Why you should train your brain like an athlete
As mental coach, I’ve worked with several athletes who have excellent technical and physical skills they’ve spent years developing. During practice, these athletes master their sport and excel in their game. But during competition or games, something happens. They become tentative. They get off track or miss shots they never miss in practice. They get angry and lose confidence. They’re unsure how to react in situations they’ve dealt with hundreds of times during training. They come to me in frustration, helpless, not knowing what to do.
We can train athletes to play the perfect ball or run a mile in under five minutes, but we don’t do enough to help them cope with the mental and emotional aspects of competing at a high level under the pressure of all their elite coaching and training. The result is that a lot of athletes, despite their incredible skills and fitness, struggle to excel at and enjoy the sports for which they train so hard.
The “complete athlete,” is someone who has the highly developed physical, technical, and mental tools they need to succeed. Every successful athlete has those three gears — the physical, technical, and mental — and those three gears turn simultaneously. Each gear helps the other two turn more smoothly, and when each gear is contributing, the athletic process seems almost effortless.
They’ve spent so much time training and practicing that their expectations of themselves and teammates combine to put tremendous pressure on them. I try to help these athletes find a better balance between their three gears. Most of the time, it’s the mental gear that’s slowing them down, and I help them to strengthen this part. Our goal is to build strong mental mechanics — the thought processes and habits that keep their mental gear sound and reliable. When these athletes can develop their mental game in this way, their cognitive, physical, and technical gears can turn in unison again.
But why do successful leaders and teams need to train their brain too?
Many leaders have outstanding skills, a great education and knowledge in their field. They know more than others and still attend further education and courses to improve their knowledge and perfect their hardskills. Many are very ambitious and have high expectations of themselves. As every athlete, every leader is always under some kind of real — or imagined — pressure, and everybody has to deal with setbacks, challenging situations, demanding employees and customers. All of us have to deal with negative self-limiting thoughts and self-sabotaging behaviors, which prevent us from achieving our best performance. Roger Federer, who is known for his mental toughness and emotional intelligence once said:
“I try to push myself not to get upset and stay positive, and that’s what my biggest improvement is over all those years. Under pressure I can see things very clear.”
Successful leaders and teams expect adversity and are able to stay process focused. They have a positive mindset and are able to deal with setbacks, without losing control.
But how do you train your mind to unlock new levels of potential?
1. Stay Process Focused.
The process includes all the small things you need to do to reach your goals or become the best at your craft. The world’s best spend 95% of their attention focused on the process and in the present. They drift their attention to the outcome and the future only to stay motivated and excited. Because when we spend too much time focused on the outcome, we experience anxiety, stress and pressure.
2. Let Go Quickly.
The best athletes have a short-term memory of their mistakes and a long-term memory of their successes. They soak up the great moments to fully experience them, and they let go of the failures quickly. We need to learn from the mistake, but then quickly let go and move on to protect our confidence and to stay motivated and engaged.
3. Expect Adversity.
The best athletes that can sustain high levels of performance realize that adversity helps them grow and learn. Adversity happens for them, not to them. They don’t view adversity and setbacks with a victim approach, instead, they realize they are in control of how they respond to the difficulty or situation. In fact, they expect difficulties to happen, and plan for things to go wrong so they can remain in control under pressure.
4. Dominate the controllable.
Elite athletes stay focused on what they can control which includes everything inside themselves such as their attitude, attention, actions, passion, preparation, purpose, emotions, and effort. Their attention is not on things they cannot control such as weather, refs, coaches, difficult circumstances. In fact, they dominate the controllables. When they find their attention on what they cannot control, they quickly shift their attention to what they can control. Energy flows, where attention goes. Focusing on the uncontrollables leads to frustration, blame, and low performance. Mastering the controllables leads to high performance.
5. Own the Moment.
High performers understand that their best can only happen in the present moment, not if their mind is focused on the past or the future. They practice mindfulness to live and perform in the present moment. They can shift their focus to the present moment quickly and do daily mental training, such as meditation, breathwork, etc. to train their present moment focus.
Recognize that your organization needs athletes and personnel with high emotional intelligence that embody so many of a top athletes qualities. These integral cultural components can be cultivated, developed and learned. The power is real. The impact on a team’s bottom line can be tremendous. Owners and management should use models like Roger Federer as the prototype and standard for their own and all team members' mindset and behaviour. Success generates success. How you train your brain, think and behave has a transformative impact on the way you compete and hence on the success of the company.
If you want to learn more on mastering your mind to improve your performance, don't hesitate to contact me.