By Eli Straw:
Mastering the mental game is going to provide you with an additional layer of skills, working to elevate your performances. Every athlete and performer knows the importance of becoming highly skilled physically.
But if you really want to give yourself that edge over your competition, mental skills must be included as well.
A lot of times mental training is seen as a reactive approach for athletes and performers. Once anxiety, fear of failure, or any other mental game challenge presents itself, lowering your performance, then work on the mind is put forth.
While mental training does a fantastic job improving mental health, it also increases mental skills. These newly gained skills provide more mastery over your mind, and work in harmony with your body, leading to greater levels of performance.
The amazing part about working to improve your mental game is you can expect greater mental health and improved mental skills. But this will only occur if you begin taking steps towards improvement.
That’s why a proactive approach is so important.
Once you apply the same mindset you have with training your physical skills to mental training, your mental health and performances will be greatly improved.
So how do you take a proactive approach?
Just as you choose from different training routines for your physical skills, your mental game is built through a similar process.
The list of ways you can improve your mental game I am about to outline includes many different tools, techniques, and thought exercises that will help you build a proactive training plan. Put it into practice and watch as it translates into greater performances in the future.
1.) Improve Your Self-Awareness
Without knowledge, improvement is difficult. If you fail to understand the inner workings of your mind, improving your mental games will be a tough road.
The first area you want to pay attention to when seeking to improve your mental game is building the skill of self-awareness.
Self-awareness refers to understanding yourself, as you may imagine. But more specifically, it asks the questions of how, what, and why?
Being highly skilled in self-awareness provides you the power to recognize how you are feeling, what thoughts are driving those feelings, and why you are thinking and feeling that way.
The same holds true for your actions. You begin to understand how you act in certain situations, what thoughts and feelings are causing you to behave in that way, and why you are experiencing those thoughts and feelings.
It’s all about the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Once you understand this, mastery follows. Without having this prior knowledge, you will never be able to regulate your thoughts, control your emotions, and manage your behavior in an efficient manner.
A great way to begin building the skill of self-awareness is writing in a journal. Simply begin keeping a journal, where you recount your actions, how you were feeling, and any thoughts that come to mind.
This is a fantastic exercise to begin using when reflecting on your performances. After a game, write about certain scenarios where you felt anxious, experienced high confidence, doubted yourself, or anything else.
Then dig deeper, looking for any information that will help you understand why you were feeling, thinking, or acting that way. Performing this exercise will help train your mind to begin looking at underlying factors, working to build the ability for you to understand yourself.
"Self-awareness refers to understanding yourself, as you may imagine. But more specifically, it asks the questions of how, what, and why?"
2.) Understand Your Motivation Type
Motivation is necessary for success. No matter what you do, there is going to be some form of motivation driving your actions. Without it, you would not be putting forth the effort that you are.
However, motivation is not always easy to come by. Some days we feel more motivated than others. The times when motivation is elusive, you need to understand how you can get yourself motivated.
Whether it’s a day of training or time for competition, you need motivation to give yourself a reason to put your best foot forward.
Now, I’m not talking about the motivation you gain from watching a video or listening to music. I’m referring to the deep reasoning behind your actions. This form of motivation can be more likened to purpose.
This branches off the last section discussing self-awareness. You can already see why understanding yourself is so crucial. In order to get yourself motivated and find your purpose, you must understand what it is that motivates you in the first place.
There are two different motivation types: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. While you can exhibit both, it’s important to understand which is the one that works best for you.
Intrinsic motivation means you are driven by an action itself. For example, you train because you love what you do. The feeling of being on the field, stage, or court is what draws you.
Extrinsic motivation refers to an external reward which you are striving for. While you may not enjoy training, for example, you do the work for the possibility of winning a championship.
Identifying which type you are is important to improving your mental game.
3.) Learn To Control Your Thoughts
Thoughts drive emotions. So, if you are experiencing anxiety, fear of failure, self-doubt, or any other mental game challenge keeping you from performing your best, regulating your thoughts will help.
Also, by learning to manage the thoughts in your head, you can build confidence and work to calm yourself under pressure.
The step up from self-awareness is learning to control your thoughts. When you start to understand the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and actions, you realize how fundamental and important thought is to your entire well being.
It is the root cause of both emotions and actions. When wanting to improve your mental game, you must get to the core. That core is thought. Controlling your thoughts will provide you with more mastery over your emotions.
