By Dr. Jim Taylor
Whenever I ask athletes how important mental preparation is, compared to physical and technical preparation, to achieving their competitive goals, everyone says either as or more important. But when I ask them how much time they devote to their mental preparation, they say, “little or no time.” Athletes in all sports spend many hours each week getting into their best physical condition and perfecting their competitive skills. Yet, despite its importance, the mental side of sports is often neglected, despite the fact that mental training doesn’t take much time and, in fact, much of it can be incorporated directly into your regular training regimen.
One of the biggest obstacles for you is simply not knowing how the mind affects sports performance and what techniques you can use to strengthen your “mental muscles.” To help you better understand, I offer the Prime Performance Pyramid. Prime performance is defined as performing at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions. The Prime Performance Pyramid is comprised of six essential mental factors that influence athletic performance: motivation, confidence, intensity, focus, emotions, and pain.
Motivation is at the bottom of the pyramid because without the desire to train and compete, all of the other factors would be unnecessary. The challenge is to find the determination to keep working hard in the face of frustration, pain, boredom, and the desire to do other things.
Set goals. There are few things more rewarding and motivating than setting a goal, putting effort toward the goal, and achieving the goal. The sense of accomplishment and validation of the effort motivates you to strive higher. You should set clear goals of what you want to accomplish in your sport and how you will achieve those goals.
Focus on your long-term goals. To be your best, you have to put a lot of time and effort into your sport. But training often goes well beyond the point that it is enjoyable. During those times, focus on your long-term goals. Remind yourself why you’re working so hard. Imagine exactly what you want to accomplish and tell yourself that the only way you’ll be able to reach your goals is to go through the Grind.
Have a training partner. It’s difficult to be highly motivated all of the time on your own. There are going to be some days when you don’t feel like getting out there. A training partner is someone who can push you through those motivational lows. The chances are that, on any given day, one of you will be motivated. Even if you’re not very psyched to train on a particular day, you’ll still put in the time and effort because your partner is counting on you.
Daily questions. Every day, you should ask yourself two questions. When you get up in the morning, ask, “What can I do today to become the best athlete I can be?” and before you go to sleep, ask, “Did I do everything possible today to become the best athlete I can be?”
The heart of motivation. Motivation is not something that can be given to you. Motivation must ultimately come from within. You must simply want to train and compete. There are two things that should motivate you to compete. You should compete because you have a great passion for it. You should compete because you just love to get out there and do it. (Next: Improving confidence and intensity)
Dr. Jim Taylor holds a Ph.D. in Psychology, is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, and blogs on politics, education, technology, popular culture, and sports for huffingtonpost.com, psychologytoday.com, seattlepi.com, and on his own blog at drjimtaylor.com.