While many books out there provide a great deal of information and lessons by some of the world’s best practitioners, researchers, teachers, coaches, and performers, Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack and David Casstevens provides performers with a resource guide to jump into action and get to work on their mental game. Mack and Casstevens wanted to create a mental game resource with exercises, lessons, and questions for athletes and performers to work through, much like they work through their conditioning routine in the weight room. Over the next six blogs of this series we will explore what the inner game is while thinking about actually living out your performance dreams, creating a mind-set for success, and then finally getting into your performance zone. Our next blog focuses on developing the best mindset for success, despite mistakes, emotions, and fears.
One inherent truth about athletic performance is that no one is perfect. While many athletes strive to be perfect, the best athletes out there are able to process mistakes and shift their mindset to more productive thinking. This concept is easy in thought, but extremely challenging in action. Instead most athletes get caught up in negative thinking, which in turn impacts performance. Mack described a conversation with a baseball pitcher debriefing a poor performance. He asked the player what he was thinking about just before the game began. “I didn’t have very good stuff in warm-ups,” he began. I was thinking, I hope I don’t walk this guy. He’s really quick. If he gets on, he’ll probably take second. Our catcher’s arm’s not that great. If he steals second there is a good chance they’ll score, and we haven’t been very good coming from behind.” This player had talked himself out of a successful performance before he even threw the first pitch. Another way to look at self-talk is the battle between “Don’t do this” and “Do this” voices. The “Don’t” voice focuses on failure and mistakes, “Don’t hang this curve ball” and the “Do” voice focuses on what we want to do, “Breathe, extend, and see it”. A self-fulfilling prophecy can go either direction – choose the direction that would be most helpful!
Emotions and fear can also get in the way of performing our best. While some athletes share in post-game interviews that they played so well because they used anger to push themselves harder and further, using emotions as fuel for performance is not always effective. Cus D’Amato, who trained Mike Tyson, stated, “emotions, particularly anger, are like fire. They can cook your food and keep you warm, or they can burn your house down.” Athletes are most successful when they recognize their frustrations and maintain their emotions as consistent as possible. Fear also can inhibit our performance because we might hesitate, play scared, or play small. Mack shared his own experience when playing competitive golf, “instead of playing my game, I play it safe. I play not to lose; I play small; I play scared.” So, what can we do instead? Mack argues that we should recognize, label and accept fear for what it is. “Athletes should accept fear and recognize it as the body’s way of telling them to become energized. Don’t let fear hunt you. Instead, hunt your own fears. Pull the curtain away. Unmask your fears and face them down.”
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