How would it change your game if you could compete with confidence?
Knowing, without a doubt, as you stepped out to compete that you’re in top shape.
Not just physically but mentally.
Imagine standing in front of your competition.
No butterflies in your stomach making you queasy and sweaty before the game even starts.
Your mind is clear and centred.
You’re not distracted by debilitating thoughts and insecurities. You’re completely calm, cool, and focused. You know your game plan inside and out.
You’re excited for the challenge.
Hey I’m Rachel. As a 3x Gold Medal athlete and High-Performance Coach, I know first hand all the tricks your mind can play on you. I also know how to get past them.
Physical strength and skill will only get you so far. Your mental strength is what changes you from an average player into a player who crushes it on the Field of Play and achieves your dreams.
That’s what I want for you, because I know you have it in you.
Look, it doesn’t matter if you play for fun or play professionally, we all struggle in some way with mental strength. Even elite players and Olympic athletes face these challenges!
Through my experience playing high-level competitive sports and coaching field hockey for over 10 years, I’ve seen it all.
I’ve watched promising hockey players fail to achieve their dreams because they lack confidence and don’t believe in themselves. I’ve seen teammates panic during big matches and lose their ability to play. I’ve played with people who crumble under pressure as soon as something goes wrong and I’ve coached athletes who are so fearful of failing and being judged or criticised by others, or even themselves, they become paralysed and won’t push outside of their comfort zones to learn and grow.
It’s painful to watch.
And yes, it’s even more painful to experience.
I’ve stood on the field watching the opposition celebrate their medal winning goal in front of me. As the goalie, I was the last line of defence. It was bad enough I felt I’d I let myself down, but worse, I couldn’t help but feel I’d let my team down. It was my job to stop the ball.
I’ve set impossibly high expectations of myself and my abilities, and then when I didn’t live up to them, I’ve beaten myself up over and over again.
That’s why I’ve made it my mission to help female athletes (amateur and pro) move past their fear of failure, and the feeling of not being good enough, by strengthening their mental game.
Being mentally strong isn’t just reserved for elite athletes.
It makes the difference in the lives of all athletes no matter your sport and your goals.
So I wrote The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Mentally Strong Athlete to help you, whether you’re playing for fun or competing at an elite level. And if you dream of competing at a higher level “someday” — this guide will make “someday” get here a lot faster.
Who this Guide is for?
This guide is for athletes who are driven to be the best they can and aren’t afraid to work hard to achieve it.
Perhaps you’re not sure how to get the best out of yourself. You’re not sure how to grow into the athlete or person know is inside you. You don’t trust yourself or your own abilities. You don’t believe you can do it. Maybe you don’t perform as well as you can when faced with the pressure of a big match or a competition.
Or maybe, like many of my clients and teammates, you think your fitness and technical skills are enough.
But every time you compete, no matter the outcome, you want to walk away knowing you did everything you could to succeed.
To have that, to compete with confidence and belief and perform to win, you need to develop your mental strength.
So this guide is for you.
And who it’s not for…
If you’re after some quick and easy positive affirmations to tuck under your pillow, then wake up tomorrow morning a championship winning elite athlete – I’m sorry this guide isn’t for you.
If being mentally strong was as simple as reciting positive affirmations anyone could do it. But they can’t.
The reality is developing mental strength takes time, energy and effort.
And if you’re not willing to put in time, energy, or effort, or prepared to look in the mirror – and honestly assess – the person you are now and the person you want to be, this guide definitely isn’t for you.
Who am I?
Hey I’m Rachel and I’m a 3x Gold medal winner.
In 2017 I won three Gold medals playing field hockey at the World Masters Games, in the New Zealand 35s team and when we won the New Zealand 35s Masters competition.
But that was just 2017. I’ve been playing sports and competing all my life. Backyard cricket, competitive swimming, racing with (or away from) my brother on my bike. I’m naturally competitive. I think I get it from my Mum… we have handstand competitions at family dinners.
When I was 16 I got the opportunity to play goalie for my school hockey team. The first game I ever played in goal we lost 14-0 and I had the best time. It changed my life and I’ve never looked back. I’ve since gone on to play in New Zealand’s highest domestic level competition, represent New Zealand in the 35s age group as well as other representative teams.
“It has to get through ten other players before it gets to you”
People always tell me that the ball has to get through 10 other people on the hockey field before it gets to me. My response is always “But that’s my job”.
As a goalkeeper, my sole purpose is to stand at the back so when ten other people screw up I’m the person there to clean up the mess. I’m there to get the ball back to them so they can go score at the other end.
It’s my job to save it.
That’s the only reason I’m on the field.
Other people get to make mistakes. If I make a mistake, or f*ck up, the opposition scores and and we lose the game.
My mental strength has become the most vital component of my game.
It’s a skill I’ve had to learn. I’m a much better player now in my 30s than I ever was in my 20s. As an athlete in my mid-30s I’ve learned through years of trial and error that it’s your mental strength that will take you from being mediocre to being successful.
Your mental strength isn’t just the difference between you winning and losing, it’s the difference between you being mediocre or being your best.
Table of Contents
Here’s the Table of Contents so you know where you’re at reading the guide:
Foundations Overview: Building mental strength on solid ground
1: Could you be sabotaging your own performance?
2: Change your mindset, change your future – helping to control your inner critic
3: Want to be the best you can but resigned to just being you? Try changing the stories you tell yourself
4: Are you motivated to succeed? Why are you here?
Frameworks Overview: Seemingly boring work that’ll give you the edge
5: Why everything you’ve learned about goal setting was wrong
6: Become the best you can: routines and habits
7: Trust the process and the results will take care of themselves
8: Inconsistent, resistant or fed up and wanting to quit?
Finishing Overview: Tapping into the power of your mind to achieve epic results
9: Breathing and stress: Learning how to breathe
10: Visualising your way to success
11: Mindfulness and meditation
12: Feeling fear and how to conquer it
13: I’m not good enough… I don’t believe I can do this
13.1: Creating an Alter Ego
14: Which wolf are you feeding? Positive self-talk
15: Do you trust yourself? What to do when your mental game disappears?
16: “I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul” – Control what you can control
17: “I get way too amped up before the big event, can’t get my heart rate and breathing under control and it hurts my performance”
18: Overcoming adversity
This is a long guide – roughly 46,000 words (give or take). It will probably take you a few hours to read it and a few months to implement. Plus I strongly advise you to read the guide from start to finish (ideally more than once) and go through the exercises in order and in detail.
But if you feel like taking the guide away with you and reading it on your mobile, Kindle, or iPad I’ve got you covered. I created a PDF version of the guide that you can read anywhere you want.
For ease of reading this guide is broken into three sections each containing a number of chapters.
The three sections are as follows:
- Foundations: the groundwork you need to do to lay the foundations for success
- Frameworks: building the frameworks or structure on which your success will hang
- Finishing: more of the specific techniques and tools you can use to enhance your mental game
Now it would be easy to race to the Finishing section to apply the chapters there. I would strongly encourage you to not do that.
While you will get some benefit from just reading the Finishing section, it’d be like decorating the inside of your house where your foundations are all out of whack, your framing is offset and your doors and windows don’t close properly.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your mental strength won’t be either.
Instead I’d strongly advise you to read the guide through from start to finish (ideally more than once). Go through the exercises in order and in detail. And be honest with yourself.
Pro tip: Write stuff down. Get yourself a book, pen or paper specifically for this task. Writing your thoughts down makes them more real and tangible to your brain so you’ll you’re more likely to take action on whatever you’ve written down.
The difference between being average, a person who tries some stuff which may or may not work some of the time, or a professional, a person who’s dedicated to seeing success all the time, is all down to the effort you put in.
So put in the effort and don’t be average.
|If you want specific help moving past your fear of failure, or the feeling of not being good enough, by strengthening your mental game OR if you want to speed up your success implementing this guide so you can perform at your best, don’t hesitate. Contact me here.|
Foundations Overview: Building mental strength on solid ground
The first step in building you your mental strength is spending some time digging your foundations and doing some groundwork. You won’t ever perform at your best if you just start from where you are right now.
To do this, go back to basics and spend some time, energy and effort building up the strong foundations you need for great mental strength and the ability to perform, whenever, no matter the pressure.
The good news is you can be safe in the knowledge that if you read through this section and take action you’ll be miles ahead of anyone else when it comes to developing your mental strength.
