How Your Mind Influences Your Athletic Performance
“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.”
Generally speaking, we tend to think of our bodies and minds as independent systems. Yet, can you remember the apprehension felt leading up to a intimidating workout, or perhaps the stress you felt leading up to your first event in a competition? In any of these cases, there’s no doubt that you wanted to appear calm and collected but at the same time you were feeling nervous and self-conscious.
Can you recall how your body felt?
In any competitive situation, it’s only natural that your adrenaline starts to pump. Your heart beats faster. Your palms get sweaty. You feel butterflies in your stomach. But when you toe the line for a big race or you’re in the middle of a high-stakes game, are you able to stay connected with the present moment? Or, does your mind flood with thoughts of previous errors or jump ahead to future outcomes like a missed goal or a slow finish time?
Any honest reflection presents the truth. Your mind does influence your body and can be a powerful ally or foe in your pursuit of physical performance. So not only should you be training your body, you need to be training your mind as well.
The importance of developing the mind-body connection for the rigors of athletic endeavors has just recently become a hot-button topic of research among scientists and universities.
One major study conducted on 182 Student Athletes found that those who reported a greater sense of mindfulness were more likely to experience a higher state of flow. Flow is a term used to describe being present in the moment and has been linked to enhanced performance. These student athletes also received high marks on control of attention, goal-setting and positive self-talk.
The key to developing “mindfulness” and being able to enter a state of flow only comes from practice and training, like any physical skill.
Try picking up the habit of meditating once daily. Meditation can not only help you strengthen the connection between your mind and body, it can also help release unneeded tension and stress from your body. Don’t know where to begin? There are countless guided meditation services including a popular app you can download on your phone called “Headspace”.
Take a few minutes every few hours from your hectic day to focus on your breath. You want to be taking deep breathes into your stomach, not your chest. Sit down or lay down and focus on “filling” your belly full of air and releasing on a slow tempo. Doing this regularly can help you regulate your breathing when it becomes shallow.
Internal and External Messages
Start noticing the words you use and the stories you tell your friends and family. Language can reflect and even change your mental state more than you might think. It’s OK to notice the emotional response, but it isn’t okay to take that emotion into the next workout. Don’t ignore, judge, or become attached to your emotions.
The importance of training the mind often gets overlooked by more novice coaches. If you want to compete, you need a coach who has the competency to help you train not only your physical body, but your mind as well.