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Develop Mental Toughness
Consider this quote by NFL Pro Bowl kicker, Jeff Wilkins, “When there are two seconds left on the game clock and the difference between winning and losing rests on your ability, it truly takes mental toughness to perform at your best.”
From a mental standpoint, pressure makes it very difficult to maintain focus and concentration, in fact research posits that it is literally impossible to perform at your best without an effective mental training plan.
If a person wanted to get physically stronger, they would consult a trainer and the trainer would provide them with a strength program that included a concrete and proven method of getting physically stronger. The strength program would be something like 3 sets of ten of this exercise, 3 sets of 12 of that exercise and 3 sets of 8 of another exercise and so on and if the person follows the program they can’t help but get stronger. However, when it comes to developing mental toughness most individuals do not know where to begin.
Whether you are trying to enhance performance in sport, business or everyday life, the following “mental workout” is a proven method of developing mental strength. It takes three minutes and forty seconds to complete and works best if completed one time per day with a minimum of 3 times per week.
Take a fifteen second deep breath where you breathe in for six seconds, hold for two seconds and breathe out for seven seconds. This will teach you to physiologically control your heart rate and better deal with pressure.
Say to yourself a personally tailored self-talk statement that reflects what is needed for a successful performance. For example, one of the major league pitchers I work with has this as his performance statement, “Weight back, arm on top, follow through.”
To develop your performance statement, think about all the tasks you complete over the course of a normal week and choose the single most important task you do that produces the greatest results.
For the major league pitcher, his single most important task is pitching. Once your single most important task is identified think about the top three things you need to focus on when completing this task to ensure success. Be sure to avoid using the words don’t, not, or stop in your performance statement. This will help keep your mind focused on what to do, rather than what not to do.
Personal Highlight Reel
Complete three sixty second mental video clips (visualizations) in which you first remember about sixty seconds worth of highlights from your last best performance, another sixty seconds imagining highlights of how you would like to perform in an upcoming important performance, and a final sixty seconds imagining highlights of how you would like to perform in today’s practice or performance.
Be sure to do all visualizing in actual speed and emphasize what it feels like emotionally and physically to perform well. It will also be helpful especially when imagining how you want to perform in the future to visualize in first person, or as if your eyes are the camera lens.
Repeat to yourself a statement that reflects your greatest strength and what it is you ultimately want to accomplish. For example the previously mentioned pitcher’s identity statement is “I am strong and confident. I am a dominant major league pitcher.”
Even though when this pitcher began completing his mental workouts he wasn’t necessarily strong, confident or dominant, continually repeating his identity statement helped him to develop his self-image as such. In a short amount of time the pitcher’s desire to be confident and dominant increased and he started to work harder at making it a reality.
Take another 15 second deep breath where you breathe in for six seconds, hold for two, and breathe out for seven seconds to insure that your mind is suited to deal with the pressure of the upcoming performance.
By completing this five step mental workout daily you will actually teach yourself how to deal with pressure and improve consistency. You mind will become more able to maintain focus and concentration whether you’re pitching in front of eighty thousand fans or doing a presentation for eight of your co-workers. Remember, that which you focus on expands. Completing mental workouts trains your mind to stay focused on solutions and avoid getting lost in the problems. The real key is to get yourself into the mental weight room as often as possible – in doing so, you will undoubtedly begin to develop your mental toughness. 3
Jason Selk M.Ed., LPC, NCC is the Director of Sports Psychology
for the St Louis Cardinals, Author of “10-Minute Toughness” and
President of Enhanced Performance. He can be found on the web at: www.enhancedperformanceinc.com.