It’s helpful if I share with you my definitions of a few terms throughout this guide to make sure we’re on the same page:
- Mental Strength – or being mentally strong is your ability to adapt, be flexible and respond positively no matter what adversity is thrown at you. It’s how you respond in that moment that makes you mentally strong.
Now some people call it mental toughness but to me that implies an inflexibility, like life’s been done to you. You’re battered by what’s happened and have been worn down to be tough. Mental strength is instead like a muscle you’re consciously building over time, so it can keep flexing, stretching and growing. You’re taking the upper hand no matter what, being the better, stronger person and growing through the process.
- High-performance – your sustainable success that’s maintained over time. To achieve high-performance, or be a high-performer, you focus on your individual and environmental habits plus the systems you can control to give you sustainable and maintainable success.
- Field of Play – is a concept used by Performance Coach Todd Herman, who’s coached many Olympic and Elite athletes for over 20 years. It refers to the place you train, play or compete in your sport. It’s where you need to perform be it the gym, track, football or rugby field or my personal favourite, the hockey field.
1: Could you be sabotaging your own performance?
To start we’re going to address the elephant in the room.
Or more specifically the voice inside your head.
The voice inside your head is the loudest most present voice you hear. If you’re not sure what I mean how many times have you done something you regretted and immediately thought “Well that was stupid” or “Why’d I do that?”. In sports, it’s often the voice that says “I won’t make it” or “I can’t do this” which can stop you in your tracks on the Field of Play.
The trouble with that voice, which I’ll call your inner critic, is that it’s often most unkind voice you will ever hear. In fact 90% of the unkindness in the world is in your head.
You need to learn to control your inner critic before it does what it’s best at and controls you.
Where does your Inner Critic come from?
Before learning to tame your inner critic it is important to understand why it’s there. That confidence-sucking, negativity highlighting inner critic, believe it or not, is actually there to protect you.
Yes, protect you. And it does that by keeping you in your comfort zone so you don’t get hurt.
Back in the day when it was just a couple of humans and a variety of animals roaming the earth you’d have had to battle the elements and all the creatures that wanted to eat you on a regular basis.
As a result you’d quite often be scared, frightened and you’d fear what was going to happen to us. So tens of thousands of years ago you developed a fight or flight response, a reptilian non-thinking part of your brain to protect you during the times you feared for your life.
Your three brains: the fight or flight response is controlled by your reptilian brain at the centre
Your fight or flight response is your automatic response that stops you a) from doing physical harm to yourself and b) helps you fight back when you’re being attacked.
Today it’s the process that occurs inside your head when you’re faced with a challenging workout, learning a new skill that’s really hard or having to push yourself to run just that little bit further or faster. Your modern fight or flight mechanism is the voice inside your head that says “Stop now, you can’t do this… this is going to hurt”.
So you stop. And I’m willing to bet about five minutes later you think “Oh I actually could have run that extra 200 metres. It wasn’t that bad after all”.
It’s evolution and while it’s designed to protect you, the problem is you’re here because you’re striving to be the best. And to do that you need to be constantly growing and expanding into new and better versions of yourself. Which means you need to push yourself physically and mentally outside of your comfort zone… the exact opposite of what your inner critic wants.
Powering your Inner Critic
In order for your inner critic to control your responses to situations or to shape your behaviours to keep you in the middle of your comfort zone, it needs to be powered by something. It needs your thoughts or physical responses to situations to latch onto.
These thoughts or physical responses are derived from three sources:
- Your fears
- Criticism either from yourself or others.
Your fears, self-judgement and criticisms are so interconnected they feed each other and will without a doubt show up on the Field of Play powering your inner critic.
Your fear is usually derived by thinking of all the possible things that could go wrong. And that’s usually along the lines of:
- What happens if I let myself down?
- What happens if I let the team down?
- What happens if I hurt myself?
But what’s really going on is you’re worried about stepping into the unknown by pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. This is your fear of losing control.
Your fear will kick start the flight response in your fight or flight without needing to have a woolly mammoth standing behind you. Once this happens, the likelihood of you stepping outside your comfort zone is reduced to near zero.
Self-judgement goes on inside your head before you’ve even done anything. It’s the megaphone for your inner critic and it’s often saying things to you like:
- I’m not good enough
- I’ll never be able to do this
- X,Y,Z is so much better than me so I won’t be able to do that
Your inner critic loves to latch onto self-judgement because it’s a powerful and insidious voice. It can be the cruelest and most damaging of the three sources because you often accept self-judgement as fact rather than your opinion of yourself.
“I’m not good enough” becomes the fact whereas the reality is more “I haven’t done this before and I’m not sure how it’s going to work so I’ll give it a go, see what happens and I’ll take it from there”.
The first of these statements will stop you dead in your tracks while the other will give you the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone to learn and grow.
The close cousin of both fear and self-judgment criticism usually occurs after something has occured on the Field of Play and it’s wrapped up in the statements you tell yourself such as:
- That was shit
- I didn’t play well
- I should have done X,Y Z instead
While objective self-reflection is useful to help shape your training, or identify the next steps you need to take in order to learn and grow, for most athletes self-reflection can be more like having a shotgun fired point-blank at your chest.
Once the trigger is pulled there is one hell of a mess to clear up as you fire negative thoughts at yourself over and over again and beat yourself up for events that have occurred in the past. Your inner critic then starts storing these negative thoughts away like a squirrel stores nuts in the winter time, so it can fire them back at you in the form of self-judgment at a later stage.
Then there is the insidious criticism which comes from others. This can be the casual, or sometimes direct, comment from someone who you trust and admire which you interpret as negative feedback. This type of criticism, real or perceived, can stoke the fires of self-judgement and fear as well.
I remember the first couple of times my Dad came to watch me play hockey. As a goalie, I’m loud at the back talking and directing the team where they should stand, where the attackers are coming from and letting them know where I am.
Every time he came to watch, after the game, he’d always say I was too loud and annoying. He’d always say it as a “joke” but I never took it that way. For a while I was really self-conscious and started to judge my performance on those comments even though my Dad didn’t actually understand the necessity of what I was doing or that my team enjoyed that style of communication.
All of this is to say that comments from others can be some of the most crippling even if that’s not the way they were ever intended. And they can fuel and stoke fear and self-judgment in a powerful way.
No wonder people struggle with their mental strength
The thoughts you have about your fears, self-judgments and criticisms happen so quickly you don’t have time to register you’re thinking thinking them.
When they do get your inner critic fired up it clouds your thinking and judgement on and off the Field of Play. Your fight or flight response kicks in and your body redirects blood to your heart, lungs and reptilian brain so you’re left with no mental capacity to make sound, logical or creative decisions.
So you doubt and second guess yourself and can convince yourself you’re not capable. This usually leads to you being unhappy about yourself and / or your performance and it undermines your mental strength.
Fortunately turning down your inner critic is a solvable problem.
2: Change your mindset, change your future – helping to control your inner critic
The source of your mental strength sabotage is your inner critic. It’s the confidence sucking voice inside your head that uses your fears, self-judgements and criticisms to prevent you from moving outside your comfort zone to achieve greater things.
How your inner critic shows up is a reflection of your mindset which is the way you think about yourself, your ability to perform, your response to challenges and often your attitude when things don’t go your way.
Your mindset, or the way you think, isn’t set in stone. So if you’ve ever despaired about how you think, thankfully that is something entirely within your power to change.
Neuroplasticity of the Brain
For the longest time everyone thought how your brain was wired was its set default. You were born, you had a brain and if you won the brain lottery and got a good one great, if not then sorry ‘bout it.
Then neuroplasticity was discovered.
Neuroplasticity is the plasticity of your brain. On a practical level it means your brain has the ability to form new connections and pathways so you can physically change how your brain operates when it comes to thinking, feeling and doing.
Why is this so important? Well in today’s world, whether you won the brain lottery or not, it means how you’ve acted, thought or behaved in the past doesn’t have to be who you always are.
Let me repeat that again because it’s super important to understand.
The person you’ve been in the past through your thoughts, actions or behaviours doesn’t mean that’s how you always have to be.
You can instead biologically change your brain to be more successful. You can rewire how your brain works to get the best out of yourself on the Field of Play.
But like anything worthwhile in life, it’s not easy. To change how your brain is wired means you need to work on your mindset.
Changing your mindset
Changing your mindset isn’t as simple as saying “Today I am going to change my mindset” but it can be made easier through understanding the types of mindsets you should have as a mentally strong athlete.
There is a correct answer here… so as you read through the mindsets which one do you think would serve you better?
