When one thinks about athletic competition, they usually think about it’s physical elements rather than the mental and emotional component. While strength, speed, and power are important to success in competitive endeavours, one must not forget how vital mindset training is to the competitive process.
The mind, not the muscle, is your most potent athletic asset. Therefore, training your mind to function in competitive scenarios is critical to your success of living up to your full athletic potential. The first step in learning how to use your mind as an athlete is understanding the mindset concept known as flow.
Flow can be defined as a state in which people become completely absorbed in an activity. During this experience, the individual in the state of flow feels strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. In fitness, flow is a state of mind achieved when athletes feel completely engaged in their performance, lose their perception of time, concentrate on the moment, and perform at extremely high levels.
Individuals who have experience the flow state often speak about losing track of time and feeling completely engaged in the activity at hand. Essentially, the state of flow is a state of hyperfocus.
In sports, flow has been attributed to high performance levels among athletes of various disciplines. In one of the first studies to address the experiential dimensions of sport found that the nature of the sport peak experience was: temporary and of relatively short duration; non-voluntary and not induced at will; and, unique and not necessarily associated with a successful performance outcome.Characteristics of the sport peak experience included focusing on the present moment, effortless merging of action and awareness, loss of personal ego, sense of control, clear feedback, and an intrinsic reward system. Athletes recalled these special moments during sport participation as, highly valued and extremely meaningful. In other words, these athletes had found that the state of flow lead to increased performance.
The good news is that any athlete can get into this state through physical and mental training.
Simple. You train it.
Just as the body and muscles respond to training stimuli, so does the mind. This represents the concept of neuroplasticity; the brain’s ability to change its processes and patterns. Focusing on training your mind will allow you to reap large gains over a short period of time. However, such mental training must be introduced in a progressive and consistent manner to enable positive development.
Here are seven critical elements that must be present in order to achieve a state of flow:
I want… vs I WILL….
I think… vs I KNOW….
Start by changing the language you use to describe yourself and your actions. You will find that by using powerful and more uplifting language, it becomes easier for us to align actions with our goals. Mantras, incantations, and personal slogans have been used for decades by peak-performers in and outside of sport.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values,Your values become your destiny.” – Gandhi
Mental toughness, or ‘grit’, is a term used to describe perseverance and passion when focused on a long-term goal. It has been found to correlate with an average 4% higher level of success in everything from National Spelling Bee competitions to classes at the premier U.S Military Academy, West Point.
When it comes to developing and understanding grit, there’s a key underlying factor that’s important to address: your ‘why’. When you understand your why, you become better able to act upon it and keep your actions in alignment with your intrinsic motivations. This inevitably leads to more fulfilling outcomes and provides a path to living a larger life.
Extrinsic motivations can often be categorized as things we feel we should be pursuing based on societal normalities, environmental influences, and pressure from others. That’s not to say that these sources of motivation are any less valid, but it’s key to distinguish between the two, and be honest in where your motivations come from.
The source of your motivation doesn’t dictate success or achievement, but it does dictate your level of fulfilment.
When it comes to mindset training, the role of a professional coach is to provide feedback, give direction, and ask questions to change the athlete’s state of mind. In essence, the best coaches act as a mirror for their clients which allows them to better understand how their own mind works. The difference between an amateur athlete and a true competitor is the strength of their body AND their mind. If you neglect your mind, you won’t reach your peak of training or competitive results.
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