Imagine it’s the World Cup Soccer series. And this is the match in which the World Cup champion is determined. The teams are tied 1-1. The game goes into overtime with two 15-minute periods. The teams alternate in scoring goals. Whoever scores the first goal is identified as the World Cup Champion. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
This is what professional athletes work toward practically most of their lives. They train for years, follow a disciplined schedule, and dedicate most of their time to training to get to this moment. What makes the athlete so motivated? What makes the athlete keep focus and not let anxiety interfere with performance? How does the athlete keep positive and have the mental toughness to succeed at such great lengths?
Mental strength in the world of athletics has been described as “focus”, “staying in the zone”, etc. In the world of Sport Psychology, mental strength is the predominant factor for success in training and competition. Sports Psychologists are interested in finding out why athletes are so motived and what they use to keep focus. There are various skills that Sports Psychologists use to help the athlete achieve optimal performance.
Even if you are not an athlete, mental strength is important. Performance Psychologists work with a variety of individuals such as musicians, businessmen (women), actors, students, and anyone in a high risk profession (surgeon, law enforcement). The challenges of performance, mental preparation, and self-talk transcend across these domains.
The following are skills that are adopted by performance psychologists and used and taught to their clients.
Key Mental Skills
Goal Setting –
- Connect performance goals to outcome goals
- Make your goals realistic with a twist of challenge
- Described your goals realistically and positively
- Set measurable goals (use short-term, intermediate, and long-term)
- Get feedback from your peers/others to determine if you need to adjust your goals
- Practice positive self-talk and self-acceptance
- Use sensory-perceptual modalities
- Ask yourself what you would like your achievement to look like and imagine every step that takes you there
- Take slow, deep breaths while imagining your short-term steps in the direction of your success
- You can have “do overs” when you’re imagining the scenarios. This will allow you to imagine what you would do if any challenge were to arise. This will therefore decrease your anxiety, as you will not be “caught off guard” during your performance
- Have a sense of humor and use this exercise as a way to add emotion to your imagery. Imagine you happy while performing. Imagine you having excitement as you achieve your goal.
- Use problem-solving techniques
- Increase awareness on the nature of your self-talk
- Monitor your self-talk and balance negative or critical thinking
- Practice “thought stopping” for any negative thoughts
- Re-write your internal dialogue
Stress Management –
- Practice diaphragmatic breathing
- Use progressive muscle relaxation
- Try abdominal Relaxation Breath
Everyone at one time or another has a goal or a challenge that requires mental strength. The skills mentioned above can be applied to anything that an individual wants to achieve. However, it’s not easy; concentration and determination is necessary. Some people find it helpful to meet with a professional who can guide them through the process of achieving optimal performance. Developing mental strength – on your own or with a therapist is the key to get you to the finish line.