Fixed versus Growth
If you have a fixed mindset you believe your basic abilities, intelligence and talents are fixed traits. You’re in the pre-neuroplasticity realm – thinking you’re born with what you’ve got and that’s the end of the story… you cannot change.
Because with a fixed mindset you believe you can’t change, you also believe your talents alone lead to your success and that no effort is required. You’ve got the skills, or you don’t, and no amount of practice is going to change that. You also struggle with the idea of not being successful and will often take great measures to hide your lack of abilities for fear of being shown up by others.
You see in this sports ALL the time… the athlete who’s got natural talent and ability, who doesn’t train or put any effort in and still appears to win on the Field of Play up to a point. Then there’s always the ceiling or behavioural trait that stops them from getting to their “potential”.
A great example of a fixed mindset at work comes from my friend Bella.
Bella told me the story of how she used to kill it at soccer. She was always top pick for the 1st XI at college and was a constant feature of the starting line-up.
To expand her sporting prowess, one summer Bella decided she wanted to play volleyball. The trials for the volleyball team came around and Bella didn’t go. Her soccer coach was also the coach of the volleyball team so while it wasn’t definite, it was highly likely Bella would’ve made the volleyball team based on the fact her soccer coach knew the kind of player she was.
Instead Bella explained she was so petrified she wouldn’t actually get picked for the volleyball team she didn’t show up to the trials. To Bella, the thought of not being selected for the team was more than she could handle. The overwhelming fear she would show up, been seen as a fraud with her limited volleyball abilities was so crippling Bella couldn’t bring herself to even give it a go.
Contrast that if you have a growth mindset. You instead believe your abilities, intelligence and talents can be developed with effort, learning and persistence. You believe what you’re born with is simply a starting point.
Because of your growth mindset you realise and understand how your effort has an effect on your success. So you put in the extra time and effort to change and grow. And you’re not afraid to fail, or make mistakes, because it’s a learning opportunity.
Which is also something you see in sports all the time. The seemingly average athlete who one year comes “out of nowhere” to achieve success. The reality is they haven’t come out of nowhere at all… they’ve just been working really f*cken hard to get better.
So why is all of this important?
If you have a fixed mindset and think you’re already at your best then excitingly you can actually change your mindset and your point of view so you can be even better.
I know this because I’ve done it. I used to have a fixed mindset. Because I’ve always been “naturally” good at sports I always thought I was good enough to achieve what I wanted. When it came to putting my name down for selection for the New Zealand 35s for the first time I thought I’d just walk in right into the team.
You can imagine my disappointment when I didn’t get selected. I was embarrassed and ashamed. So many people had told me I would be a definite pick and I couldn’t handle the fact I was now a “failure”. I was also really pissed off about it (fixed mindset right here… I thought I was better than I actually was) so I emailed the coach to ask why he didn’t select me.
Reading his feedback made me realise I had to change how I thought about my goalkeeping abilities. I couldn’t just wing it on my “natural talents” any more. Someone independent had been able to see the weaknesses in my game and had shown me where I needed to improve. I had to move from being fixed to growing.
So for the first time in nearly 20 years playing hockey as a goalie, I got a coach. The next year I got selected to play for New Zealand.
Learning a new skill with my Goalie coach Steffan from LEAP Goalkeeping Academy
OWW versus WOW
Another way to look at how your brain operates is the OWW verses WOW brain developed by Performance Coach Todd Herman.
Todd notes OWW and WOW brains differ based on the actions people take when they face a challenge. It’s the difference between someone who works through a challenge and achieves success versus someone in the same situation who shrinks in the face of adversity and quits their goal.
If you have an OWW brain you’re fear-focused and allow your circumstances or present results to guide your thinking. The actions you take are focused on procrastinating or reinforcing the place you’re in now so you keep seeing the same results.
As an OWW-brainer you use your imagination to forecast more challenges and obstacles in your future. This fear-focused approach funnily enough triggers fear so you’ll gives up.
© 2017 Herman Global Ventures
In contrast if you have a WOW-brain you’re success-focused and chose your thoughts and actions regardless of your circumstances. As a WOW-brainer you see challenge and adversity as valuable opportunities for growth, exploration and adventure. So you do more of the hard and challenging stuff and manage to stay on the Field of Play longer.
The four steps are the same for both the OWW and WOW brains but it’s the place you start – comparing yourself to ideal results or measuring improvement – that ultimately drive your actions to change your outcomes.
© 2017 Herman Global Ventures
For example, say there are two hikers who decide they want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Neither have any experience but both have the same physical attributes and level of fitness. So they turn up to the same mountaineering training camp, get the same instructions and together they embark on their mountain climb together.
At the end of the first day, the two hikers make camp for the night. Hiker A stops and looks up to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro taking in where she is now and how far she’s go to get to the summit. This immediately triggers her thinking about all the obstacles between herself and the summit and the vast distance she still has to travel. She becomes deflated, disappointed, and doesn’t want to continue the hike.
Contrast this to Hiker B who stops next to Hiker A and instead of looking up at the summit, looks behind herself to see how far she’s come already. She’s amazed at the distance she’s traveled. Then Hiker B looks to the top of the mountain which immediately triggers her thinking – positive, confident and certain that she’ll reach the summit because she already knows how far she’s come. She’s positive and upbeat and looking forward to the next challenge because she’s confident that no matter what obstacles might come up she’ll be able to overcome them.
How do you move to a WOW-brain?
You look back before you look up.
Instead of just focusing on the road ahead as an OWW-brainer would, you want to look at how far you’ve come first. If you look back at the improvements you’ve made before looking at how far you have to go you’ll trigger positive and confident thoughts rather than being overloaded by the scale of what you still need to achieve.
The key to both the growth mindset and the WOW-brain approach is changing the way you look at where you are in the present. Don’t focus on today’s results thinking things always have to be this way.
You can always be something or someone different and you can always show up as something or someone that you haven’t in the past.
Professional or Amateur
There is also a very big difference as to whether you show up with a professional mindset or an amateur one. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing in a social league or competing in the Olympics, you always want to show up with a professional mindset.
The biggest difference between being a professional and an amateur is, if you’re an amateur and something doesn’t go as planned, you’ll always look to blame someone else for your lack of performance.
If you have a professional mindset you don’t blame others for your lack of performance and you always take responsibility for your outcomes. If you’re blaming other people you’re not focusing on the things you can actually change. Your focus isn’t on the real issue.
And that real issue is you.
One of my pet peeves is people who don’t take responsibility for their actions. I’ve trained with a goalie previously whose statements about her games always went something like this this:
“Yeah we lost 5-0 but my defence weren’t in the right place and couldn’t trap the ball or tackle. They’d get in my way and weren’t there to back me up”
Not a single element of that statement was her taking responsibility for her lack of performance. 5-0 is a steep loss, sure, and when you face teams that hammer your defence of course it’s hard to keep a clean sheet.
But to not think you’re somewhat responsible for letting in five goals?
Contrast that to the post-match speech given by tennis great Serena Williams after her 2016 Australian Open defeat by Angelique Kerber: “We’ve had a number of matches and I’ve beaten her a lot. She played so well today and she had an attitude I think a lot of people can learn from… just to always stay positive and to never give up. I was really inspired by that… and if I couldn’t win I am happy she did”.
Nothing in Serena’s speech blamed the umpire, or her equipment or the weather. It was a professional’s response to an unexpected loss.
From a mindset perspective in order for you to be better at what you do, being an amateur and blaming others for your lack of performance is a sure-fire way to never improve. Ever.
So don’t be an amateur… don’t blame others for your lack of performance!
Don’t wait until you’re successful to be happy
The final component to changing your mindset to better increase your mental strength is to be happy about the journey you’re on and the process you’re going through.
The prevailing mindset when it comes to being happy is if you’re successful, then you’ll be happy. Which in the opinion of Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, is the completely wrong way to look at it.
And I believe he’s right.
Shawn noted that if you wait until you are successful before you’re happy then you’ll never actually be happy. Because by the time you’ve achieved your goal there will be some other condition you need meeting before you’re truly happy. Or worse you won’t achieve your goal and you’ll never be happy.
Instead if you change your mindset to be happy during the process of becoming successful on the Field of Play then not only are you more likely to be successful in the first place, you’re also more likely to enjoy and stick with the process.
And when I say “be happy” I’m not suggesting you should blindly try and build yourself up with a bunch of positive affirmations you don’t believe. Instead it’s about enjoying the process you’re going through to achieve the outcome you desire.
