Your mental attitude could make the difference between hitting the winning shot in the game or clanking it, finally pumping out your bench press PR or failure, and nailing a new record time on the track or pulling up short of the finish line.
When it comes time for those big events, you can’t control every single circumstance. Even if you’ve trained hard and primed your body for the task, sometimes the unforeseeable happens and roadblocks can throw you off your plans. To take on these challenges, your head has to be in the game.
Developing mental resilience to match your physical strength can be challenging, but it’s an important process for everyone, from Olympic athletes to weekend warriors.
Read more: 4 mind tricks that actually work for when you have no motivation to go to the gym
That’s where people like sports psychologist Dr Jim Afremow can help. Dr Afremow has worked with everyone from top Olympic athletes and Major League Baseball players to regular gym goers, helping them to meet their goals. He’s the author of several books, including The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive.
Dr Afremow spoke to Men’s Health about the importance of staying mentally fit and how to stay motivated to meet your fitness goals. He shared his four top tips you can put into practice, whether you’ve hit a roadblock in your training, you need to start from scratch, or you just need an extra edge when it comes time to put up or shut up.
Training can be hard but remember – it’s just as important to focus on mental strength as your physical performance.
1. Champions don't just talk to themselves – they listen, too
Sometimes the best thing you can do to get out of a funk is to start paying attention to your feelings and respond accordingly. If you tend to doubt yourself, or think your efforts will result in a negative outcome, try to flip the script and say positive things to yourself.
“We can't control all the thoughts we have, but we can control what we say to ourselves,” said Dr Afremow. “You might have a thought such as 'I'm not good enough,' and the self-talk in response could be, 'Hey remember your success, let's go!'"
Dr Afremow is a believer in the power of the positive. "If you're going after big things in life, you're going to hit a lot of walls. Staying positive at one end is important, and at the other end we need to remain human natured,” he said.
It’s vital to give yourself encouragement to succeed and to try and achieve the goals you are after, but it also pays to be realistic. You don't need to be a perfectionist and guarantee that you'll ace every single challenge on the first go – but you need to believe in yourself no matter what.
Read more: Henri Schoeman won SA's first 2018 Commonwealth Games gold, here's what you need to know about him
2. Winning is an attitude
Sometimes it can be hard to stay upbeat when things aren't going your way. Remember, winning is an attitude, and only you can control your outlook on the world. Having a positive outlook can help set the tone for your workout – and beyond.
“The goal is to be in a winning state of mind every day," said Dr Afremow. "We're not always going to be 100%, but we want to get 100% out of whatever we do that day.”
Having the tools to possess a can-do-attitude is not as hard as you might think. Track your goal on paper to make it real, taking it out of your head or the less tangible world of your smartphone. Create a calendar or training plan and put it somewhere visible throughout your day to help reinforce the things you’re after. Posting motivational quotes or signals around your house, office or car can also help establish the positive tone you're after. Once you expand your goals, you can keep yourself motivated in the long term.
Remember, it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. It can be a process to find what works best for you.
3. Visualisation is a superpower
By spending a few minutes every day visualising yourself performing up to your standards and the triumphant feeling you'll have after accomplishing your goals, you can get yourself in a mindset primed for success. You'll get a better sense of what you’re after, and your brain is already in the right headspace to get there. Success doesn't come as a surprise, since you've already been there in your head.
As you go through these visualisation exercises, bump your experience up a notch by throwing on a soundtrack. Listening to music that puts you in a winning state of mind while envisioning yourself accomplishing your goals makes you the star of your very own mini-movie – which you can emulate in the real world.
Read more: Use these 4 mindfulness apps if you're stressed all the time
4. Recovery is mandatory
When you really want to achieve your goals, it's easy to overtrain and not give yourself the recovery time you need. You might think taking some time off from training could throw you off track – but the truth is, it's exactly what you need.
“Recovery is mandatory," said Dr Afremow. "A lot of times we have the opposite approach, where we overtrain and under recover, and then we burn out."
Burning out physically is equally draining mentally, as your body doesn't perform the way you know it can. Cut your body – and your brain – some slack, and be sure to schedule in some time out of the gym or off the road in the lead-up to a big event.
"Slow and steady really does win the long-term fitness race,” advised Dr Afremow.
Read more: Here's what you'll gain by taking a rest day
This article was originally published on www.mh.co.za
Image credit: iStock