Win the Mental Game (previously published in WAC Magazine)
How to prepare your mind for competition and success
When it comes to getting ready for competition, your mental preparation means more than you might realize. I often call this the “game within the game.” If you have been a competitive athlete at all in your life, you can probably recall a time when your mental state caused you to perform better or worse. What you might not realize, however, is that you can achieve peak performance more consistently through mental preparation.
As a sport psychology consultant and mental trainer, I often ask athletes to consider the best and the worst games they ever played. After they’ve done this, I ask them what they think the differences were between the two. Was the other team flat-out better, more fit, or coached by a genius? Almost always, the answer is none of those things. So to win the mental game, training makes a difference.
Instead, people often look internally. Talking about their worst performances, they point to anxiety, fear, or a lack of focus. The words differ, but the meaning is essentially the same: It was a “mental thing.” My next question is this: How much time do you spend practicing the mental game? Whether we’re talking about sports or business or personal affairs, if your answer to this question is “no time at all,” then it’s time to rethink your approach.
The game within the game is the mental contest we play as we prepare for competition, whatever form it may take. It’s about what we tell ourselves before, during and after competition. It involves managing stress, setting goals, and visualizing success. How we play this mental game determines how we perform when it counts.
These are the five tenets:
3. Carefree approach
Although each of these carries its own importance, they are also interrelated. Improving one area can lead to improvement in the other areas. Here’s a closer look at each.
Calmness: If you aren’t relaxed while playing or performing or working, you’ll more easily lose the feel for what you’re doing. Although learning to relax may seem simple, it’s actually a skill that must be practiced. Before you go to work tomorrow, try sitting on your couch for three minutes. Breathe slowly and just relax. The next time your stress level picks up on the job or during competition, take a deep breath and talk yourself down from the ledge. Refuse to get stressed out. It does no good.
Confidence: If you don’t feel confident that you can handle a competitive situation, you’re setting yourself up to fail. When you don’t believe in yourself, how is anyone else supposed to believe in you? Whatever it is you’re trying to do, tell yourself you can and believe it when you say it. Picture the success you are about to achieve.
Carefree approach: This is all about staying loose and knowing that no matter what happens, you’ll come out better for it. When the pressure mounts, refuse to let yourself get tight. It’s also important to make sure you don’t let worries from other parts of your life affect the task at hand. Stay mentally relaxed regardless of what you face. This goes hand in hand with staying calm.
Motivation: If you don’t have motivation, you don’t have much. Think about the things success will bring you. If you win the game, what will that mean? If you nail that presentation, what effect might it have on your career? Find your motivation and think about it often.
Focus: People often remind athletes of the importance of concentration. But what does that mean? Quite simply, it means focusing on the task at hand, avoiding distractions, and remaining fixated on what must be done. When players are off their game, it’s often because they’re thinking about something else. You can’t just go through the motions. By staying in the moment and avoiding mental interference, you can keep your mind where it needs to be.
STRENGTH FROM WITHIN
We all deal with stress. Life isn’t easy for competitive athletes, surgeons, lawyers, investment bankers, writers, or anyone else who’s trying to achieve great things. But it sure is fun. Remember that when you’re faced with long odds and the prospect of
failure. Enjoy the ride and know that you are doing exactly what it is you’re supposed to be doing.
Live for exhilaration and learn to deal with pressure. It makes you special and it sets you above the competition. You didn’t get where you are in life without putting in the work. And you won’t continue moving up by quitting or giving in when things get tough.
Instead, look within for strength, envision your success, and practice your mental preparation. Professional athletes typically spend 20 years perfecting their game on the way to reaching the highest level of their sport. By committing yourself to your own mental game and practicing often, you too can achieve greatness.