Ultimately the results you achieve during the process will make you happy. And being happy about being part of the process will give you the results you want. And then ultimately you’ll be successful.
When you’re happy you’ll perform at your best and when you’re performing at your best the natural result of that is happiness.
Which mindset should you have?
Did you figure out which mindset you need to have to keep your inner critic quiet and to be the best you can?
It’s partially a trick question because you need to have a growth, professional WOW-brain. The combination of the three mindsets, as well as being happy and enjoying the process of learning and growing, is the strongest mental foundation you can create.
It’s the Ultimate Strength mindset.
Because being mentally strong isn’t about being in control. Mental strength is about being adaptable and flexible no matter what’s thrown at you.
It’s not enough to be just willing to learn, develop and grow and it’s not enough to be only WOW-brained or professional. By putting these three mindsets together, all the layers add up which will better prepare you for any challenge or situation.
Having an Ultimate Strength mindset is key.
How’s your Ultimate Strength Mindset?
To help shape your Ultimate Strength determine whether you’ve a fixed or growth mindset or OWW or WOW-brain:
Fixed or Growth:
Options 1 and 2 are the fixed mindset questions while options 3 and 4 are the growth mindset questions. Which did you agree with more? While you can be a mixture, most people tend to lean towards one or the other.
OWW or WOW:
Which of these groups of statements sounds most like how you talk to yourself?
3: Want to be the best you can but resigned to just being you? Try changing the stories you tell yourself
Hopefully it’s beginning to become obvious that in order to be mentally strong you need to actively work on your top two inches starting by changing your mindset.
The question then is how do you begin to change your mindset? To do that you start by understanding the stories you tell yourself.
Humans are storytellers. Our brain loves stories and we’ve been telling them for millions of years. From pictures painted on the walls of caves, storytelling is uniquely human and it’s how we’ve passed on our history and our teachings.
Storytelling however can become a problem when the stories you start hearing, or more importantly, the stories you tell yourself don’t enable you to be mentally strong.
That’s because the stories you tell yourself, or others, about what you’re capable of and about what you can or cannot do are directly reflected in what you achieve. The stories you tell yourself shape the world you live in and they keep you in your comfort zone.
And if you want to be the best, you can’t stay inside your comfort zone.
One of the stories I tell myself is I hate running so as a result I’ll actively do everything I can to avoid it. “I don’t like running” is a story I made up in my head in the last couple of years (in 2013 I ran a half half marathon which funnily enough required months of running training).
I think it comes back to when I got back from travelling overseas and I was unfit and overweight; in my mind I was a pro athlete but I was anything but. So it was easier to tell myself I hated running rather than admitting to myself I could be faster on the Field of Play and get better times fitness testing if I ran more.
And now because I’ve told myself I hate running for years whenever I need to run at training I’m always starting from a place of negativity… “I hate”. And that negativity makes running really hard for me. My legs feel like lead and my lungs immediately start to burn and I get out of breath quickly. It’s not that I’m unfit. Instead it’s a psychological response – my brain’s response – to the story I’ve been telling myself. I hate running so when I do run my body hates it too.
“I think therefore I am” – Descartes
In his 1922 book, Master Key System, Charles Haanel stated “The attitude of the mind depends upon what we think. Therefore the secret of all power, achievement and all possession depends upon our method of thinking. We must “be” before we can “do” and we can “do” only to the extent which we “are” and what we “are” depends on what we think“.
What Haanel’s saying is if you want to achieve any goal in life, let’s say winning a Gold medal in your chosen sport, you first have to start being a person that wins Gold medals.
You should think about how a Gold medalist would be. What kind of mindset would they have? What kind of character are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they approach training and challenging situations?
You take those attitudes, behaviours and thoughts of a Gold medalist and then you start to be them yourself. When you start being a Gold medalist you’ll then start to do the things a Gold medalist does. You’ll train hard, you’ll push yourself and you’ll have the character traits of a champion.
And once you’ve started to do the things a Gold medalist does soon you are a Gold Medalist. You think like one, act like one and then will become one.
The key here is to be the person you want to be long before you are the person you want to be. We’ll cover off how to do this in more depth in Chapter 13.
The stories you’re telling yourself are fundamental to your success.
If they’re stories like “I can’t do this“, “I’m not good enough” or “I panic under pressure” then you’re less likely to see the success you want and more likely to give up on your goals and dreams because you’re not acting or thinking like someone who is good enough.
Understand that the stories you tell yourself about the type of person you are shape your thinking and create the world you’re in.
Put another way, you can’t think your way into acting like a Gold medalist but you sure can act your way into thinking like one.
Your current situation or truth – where you are right now – doesn’t have to be your story. You can reshape it at any time by changing your narrative. Of course change isn’t comfortable which is why it’s so much easier to tell yourself stories that you think are serving you.
Change your stories, change your world.
If you’ve finished this chapter and are thinking:
“What a bunch of horse-shit… just tell myself I love running and I’ll win a Gold medal? Whatever!”
Or something along those lines, I want to be clear on one thing. You don’t have to believe this works.
But if you don’t believe it will work, then don’t bother trying it.
Your belief in the tools or techniques you’re using to be the best and to be mentally strong is such a powerful tool.
Whether you believe what you’re doing is going to help you will determine your success.
If you believe a tool or technique will work, even just a little bit (even if you can’t explain why). you’ll be more successful than if you didn’t believe it.
If you don’t believe a tool or technique will work then it simply won’t. No matter how hard you try. Because you’ll always be fighting with yourself on an unconscious level and you’re back to your inner critic telling you “This won’t work – why are you doing this?” which as we covered off is a great way to sabotage yourself.
What are your stories now?
Take some time to dig into the stories you tell yourself:
This exercise will give you an idea of what exactly might be slowing you down or preventing you from achieving what you want to achieve. It’ll also tell you where you need to double down to achieve success.
If you feel resistance during this exercise then that’s the exact place you want to be digging for stories.
Remember to be mentally strong and the best you can, you need to put in time, energy and effort.
4: Are you motivated to succeed? Why are you here?
The final and most important component of setting up your strong mental foundation is determining your motivations and the reason you’re competing on the Field of Play in the first place.
I’m going to make an assumption about you. I’m going to assume you’re reading this guide because you’re already passionate about your sport. You’re passionate about playing and performing on the Field of Play. You have the desire and passion to want to be the best, to improve and to achieve great things.
Your passion for what you’re doing is great and it’s gotten you to where you are now because it’s been your motivator.
But the question I have for you is will the passion you have now get you through the tough times? Is it strong enough to drive you? As Allon Khakshouri, former manager of tennis great Novak Djokovic asks “Do you have the willingness to struggle, suffer and grow in the pursuit of excellence”?
Being motivated on it’s own sometimes just isn’t enough. You have to dig deeper into and understand the thing that drives you. As Marshall Goldsmith said in his book with the same title “What got you here won’t get you there”.
How are you going to get to the next level?
You need to understand your WHY
While you might assume you’re driven to achieve goals because at the end you’ll receive an external reward that’s not true all of the time. In fact, Self-Determination Theory the theory of motivation, says you’re more often than not driven by intrinsic or internal goals instead. These goals come from within you and are the goals you set which you find greatly satisfying to pursue.
It’s your interests, curiosity and enduring values that motivate you the most.
Author Daniel Pink builds on the Self-Determination Theory in his video Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Pink notes that even if there is a large external reward, for example, a large pot of money, for solving a challenging problem if that problem isn’t internally motivating for you then you won’t do it. No matter how many pennies you’re offered, if you’re not motivated by the challenge itself, it wouldn’t be enough for you to just do it for the money.
Pink also said that instead of external motivators – either a reward such as more money or a sanction like “If you don’t do X then negative event Y will happen” – you’re driven by three internal goals – Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.
- Mastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters to you
- Autonomy is your desire to direct your own life
- Purpose is your longing to do what you do in the service of something larger than yourself
Performance Coach Todd Herman calls these internal motivators Learning, Discovery and Growth. Herman notes we’re all intrinsically motivated to grow, to explore the world around us and to learn and consume the world that we have. Which is exactly how we got from being a baby to where we are now. Learning, discovering and growing. Those are the internal motivators that push us to be better.
Why does any of this matter?
It matters because you need to know where your motivation comes from.
Anyone who’s played in hockey tournament with me will know I love medals. I always want to be number one and win gold. But winning medals is clearly an external motivation so how does that chime with the fact, more often than not, we’re motivated by internal goals?
