Many great athletes spend hours in the gym, time at the track or miles on the bike to improve their performance by perfecting their skills, sharpening their technique and strengthening their bodies. And they’ll also spend time developing their ‘mind skills’ to equally boost their performances.

Developing these enables them have a mindset where they can face any challenge and deal with any setback in a positive and resourceful way. There are several ways that you can learn from athletes and develop your mental toughness. You can assess and work on your beliefs, your confidence and your mental rehearsal skills.

Beliefs and Performance

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“Positive thoughts and beliefs will enhance your performance whereas negative thoughts and beliefs will detract from your performance”

Your thoughts and beliefs have a direct correlation between your performance abilities and your results. Positive thoughts and beliefs will enhance your performance whereas negative thoughts and beliefs will detract from your performance. Shifting thoughts and beliefs from negative to positive takes time  and practice, but it can be done.

Firstly you need to become aware of the thoughts you are having and then evaluate them to determine whether they are helping or hindering you. Then it’s a question of turning the negative thoughts around or discarding them and focusing on the positives. To begin with become aware of the thoughts you’re having or you’re saying to yourself during a performance situation.

This could be when you are racing, when you are training, even when you are working. Write these down so you can evaluate them more clearly – then take a look at them in an objective manner to determine what evidence you have to back then up. Are they real or not?

For example, if you have a negative thought such as ‘… everything I touch goes wrong …’, ask yourself, ‘If it is truly everything or perhaps just this one thing now?’ Another example is beating yourself up after for example, a poor performance or making a mistake. Rather than dwelling on the negatives let them go and remind yourself of all the other great performances you’ve made in the past or when you have performed really well without any mistakes.

By exploring and analysing your thoughts and beliefs you should be able to determine if there is any real evidence to them. Armed with this information you can then begin to do something about them. With practice, you can simply disregard a negative thought when it pops into your mind without having to write it down, analyse it and evaluate it. And you’ll be better able to remind yourself of the positive thoughts so you can better fuel your performances.

Boosting Your Confidence

Having a strong and robust level of confidence can also fuel your body – a weak and feeble level of confidence will detract from your performance and your abilities. Building your confidence is just like building your muscular strength in the weights room – you can do exercises and train. A great exercise to boost your confidence is to ‘act as if’.

Its in your head how to be mentally tough-02

Think of someone you admire and respect who has lots of confidence. How do they behave, how do they act, what do they say? What evidence do you have that makes you think they are confident? Now, simply pretend that you are like that person – step into their shoes, behave as if you are that person, act like them and even talk like them. You will in time and with practice no longer have to ‘act as if’ and you will actually become more confident!

Another exercise is to think of a time where you did have lots of confidence – remember how you behaved, how you felt and the things you said to others and to yourself. Simply remembering a time when you did have more confidence can trigger the brain into thinking that you have that confidence now … even though the situation might be totally different.

Rehearse Your Performance

Mental rehearsal is another technique you can use to boost your performance and help you become mentally stronger. It involves preprogramming yourself for success. The mind does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined, so vividly imagining yourself doing your best can help boost your current performance.

Right now, take a moment to imagine biting into a fresh juicy lemon. Get a sense of what the texture of that lemon feels like in your hand. How does it smell when you cut it open and all the juices are released? As you take a bite into the lemon, imagine the juices rolling over your tongue. How is that for you? Did you react as if you were really biting into a lemon?

Even though you were just imaging it, your body may have reacted as if it was really biting into the lemon. This is because the brain does not make the distinction between what is real and what it imagined. So, use this idea to fuel your performance. Imagine watching a movie of yourself performing – at sports, at work or elsewhere in your life, anywhere where you want more confidence – see what you see, hear what you hear and even feel what you feel.

Make this experience of watching your movie and your performance as rich, vivid and real as possible – get all your senses fired up. Now repeatedly watch this movie in your head as your big performance day approaches (or the activity where you need all that confidence) so you can give yourself a boost when it actually arrives. When you get to perform, your brain will think, ‘Hey, I’ve been here and done that’ and will simply follow the your movie – the result confidence.

On a final note

Overall, building your mental toughness is about building your resilience to tackle challenges, bounce back after setbacks and use your mind to fuel your performances. Making sure your thoughts and your beliefs remain positive can help boost performance. A ‘can-do’ attitude and belief that you can do anything you put your mind to will help you in all the situations you face – be they in sports or in life.

Key points

*Focus on positive thoughts and beliefs: Examine the types of things you say to yourself during a performance situation and ensure they remain positive and supportive.

*Boost confidence: Strengthen your confidence muscles by ‘acting as if’ you have all that confidence. With practice, your confidence will grow.

*Watch Your Movie: Mentally rehearse your performance situation and see yourself doing the best you can over and over again – doing his will help you when you actually perform.

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