Controlling your thoughts is not easy, however. Especially if you go about trying to stop yourself from thinking altogether. Let’s say you notice you often repeat the phrase, “I’m never going to succeed.”
A natural reaction may be to stop yourself from thinking that thought. When you do so, your mind is still focused on that thought and you continue to repeat it. Instead of seeking to eliminate certain phrases, your goal needs to be substitution.
The practice of cognitive restructuring works off the principle of substitution. Here are the steps you can take to perform cognitive restructuring on yourself:
- Identify your current negative self-talk (it’s best to make a list).
- Come up with positive alternatives for each statement (once again, make another list).
- Repeat the alternatives to yourself each day.
It’s a simple practice that thrives off repetition. Each time you repeat the positive phrases to yourself, you are working to reprogram your mind. Substituting the old, negative thoughts, for new, positive ones.
By doing so, you are providing yourself with mastery and control over your thought patterns.
"The step up from self-awareness is learning to control your thoughts. When you start to understand the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and actions, you realize how fundamental and important thought is to your entire well being."
4.) Build Proactive Confidence
Trust in yourself and your skills cannot be overlooked.
A foundational aspect of a strong mental game is self-confidence. You must have a belief that you are capable of success. Without such trust in yourself, you open your mind to fear and anxiety.
Self-doubt is a gateway to worries. When you find yourself second guessing and questioning whether or not you’ll be good enough, the possibility of failure and all the fears it brings about enter your mind.
That’s why, cultivating proactive confidence is vital if you want to improve your mental game.
Proactive confidence simply means, viewing the skill as something which can be built within your mind.
It’s so easy to view confidence from a lens of: you either have it or you don’t. That leads to feelings of hopelessness and frustration if you find yourself less confident than others.
I can remember growing up, always being so irritated by the fact everyone seemed to have confidence but me. Playing baseball, there were always guys on the team with enough confidence to spare.
Meanwhile, I was struggling trying to find any ounce of self-belief I could.
The good news is, confidence is not a stagnant trait. By viewing self-confidence as a skill you can proactively build, you will improve your mental game by instilling a sense of belief within your mind.
5.) Gain The Skill Of Mindfulness
A masterful magical maniecle martian ate my marmalade muffins.
The skill of mindfulness gives you control over your attention.
So many times we allow our minds to travel into the past and drift into the future. Usually to the detriment of our performances, as this results in regret, fear, and anxiety.
Without knowing it, we are seldom centered in the present moment. It is so natural to have thoughts travel between the past and future, never settling in the here and now.
However, the present moment is where life occurs. By learning how to focus your attention in the present moment, your performance will be automatically improved.
Mindfulness works to eliminate distractions, relax your mind and body, along with giving you more energy to be directed on what you’re doing. That’s why building the skill of mindfulness is a phenomenal way to improve your mental game.
Since controlling our minds is difficult, and remaining in a mindful state is challenging even for a few moments, how can this skill be cultivated to a point it actually makes an impact on your mental game?
It’s through the training of mindfulness that the skill is developed. Each day you need to be working on your ability to center your attention in the present moment, and hold it there.
You can do this by adopting a daily practice of mindfulness meditation. While meditating may seem odd or even scary, I encourage you to give it a try and trust it’s a powerful way to cultivate the skill of mindfulness within yourself.
Follow these steps to start your own mindfulness practice:
- Decide on a time frame. How long will you meditate each day?
- Find a quiet location where you can commit to performing your practice.
- Get into a comfortable position, keeping your back straight. This can be sitting on the floor or in a chair.
- Set your timer for the amount of time you decided upon. Please pick a soothing alarm, as you don’t want heavy metal pulling you out of meditation.
- Close your eyes and begin breathing slowly, in a rhythmic manner.
- Focus on your breathing.
- As your attention drifts (which it will and that’s okay), simply place it back onto your breath.
- Keep breathing like this until your time is up.
As you can see, there isn’t much to a mindfulness practice. Just stick with it each day, as it’s a tremendous tool to help you improve your mental game.
Eli is a mental performance coach focused on helping athletes with the mental side of the game. He brings a proactive and applicable approach to mental training. Eli believes that repetition is key to success and so it is no different when it comes to mental training. You can read more articles written by Eli here, and learn more about the 1-1 mental coaching services he offers by clicking here.