I talk about winning medals because if my team comes out on top and wins gold, to me, that means I’ve played at my best. Motivated by my internal desire to be the best and to push myself a medal says I’ve done that in a competition and have succeeded. At that point in time there is no-one better. A medal to me is the tangible symbol of achieving my internal goals.
But here’s the kicker.
Motivation cannot be taught. You either have it within you or you don’t. You’re either able to internally motivate yourself or you can’t. There is no middle ground.
Herman, who’s trained thousands of high-performance athletes over the years has even said he won’t work with clients who score low on his motivation scale because “you can’t manufacture it”.
So the question is where does that internal goal setting or motivation come from? The answer? It comes from your WHY.
“Champions aren’t made in the gym. Champions are made from something deep inside them… a desire, a dream, a vision” – Mohammed Ali
According to Sinek, very few people know why they do things.
But getting clear and understanding your WHY is super important because it drives what you do and how you do it.
Your WHY is your purpose, your cause or your beliefs that get you out of bed in the morning. It’s driven by your emotions not logic or reason.
Does logic or reason get you onto the Field of Play in the pouring rain on a freezing cold night? Hell no! It’s the emotions you feel like your love for the sport, the joy you get competing or the pride you feel when you achieve a new goal.
Your WHY pushes you to get up and take action when no-one else will.
Tennis great Serena Williams took her motivation from Arthur Ashe, the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with a whopping 28 Olympic Gold medals (23 Gold) to his name drew his motivation from beating and bettering himself.
Your WHY isn’t what other people say about you, your WHY is what you say about yourself.
And the person with the biggest, strongest, greatest WHY always wins.
What’s your WHY?
Do you know what your WHY is? Here’s a simple iterative process you can use to help figure it out. Just ask yourself “Why?” at least three times.
Why #1 you have a good answer for. Why #2 is starting to get a bit more difficult and by Why #3 you’ve got no idea but it does start to give you clarity on your deeper thoughts.
Why do I play sport? I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to achieve something
Why do I want to achieve something? Because it makes me feel good about myself, I get to grow and be better
Why do I want to grow and be better? Because… I’m not 100% happy with where I’m at… and what I’ve achieved so far. I know I’ve got more I can give…
You might need to dig deep or take time to figure out your WHY. It’s not a race, the key is that you’re asking yourself the questions.
Frameworks Overview: Seemingly boring work that’ll give you the edge
Now you’ve dug the ground and built your mental strength foundation, it’s time to start putting up the frameworks to help your strong mental game.
I’ll be honest with you. “Frameworks” sound boring as f*ck. And I get that. But as boring as they sound they’re really what separates the professionals from the amateurs.
If you want to try to wing a strong mental game, please be my guest. But if you want to stand out from the crowd, read on.
Everyone wants a magic pill or a simple hack to become the best. Sadly the harsh reality is that those things don’t exist.
Instead it’s the unsexy stuff, the hard work or the “grind” that’ll help you become mentally strong, so nothing will phase you and you’ll be competing on the Field of Play at your best.
The key is getting some traction on the unsexy stuff so it builds up momentum.
Momentum, as described by Performance Coach Todd Herman, is the feeling that things are going your way. That even when a challenge jumps out in front of you the mental velocity you’ve created helps you roll right over the top of it.
When your mind is constantly working at overcoming the challenges and stumbling blocks in front of you, it means you’re in an “I can do this” space so when bad stuff happens you know you can deal with it and learn from it. This type of mental velocity can make you unstoppable.
In order to generate mental velocity you need two key things – Clarity and Check-ins.
Clarity is waking up and knowing exactly what you are going to be doing on any given day to move you closer to achieving your goals. Having clarity will give you a sense of calm confidence, allowing you to bring the absolute best parts of yourself to trainings, practices, your interactions with others and in making the plans you need to achieve your success.
Clarity allows you to move the needle in achieving your goals faster by counterintuitively slowing yourself down and only focusing on the key activities you need to achieve your goals.
Check-ins are pretty much what they say on the tin. They’re metrics or measures you use to track how your progress is going.
Dedicated check-in metrics which you complete after every training session, game or at the end of every day will allow you to track the valuable activities you’ve done so you can see how far you’ve come. Remember your WOW-brain mindset? This is the exact process you can look at the path you’ve taken without falling straight into look at how far you have to go.
Clarity and Check-ins at face value may appear pretty f*cken boring but they will give you the mental velocity you need to steamroll over any challenges or obstacles on your path to becoming the best version of yourself.
Mat Fraser, the Fittest Man on Earth after winning the CrossFit Games in 2016 and 2017, when talking about his success said “Hard work pays off. It’s on a loop in my head… doing the stuff that isn’t fun so when people are watching that’s when it’ll pay off. When I’m down in my basement by myself, training by myself, no-one around, no-one watching, that’s when the work’s put in”.
Fittest Man on Earth 2016-2017 working out in his basement
What do you do when no-one’s looking?
5: Why everything you’ve learned about goal setting was wrong
Now you have your WHY figured out (if not go back to Chapter 4 and go through the exercise), and you know you’re motivated to do what it takes to see success, it’s time to set yourself a goal.
Yes, I just used the G-word. Goal.
“If I set goals and don’t achieve them I’m disappointed and feel like a failure”
I understand you might be worried about setting a goal. If you’re like me you’ve probably set hundred goals before you’ve never achieved or followed through on, so the idea of having to set one to achieve the success you want could be worrying. You don’t want to be disappointed or feel like a failure again if you don’t achieve yet another one.
Achieving your goals can also be disappointing. Especially when you make them but don’t feel you’ve put any effort in at all to achieve them. Quite frankly that can feel just as bad.
One day in 2015 I got a call completely out of the blue by my Wellington Senior Women’s coach to say the Capital National Hockey League (NHL) team (as in the team that would see me playing in the highest level domestic hockey competition in New Zealand) needed a second goalie. Since the Senior Women’s tournament was being held at the same place and time as NHL, would I be willing to sit on the bench for Capital as their #2 goalie?
Of course the answer was a very quick-before-they-change-their-minds-yes! I was over the moon. So it was an amazing achievement and a dream I’d tried to fulfill in my 20s but had never made it. I played a grand total of 14 minutes in that tournament and loved every second of it (and even faced and saved a penalty stroke which was definitely a career highlight).
But despite that there was a constant nagging thought in the back of my brain that I hadn’t really achieved my goal of playing in the NHL. I’d instead been offered a great opportunity and had taken it.
Contrast that to 2016 when I trialled for the Capital NHL team. There were five goalies trialling for the two spots and over a period of three months, the coaches whittled us down to the final two – myself and one other. Then we got the news. They were bringing in goalie from another region who was slated to make the New Zealand team in the future so only one of us from the Capital region would make it.
When the squad was finally announced a week or so later, I was so f*cken excited that I had been named in the final squad. It was at that moment I truly felt I’d achieved my dream of making the NHL side. It hadn’t been handed to me. I’d worked my arse off to achieve it. I’d trialled and beaten out five other goalies for the spot.
My first full NHL match after selection went to shootouts which we won 3-0
Why is goal setting important?
Let’s take a quick moment to talk about why goal setting is important.
Your brain is actually a goal seeking machine. It loves helping you to achieve goals.
If you don’t point your brain in the direction you want to go it’ll get distracted and will try to set goals for you. And when it’s distracted, you’re distracted, because your brain is trying to give you something – anything – to focus on.
Do yourself a favour and help your brain out by giving it the opportunity to work the way it wants to on the things you want it to.
Goal setting is also important because you need to know where you are going. Otherwise you run the risk of drifting through life aimlessly and never achieving anything you want to.
Bronnie Ware who worked in Palliative Care wrote about the top five regrets of the dying. The number one regret for those about to die? They wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves and not a life dictated by what others expected of them. They’d had many dreams they wanted to achieve which at the time of their death remained unfulfilled.
This isn’t a pep talk to not waste your life. I’m just pointing out your dreams are actually more achievable than you think if you’re pointed in the right direction.
Goal setting also allows you to predict your future using the theory of Causality where one process or cause is connected with another process or state known as an effect. In short, the actions you take today will affect you in 30, 60, 90 or 900 days from now. So if your actions are aligned with your goals then you can with some certainty predict they’ll occur.
But if your actions aren’t aligned with your goals then in 90 days you will find yourself wondering why you’re no closer to achieving your dreams. You could even be worse off than when you started which can be disappointing and might cause you to give up on your goals entirely.
