The Mental Aspect of Performance
As a former professional baseball player, Infiniti Performance Athlete, and now as an Infiniti Performance trainer, I know that the mental aspect of performance is an area where many “athletes” struggle. The off-season is often glossed over or viewed as a time to relax and recover. However, it is also a crucial time, possibly one of the best times, to improve on all facets of your performance, and this includes your mind! There are 3 pieces that make up the complete “athlete”. The most obvious aspect, and the one people focus on the most when it comes to their sport, is the physical aspect. Athletes spend hours at practice, honing on their skills and perfecting the physical demands of their sport. While this is arguably one of the most important aspects for an athlete to focus on, there are also other important aspects to focus on. The second aspect of the complete athlete, which is also a very popular topic, is nutrition and how to properly fuel your body. Most athletes know that these 2 things are critical to performance. However, most people do not realize how important it is to also work on their mental game. In this post we will talk about the mental aspect of sport and how working on your mental game can help bring your overall performance to the next level.
Let first talk about the brain. There are two parts of the brain: the subconscious mind and the conscious mind. Your conscious mind is the part of your brain that has to focus on exactly what is being done at the moment that a task is being completed. The second part of the brain, the subconscious mind, will complete a task automatically, without having to think about it or focus on it. For example, when lifting something heavy off the ground, the most important thing to focus on is bending and using your legs to lift the object instead of lifting with your back. For somebody who is first learning to lift something heavy off the ground by bending their legs, they have to consciously think of exactly what they are doing in order to properly lift up the object. They are focusing and thinking about the task at hand, and are therefore using the conscious part of the brain. However if this person has been lifting things properly their entire life, they wouldn’t have to focus on the proper way to lift the object, they will just use their legs instinctively because the subconscious part of their brain has already learned how to properly lift the object.
The subconscious and the conscious mind are responsible for different aspects of your daily life. Your conscious mind is in charge of 3 main things: your thoughts, your focus, and your decision-making. Your subconscious mind is in charge of your feelings, habits, attitudes, and beliefs. Our goal as “athletes” should be to ensure that our proprioception (aka bodily awareness) and all of our foundational movements are embedded in our subconscious mind so that we can tap into them easily while on the competitive field.
Now I know what you are thinking: how do I move something from my conscious mind to my subconscious mind? There are three ways to achieve this. The first is repetition, repeating the movement over and over until it becomes second nature. The second is visualizing the movement by watching yourself complete the task through videos or pictures. Lastly, you have to associate feeling with the task. These three aspects will take a daily task from your conscious to your subconscious mind. Here is an example of how one can use these three steps to make squatting a subconscious effort. First, I must properly practice squatting over and over and over again. Secondly, I must have someone videotape myself squatting, or I must squat in front of a mirror, so that I can see myself performing the exercise correctly and/or incorrectly. I also must take 5 minutes a day to close my eyes and picture myself doing a perfect squat. Lastly, I must focus on what I am feeling when I complete a successful squat. I have to focus on where my body will be when I complete it, how loud it will be, what smells I will smell etc… The more senses I engage in, and the more detail I can feel, the easier it will be to achieve my goal when I am put to the test. While this is a very basic example, it can be related to any goal that you are looking to attain.
Now that you know the steps necessary to achieve a goal, we must ensure that we are working towards the right goals. Goal setting is another crucial part of the mental aspect of performance. If you do not have goals as an “athlete”, then how do you know what you are working towards? Even more importantly, have you written your goals down yet? If the answer is no then these aren’t goals, they are wishes. So stop reading right now and write down a list of ten goals before continuing reading.
There are three types of goals: outcome goals, performance goals, and process goals. Outcome goals are the long term goals that you are looking to achieve. Performance goals are more immediate goals that will help you in reaching your long term goals. Lastly, your process goals are goals that you have to focus on daily in order to reach both your performance goals as well as your outcome goals. Figure 1. below shows you the proper wording to use when writing down your list of goals. Now go back to the list of 10 goals you just wrote and go refine them using this format.
The mental aspect of performance is a very powerful tool that many “athletes” leave untapped, and therefore never reach their maximum potential. My challenge to you is to start improving your mental game right now. Go get a notebook and make a list of at least 25 goals, making sure you have all 3 types of goals included in the list and start taking the steps necessary to achieve these goals. Repeat, visualize, and feel! Every day I want you to take 10 minutes and read over these goals out loud and visualize yourself completing them. This is a very powerful tool that will help bring your performance to the next level!
I will end this post with a quote from Mia Hamm, “Every single day I wake up and commit myself to becoming a better player.” Now go make yourself a better player!