspiration for this article from not only his personal experiences but from his teachers as well. Dr. Spencer Baron, Author of “the secrets of the game” www.secretsofthegame.com, is both an inspiration and a mentor. The other inspiration for this article came from my son, Tyler Weyman, who in a short time has climbed the ranks of Motocross into the National level. Watching his trials and tribulations was a big reason for this article, Love this kid. Dr. Terry can be reached at his website, www.gotcsi.com or on Twitter @DrTerryW
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