Short-term pain for long-term gain is almost the motto for Causality.
“Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t”
American Footballer, Jerry Rice
What the heck is a goal anyway?
Now you know why setting goals is important, the next question then is often what type of goal do you set? And how do you set one? The answer to these questions unhelpfully is “It depends” based on what you’re trying to achieve.
Let’s look at a few different types of goals and how they work. Remembering the best types of goals will align with your intrinsic goals: your Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose or Learning, Discovery and Growth.
No SMART Goals
Nope that’s not a typo. There’s no SMART goal setting in this guide.
SMART goal setting if you’re not aware is the principle of setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound goals. And I hate SMART goal setting.
I think it’s a goal setting methodology that actually ensures you don’t meet your goals ever. Mostly because people think they’re setting achievable, realistic and timebound goals but instead what they really doing is setting up big barriers that prevent them from getting anywhere. I’ll talk more about why in a moment.
Outcome and Behaviour Goals
Outcome and behaviour goals generally go hand-in-hand.
An outcome goal specifies a thing that will happen at the end of something i.e. it’s an outcome you’re trying to achieve. An example might be “I want to run a 1600 in 6 minutes flat” or “I want to deadlift 120 kgs by the end of the year”.
Outcome goals are usually things which are actually outside of your direct control. They’re something to work towards over time.
Behaviour goals on the other hand are the specific actions, steps, processes or behaviours your must take in order to achieve your outcome goal.
For example, in order to run a 1600m in 6 minutes flat within six weeks what are the actions, steps, processes or behaviours you need to do to get achieve it? Perhaps you need to up your endurance? So in order to do that you’ll set the behaviour goal of attending three high-intensity cardio workouts a week. And you’ll set a behaviour goal of running one 1600m test every week to see how well you’re progressing.
Behaviour goals are more specific about the exact actions, steps, processes or behaviours you can take because only you have direct control over attending those workouts and running those weekly 1600m tests.
The behaviours or actions you take will lead you to the outcome you want.
Avoid and Approach Goals
Avoid goals are usually goals that involve something you don’t want and usually start with the words “Stop” or “Don’t”. These are also known as “push” goals because they are pushing you away from something undesirable. An example of an avoid goal would be “Don’t watch TV instead of going to the gym”.
Approach goals on the other hand are the opposite. They’re goals that involve something you do want to do. You could call these “pull” goals because they’re pulling you towards something good for example, “I will warm down and stretch after every exercise session”.
Performance and Mastery Goals
Performance goals are very similar to outcome goals however they are often driven by an external motivator, for example “I will win gold at my next competition”.
Mastery Goals on the other hand are internally motivated and focus on learning or mastering a process. You’re focused on the joy of doing the activity itself not necessarily the outcome you will achieve, for example, “I will learn techniques to effectively manage the stress of competition”.
What goals to set?
The best goals to set are a combination of Behaviour, Approach and Mastery goals as they’re more aligned with your internal motivations. They make you feel in charge of what you’re trying to achieve, they emphasise your growth on a daily basis and can break otherwise large goals into bite-sized and manageable chunks.
They also have the advantage of being meaningful to you so you’re more inclined to follow through with them, especially if you have to get off the couch on a cold winter night to go and run a 1600m in the rain. Importantly, they set you up for long-term achievement.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can also set what Performance Coach Todd Herman calls “Good, Better, Best” goals. These goals are different levels of success all based on the same outcome you want to achieve.
- Good goals – are attainable but still outcomes you have to work for. You’d be happy achieving a good goal and the effort would have been worth it.
- Better goals – are really goals that excite you and force you to ask yourself how you might be able to achieve them. You’d be very happy with the outcome when you achieve them because in doing so you went beyond your expectations.
- Best goals – really push you to dig deep and tap into strength you probably never realised you had. You be ecstatic with achieving them as they’d totally blow away your expectations of yourself and what was possible as well as probably also have some unexpected wins.
My friend Primoz Bozic, a powerlifter, uses this goal setting technique with what he calls his Conservative, Realistic and Stretch goals. For the Arnold Classic Europe 2018, he’s set himself the following Good, Better and Best goals:
160kg bench press
165kg bench press
170kg bench press
Why “go big or go home” is shitty goal setting advice
When it comes to setting goals, as I mentioned, it’s common for people to set goals (often SMART ones) that they believe will push them to succeed. Often these goals are big amorphous creatures so far out of reach you eventually give up on them.
Jim Collins in his book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies described them as BHAGs – Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals – long-term goals designed to change the very nature of your (or a business’) existence.
Whether it’s companies or just you as an athlete, the issue with long-term goals is the gap between where you are right now and where you want to be is too great. Instead long-term goals are simply your “vision” for where you want to be.
Say you’re sitting in your living room thinking “I want to win Gold at the Olympics in cycling” and you don’t know how to ride a bike then chances are that big, audacious goal will be placed on a mental shelf somewhere to collect dust.
That’s because your brain can’t associate you now with the person at the end of the long-term goal. Your brain struggles immensely to see you, the couch-dwelling non-cyclist as the same person standing on an Olympic podium in lycra crying tears of joy as your anthem is played. The gap between those two mental images is immense.
From the coach to podium? Try learning how to ride first
Herman notes instead of setting long-term goals you should instead set a goal that sits on the Horizon Line for your imagination.
The Horizon Line in your mind is exactly the same as the horizon you’d see when standing on the beach looking off into the distance. It’s a point outside of your reach but something you can definitely see.
While outside your reach you can still see the horizon clearly
In Herman’s opinion, and through vast amounts of personal trial and error I agree with him, the perfect Horizon Line for goal setting is 90 days.
This is because your brain can associate the you right now with the you that has achieved something in 90 days. It’s a short enough period of time to see that the goals you’re setting are achievable but it not so short that you’ll smash it out of the park. Remember, you’re internally motivated by being challenged also so you don’t want to make it too easy.
While your brain won’t be able to imagine you as the Olympic Gold-medal winning Cyclist you’re dreaming of being, it can imagine you being someone who can actually ride a bike which in 90 days should be the first goal you seek to achieve.
The most powerful step you can take before you set your goals
Now you know why goal setting is important, the types of goals you should set and the time period you should be using it’s time to actually set a goal.
But before you do let’s look at a the number one way people generally screw this part up. So you won’t make the same mistake, the question I have for you is:
Do you know yourself?
Often people set goals from the sidelines of their lives. They’re like spectators choosing a goal for a player without any knowledge or understanding of what that person is or is not capable of. They don’t understand themselves.
What do I mean? Think of the centre of a town being your goal. It’s obvious there are many different ways to get from the outskirts of town (where you are now) into the centre (where you want to be).
You could drive straight up the main road or you could take any number of side streets. Clearly there isn’t just one way to achieve your goal.
To get to the centre you can take any number of roads
The more direct way via the main road requires less trial and error than taking the side streets would. Taking the side streets, with more trial and error, increases the likelihood of you making a wrong turn and getting lost. And when you’re lost you tend to get disheartened and give up. Which is the outcome you want to avoid.
So how would you check where the main road is? Well you’d use a map.
In this case the map in goal setting is your understanding of yourself. If you don’t understand yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, how you manage expectations or what drives you then you’ll find it harder to set a 90 day goal that inspires you to achieve it.
This is one area many people get so wrong and I don’t want you to be like everyone else, so get to know yourself better before you set your goals. It will make a massive difference in how your set your goals.
How do you get to know yourself better? Well there are more online personality tests than you can poke a stick at. I do every personality or communications test I come across because I’m always seeking to understand myself and how I operate a little better. That said, in my experience there are two that really help you understand you and that I use with my clients.
The first is a personality-type test called the Enneagram which is a description of the human psyche broken into nine different personality types. It’ll help you with your self-awareness, self-understanding and ultimately self-development and it’s a pretty eye-opening test.
The second test I’ve used was developed by author Gretchen Rubin in her book The Four Tendencies. The premise of the Four Tendencies is to discover how people respond to the expectations put on them by others (external) and the expectations they put on themselves (internal).
When you understand how you respond to either external or internal expectations it’s much easier to figure out how to craft a goal so you’ll actually knuckle down and achieve it. You can take the simple five minute quiz to determine your tendency type here.
The point I’m making here is if you know yourself, what works for you and what doesn’t, it gives you a much clearer place to start from. And you’re more likely to have success achieving your goal.
