Are you stuck at home and missing your favorite training venue? Do you lack the home workout equipment to keep fit the way you’d like? You may not be able to work out exactly the way you want to, but that doesn’t mean your athletic dreams will be dashed and your competitive spirit will go stale.
In fact, now’s a perfect time to adapt and exercise however you can. And that includes working a part of your body that you may often overlook: your mind.
Your mind is arguably as important as your body in many sports. Top athletes put a great deal of effort into exercising the mind-body connection and training for mental toughness. Many work with sports psychologists to make sure that their mind is finely tuned and fully in the game. Honing a sharp mental muscle can make the difference when matching up against a rival or pushing toward a new personal best.
So rather than mourn the loss of gym access or the shuttered lap pool, why not take this time to train your mind? You might not be able to implement all of these mental tools right now, but don’t worry—developing mental strength through mental toughness training takes practice, just like anything else. Spend some time now thinking about the tips and tactics below and practicing the ones that you can. Begin introducing them into your training repertoire now, and fully incorporate them once you’re back doing all the workouts and competitions you love.
We’re pretty sure you’ll emerge as a stronger, smarter athlete, ready to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead.
Visualization is a tried-and-true tool for athletic success. If you can see it, you can do it.
Before each workout, take a few minutes to meditate on what you’re about to attempt. Visualize your body going through the motions in flawless form. If you’re preparing for a big game or a race, set the stage in your mind. Picture the venue or the course, complete with your competitors and crowds of spectators. Imagine yourself during each portion of the event and how confident and powerful you hope to feel. Conjure up the moments that are likely to be the most challenging, and then picture yourself pushing through.
Another powerful way to visualize is during your actual training. Let’s say you plan to run your first half marathon race. Imagine that the final mile of each training run, when you’re tired and ready to quit, is the final mile of your race. Pull your form back together. Lift those knees, drive those elbows back, and keep your shoulders relaxed. Focus on a strong finishing kick. You have less than a mile to go now. Sure enough, you can see the finish arch up ahead. Picture your loved ones there waiting for you. Can you hear their cheers? Now give it your all—you’re almost to the line!
Visualization prepares you physically for sport by helping you focus on perfect technique in order to perform to the best of your ability. It prepares you psychologically by getting your mind and emotions ready and energized for the challenge ahead.
Find a personal mantra and use it throughout your training and events.
A mantra can be as simple as a single word or two, or it can be a short phrase or sentence. And it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone but you. Typically, a mantra is something you’ll repeat over and over in your mind as a cue to maintain focus and keep your motivation on track.
Some athletes use mantras that help them focus on form. For example:
“Long & strong”
“It’s all in the core”
Others prefer mantras that fire up their motivation:
“How bad do you want it?”
“Do it for Dad”
“This is what I came for”
Some mantras are uplifting, a reminder to savor the experience:
“Enjoy every step”
“Soak up the moment”
“Right here, right now”
“It’s rock & roll time”
Still others remind us that the hurt of a hard performance is only temporary:
“When I stop, the pain stops”
“No guts, no glory”
“10 more minutes!”
“Worth the pain, worth the sacrifice”
It might take some time to find a mantra that resonates with you—but when you do, own it and use it. Infuse it with the motivational power to get you from point A to point B. Consider it your secret weapon for athletic success!
In addition to their physical talents, many of the world’s top athletes are adept at managing the hurt-so-good pain of hard exercise. This is known as getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
If you want to push yourself to higher levels of performance, being able to be carry on—and carry on skillfully—while feeling uncomfortable is an important thing to master. Not only will this allow you to hit performance breakthroughs, it will also help you act and adapt with calm and reason while under stress. (And that’s a handy skill, whether during the stress of a race or game, or in day-to-day life.)
So how do you experience stress or pain, yet still function at your peak? Practice and positivity. Things are bound to go wrong at times when you train and race—especially during a long athletic career. It’s up to you to learn how to manage these mishaps.
Let’s say the weather on race day is much hotter than you hoped, making conditions miserable. Rather than feel frustrated, embrace the sun beating down. Envision its rays as energy flowing into your muscles. Or if rain or wind threaten to ruin your event, be thankful for the way they cool your hard-working body.
When you’re struggling with an extremely difficult activity and your body is begging you to quit, let your mind kick in and take on the burden. Remember that you’ve trained for this—you’re strong and capable and up to the challenge. Remember that the struggle will stop as soon as you do. With that in mind, surely you can make it through another minute or another mile.
Try your best to “be here now” in all your athletic endeavors. This means staying focused, blocking out distractions, and paying close attention to how your body feels.
One way to listen to your body is to take mental inventory. Scan yourself (mentally) from head to toe. Note where you feel the best and strongest, and also where you feel pain points. If a pain is indicative of an injury, it may be best to stop—we certainly don’t suggest doing damage to yourself. But if it’s the type of temporary pain that comes from hard physical work, keep going. Acknowledge it, own it, and overcome it. With each breath in, try to imagine the energy shifting inside you so that your body becomes more balanced, absorbing the struggle of doing the work.
When the going gets tough, counting is another trick that can help keep you laser focused on the task at hand. Count repetitively from one to 10—or even simply from one to three—over and over again. You can count silently in your mind, or you can even whisper each number out with your breath as you exhale. This will help steady your breathing, and more importantly it will steer your mind clear of distracting thoughts and emotions. Your focus will return entirely to your body as you push forward—one, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three.
As you can see, the mental game is one worth practicing. You have a bottomless well of strength and skill within your own mind—it just takes a bit of training to learn how to tap into it. When you do, and when you begin working your mind and body in tandem, you’re sure to discover something incredible about yourself: you are unstoppable!