Why you should end your goals with this one “secret weapon” phrase
Finally, when it comes to setting a goal no matter what is is that you’re seeking to achieve you should always end your goal with this one phrase:
“… this or something better”
It seems a little odd but this one statement is focusing your brain not only on the goals you want to achieve but to also to look for opportunities that are even better than your original goals.
Set yourself a 90 day goal:
While the best type of goals to set are Behaviour, Approach and Mastery goals so you can take action on them over a 90 day “Horizon Line” period, these goals will be part of a bigger outcome or vision you have for yourself.
To become an Olympic cyclist it’ll take more than 90 days! But to do that you’ll take your wider vision and then build 90 day goals specifically to support you getting there.
Setting your vision (outcome goal)
Take some time to be really sure what your vision or outcome goal is. What does it look like and how does it feel? Are you competing at the Olympics, representing your country or learning a new skill.
To help you get creative on what that might look like, try these questions:
Take the responses to those questions and use them to shape the exact outcome or vision that you want for yourself.
For example, this could be your dream to move from the couch to the podium as an Olympic cyclist. Would Future You be excited about being in the Olympic village in Paris in 2024?
Set your first 90 day goal:
Now set one goal you’ll will work towards over the next 90 days.
Use the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) to help. The 80/20 rules states 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Pick one goal that will have the biggest impact on you ability to achieve your vision or outcome over a 90 day period.
If you need to learn how to ride a bike so you can become an Olympic cyclist this would be a great 90 day goal to start with.
Make it Good, Better, Best:
Now you have your 90 day goal, go the extra mile and create Good, Better and Best versions of it.
Learning how to ride a bike would be Good. Being able to ride in a Velodrome would be Better. Being able to compete in your first race could be Best.
6: Become the best you can: routines and habits
Now your game plan for success should be shaping up nicely. You know why you’re here, you know what you want to achieve in the next 90 days so now it’s time focus on the actions that will help you achieve your goals.
So what do routines and habits have to do with building your mental strength? To best answer that here’s some wise words from the philosopher Aristotle:
“We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit”
To develop mental strength to take on any challenge and execute on the Field of Play you need to look at the routines and habits you have to determine if they’re helping or hindering you.
We all know, or have been, the person whose set a goal, is super excited about achieving it yet isn’t successful. You ask them five months later “How’s your goal going?” only to get the “Oh I stopped that ages ago” response.
Now people change their minds about what they want to do all the time. Or they decided that goal wasn’t for them after all. For the most part, however, people give up trying to achieve their goals, because to be successful, they need to change their underlying behaviours – their routines and habits.
And this change is really f*cken hard.
Like an ant rolling a stone up a hill routine and habit change can be freaken hard
Your work is busy, you want to spend time with family and friends, you don’t have enough time in the day to get to your other competing priorities like being the best employee at your job, being #1 parent, or perhaps you have other people who depend on you.
So here I roll in and say “Oh just change your routines and habits” and you’re immediately thinking “Oh sure, I’ve tried that before. It’s hard and didn’t work so you’re no different to anyone else just telling me I have to change”.
And you’re right. I’m probably not telling you anything different about the fact you need to change your routines and habits. There is a reason why everyone gives you the advice… it works! These are the things you need to do to see the outcomes you want. Change is key.
Just thinking about achieving your goals isn’t enough to get you there. Neither is just wanting to achieve your goals. You actually have to take action to achieve them.
So sure, I’m like everyone else telling you you need good routines and habits. But perhaps I can show you a different way.
Three steps to successfully changing routines and habits
First you need to be really clear about what you want to achieve (i.e. what’s your goal) and then start to design your routine and habits around achieving that.
So if you haven’t got your WHY sorted or your first 90 day goal then head back and get that sorted first. Alignment of these three things removes a lot more of the resistance between them meaning it’ll be easier for you.
If you’re not clear about what you’re trying to achieve then you won’t pick routines or habits to change or emphasise what will help you move the needle to where you want to be.
Secondly, you need to understand your routines and habits live within a big ecosystem of routines and habits. Because of this they are linked and impact one other.
This was like a lightbulb moment for me and it’s a mistake many people make. I’ve totally been guilty of trying to change one of my habits but not understanding I was doomed to fail because my habit was a small part of a wider ecosystem.
Take brushing your teeth. Assuming your oral hygiene has been poor up until now, you want to start brushing your teeth twice a day instead of once. So that’s a simple habit to change right? You just go brush them twice. But what habits or routines get you into the bathroom in the first place? Did you eat already? Or do you always go to the bathroom before you leave the house?
Once you understand there’s a bigger ecosystem at play and that your routines and habits don’t just exist in isolation it’s very helpful in figuring out how to change them.
Like an ecosystem one change can affect everything else
Thirdly, you’re not a failure if you can’t stick to new habits or routines.
What this actually means is there’s a flaw in the way you’ve designed your changes. You’re not failing and the habit isn’t impossible it’s just you haven’t yet designed a system that best supports the changes you want to make.
So review the design before you decide to throw the routine or habit out.
The whole purpose of having routines and habits is tdesign your environment and lifestyle for success. This means you won’t need to rely on motivation or willpower to get things done. Instead you’ll live inside an environment that supports what you want to achieve.
Living in such a way makes any changes within that ecosystem infinitely easier because your whole environment is shaped for success.
Take nature as a metaphor for change. Animals adapt to changes in their environments to ensure their survival. And so will you if your environment changes. If you’re not living you’re dying… there is really no middle ground in between.
If we hadn’t evolved to our environment where would we be?
So what’s the difference between a routine and a habit?
According to Stanford Behaviour Psychologist and author BJ Fogg routines and habits are definitely not the same thing. Habits are behaviours you do automatically without thinking about them while routines are about how frequently you make a decision to complete a behaviour.
In both cases routines and habits help you do things on a regular basis, and the more consistently you complete them, the better you will become at them. This is true for both “good” and “bad” routines and habits.
For example, training on set days of the week is a routine. You have to make the conscious decision to go to training but that you do it repeatedly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays gives the routine its frequency.
Contrast this with a habit, a behaviour you’re not thinking about. Before you go to training you get changed and put your training shoes on in the same order. That is an automatic habit, one where you’re not really thinking about changing into your training kit and unlikely wondering which shoe goes on which foot first. It happens without you realising it.
We’ll tackle changing routines first simply because they’re the easier of the two to master as you don’t have to make a conscious decision to decide to complete a behaviour.
To make changes to your routine the best advice comes from Performance Coach Todd Herman. Herman advises you should set up your routines so they bring the best out of you and what you want to achieve.
Makes perfect sense right? Do things to ensure you’re successful.
Herman’s example is Olympic swimmers. Olympic swimmers always train first thing in the morning when they are fresh and rested. They don’t train at 9pm in the evening after a hard day at work because that wouldn’t be beneficial to them.
Both Herman and Fogg agree you also don’t have to enjoy the routines themselves you just have to enjoy the result they produce. The ends, in this case, justify the means.
Doing your taxes is not fun but getting money from the Tax Department or avoiding a fine certainly is. Training on your own three times a week in the the pouring rain to perfect your reverse stick shot isn’t fun but when you consistently nail it during games it was well worth the effort.
To set up routines that will help you reach your goals you can use these questions as a guide:
- Do I do this behaviour with some frequency now – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly?
- Is this behaviour helping me achieve my goals?
- How often should I be doing this behaviour?
While habits can be f*cken hard to change the good news is it’s not impossible. The better news is it’s also not just down to willpower… there’s a science to habit change and it’s all in breaking down what habits actually are.
- Reminder – the trigger that initiates the behavior
- Routine – the behavior itself / the action you take
- Reward – the benefit you gain from doing the behavior
James Clear: three steps for habit change
Here’s how the 3R system would work in practice:
- Reminder – Your phone rings – this is the reminder to initiate your behaviour. The ring is the cue to pick up the phone.
- Routine – You answer your phone – this your actual behaviour
- Reward – You find out who has called – the benefit you gain from completing the behaviour, in this case, satisfying your curiosity to find out why the person called you.
The key is if the reward is positive then the cycle forms a positive feedback loop that tells your brain to do the same thing next time (i.e. answer the phone). The immediate emotional payoff you feel is what creates the habit. And the more of an emotional payoff you get, the faster the habit will form.
Which is why kicking bad habits that are enjoyable can be hard because you get massive emotional high from them.
So how do you create a new habit?
Personally, I’ve found by focusing on the Reminder element of a habit to be the most powerful way to start. This is because the Reminder is the most critical part in forming a new behaviour. It takes away the need to be motivated and makes it easier to start especially when you attach it to behaviours you already do – for example, if you want to start flossing, it makes sense to start that habit at the same time you brush your teeth.
So think about what your new or improved habit is going to be and then focus on developing the 3Rs to support it.
The path of least resistance is usually the best place to start.
If you think about habits as being “downhill” (they just happen on their own) or “uphill” (they require some energy and effort from you) then ideally you’ll be designing your habits to be downhill ones where there is very little resistance at all.
When Fogg decided he wanted to floss his teeth regularly he started with just flossing one tooth at a time. There was little resistance in flossing one tooth. Eventually one turned into two, and then all his teeth. Fogg’s 5-day Tiny Habits method is a great place to start.
Fogg also recommends if you’re starting with an “uphill” habit then sent a timer for three minutes to complete it. If you’re hating it you can stop after three minutes. But what usually happens is once you’ve started you’ll stick with it.
Finally if you’re really struggling to create a habit then take the path of least resistance and design your habits to be routines instead.
Why is all of this so important?
Your routines and habits are the building blocks of your success for your physical training and your mental strength.
Routines and habits will help you create mental velocity because you’ll have absolute clarity on the steps you need to take to become the best and achieve your goals. If you’re willing to look at how your routines and habits are shaping you then you’ll be further ahead than everyone else.
Remember the theory of Causality? Where one process or cause is connected with another process or state known as an effect. Like it or not, who you are today is a direct reflection of the small actions and decisions you’ve made over time.
If you were walking down the street and I came up and shoved you, you’d certainly notice that change and probably wouldn’t like it much. It would jarring and unpleasant. But instead if I came up to you and walked beside you gently leaning into you? You’d eventually veer over and walk a different line without even realising it.
This is best highlighted in the concept of the Aggregation of Marginal Gains which shows if you improve just a little, 1% every day or in everything you do over time, then those small gains will add up to a significant improvement over time.
That’s the power of routine and habit change. It can slowly push you in a new direction without you even being aware of it and it all adds up over time to give you greater growth.
Creating powerful routines and habits to help not hinder you:
Start with DON’T:
Take some time now to reflect back on areas of your sports and life that:
Then ask yourself this one powerful question from Todd Herman:
What don’t I want happening any more in __________________?
Flip your DON’Ts to DOs:
If you start with focusing on what you don’t want then this will help you identify what exactly it is that you do want.
So once you’ve identified what you don’t want then it’s time to flip those around to see what you do want.
This is a simple reframing exercise. If you don’t want something, then surely the opposite of that is what you do want?
If “I don’t want to be the slowest person in my team to complete fitness testing” is something you don’t want, then the flip of that could be:
“I can’t wait to be one of the top five fastest people in my team when it comes to completing our fitness testing”
Create your routines and habits:
Now you know what you do want, evaluate all your routines and habits you’d like to either:
Write down which habits or routines fit under these headings and then put them in motion.
Pro tip: Routines and habits you want to Start or Stop will cause more resistance than those in the Do Less and Do More areas.
7: Trust the process and the results will take care of themselves
You understand your WHY, you’ve mapped out your goals and you’ve dialled in your habits and routines so you can be the best on and off the Field of Play. Why is it then you still might struggle mentally on the Field of Play?
The number one reason you still might struggle is due to the subconscious lack of trust you have in yourself. You know that niggle you get in the back of your mind, that judgement or criticism of yourself when your inner critic starts to wind up? You’re not sure you’ve done enough and you start to lack belief in yourself that you can do what you’ve set out to achieve.
The judgement, criticism and fear that gives your inner critic the microphone stems from your lack of trust in the process you’ve followed to get you ready for the Field of Play.
Let me ask you a question.
If you’ve done everything you possibly can to be the absolute best you can on the Field of Play would there be any reason for you to not trust yourself?
Heck no! In fact you’d hit the Field of Play and love every second of it because when you perform at your best, with belief and confidence, you feel unstoppable.
Your mental strength doesn’t sit outside of you. It sits inside you and it’s the internal knowledge and trust you have knowing no matter what life throws your way, you’re completely flexible and adaptable at responding to it.
So how do you develop that trust in the process and yourself? You need to put the effort in and be focused.
Effort is the an equaliser between the good, the great and the phenomenal. It’s a leveler like no other because everyone gets to choose exactly how much, or how little, effort they put into anything.
In his book Bounce: The Myth of Talent and Power of Practice, author Matthew Syed argues people aren’t born with innate “talents” or “gifts”. That idea that you are born with the exact skills you need to be a world-class golfer or tennis player is just that… an idea. In fact anyone can be world-class at anything should you wish to.
Take Tennis Champion Serena Williams and her tennis champion sister Venus Williams for example. By the time they hit the world stage they’d already clocked up 10,000 plus hours of practice and training.
And the kicker here is their father Richard Williams decided before they were even born he wanted his children to be world-class tennis players and actively taught them how to play tennis from an early age.
The Williams sisters didn’t launch into the world as world-class tennis champs. They fought freaken hard to get there. They put the effort in.
“I’ll never forget the moment when I first fell in love with tennis. Back when I was just this little girl in Compton I already knew that I would love the sport for the rest of my life. And that little girl is still with me. Pushing and inspiring me in every match, every practice, every minute of every day”
In fact, research popularised by Anders Ericsson in his book Peak and Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers show it takes roughly 10,000 hours of effort to become truly world-class at what you do, which is about 10 years of dedicated, deliberate effort.
The idea that “talent” is a requirement to be the best at what you do is a myth perpetuated by people who long to excel in some sport but are too scared or not committed enough to put in the work to achieve their goals.
You notice the words there are “scared” and “not committed”. It doesn’t mean these people don’t want to have the opportunity or the chance to be the best. It’s more a direct reflection of their mental state. It’s the story they tell themselves and it’s a story they’ll likely keep telling themselves over and over. And as you learned in Chapter 3 the stories you tell yourself shape your belief and confidence in yourself, and what you’re capable of, in powerful ways.
When I asked a friend why she didn’t sign up for New Zealand Masters selection she said “I’ve done it twice and didn’t get selected. Clearly I’m just not good enough. I’m not what they’re looking for”.
And I get that right. I’m sure you do too. Why would you want to keep dashing your hopes against a thousand jagged rocks everytime you don’t achieve your goals? At some point it’s easier and less painful to accept that as your reality and move on.
But there is an alternative option. You could talk to the coach, the selectors to find out what they are looking for. You could work on your skills, your physical fitness and your mental strength so you become the player they are looking for.
These actions of course take effort.
The good news is you can become greater than you are right now because you can become more than what you are. As Charles Haanard said to be more requires you to do more so you are more. It requires effort.
Unless you’re willing to change and put in a different level of effort you’ll always get the exact same results you’ve always had.
And it’s effort on the right things you’ve identified through understanding your why, setting your goals and identifying which routines and habits need to help you
If you’ve ever said to yourself “If only I had a better coach”, “If only I could do X skill” or “If I was more like [amazing person over there] I’d be better“ you’ve solidified these thoughts inside the pathways of your brain. You’re confirming them as the stories you’ll tell yourself over and over again.
Throw those stories away, take responsibility for yourself, put in the effort and see change.
Controlled focus is like a laser beam that can cut through anything that’s stopping you. One of the reasons people never achieve what they want is they don’t focus, or concentrate their laser beam, instead they major in the minor.
Majoring in the minor is a great way to reduce your focus keeping you inside your comfort zone. It’s called a comfort zone because it’s comfortable right? Shifting your focus outside of your comfort zone, as we discussed in Chapter 1 is by its very nature uncomfortable.
If you shift your focus to the targeted mental or physical skills that are just outside your comfort zone that’s when you’ll see growth. Push yourself too far and you’re in the panic zone and you’ll just end up running around with your hair on fire.
Another way to think about focus is to think about how you practice or train. Ericsson refers to focus as “deliberate practice” while Syed refers to it as “purposeful practice”.
I refer to it as deliberate, focused practice.
How do you begin to focus on what you should be doing? How do you do deliberate, focused practice?
Simply think about the key skills you need in your sport and then practice them.
Performance Coach Todd Herman notes to identify the key skills for your sport you need to understand what your sport is actually about. Is basketball about dribbling and shot-taking skills? On a surface level that’s exactly what it looks like but if you look deeper you’ll see that basketball is about creating time and space on the ball so you can make good decisions and take action.
The next step is to break the identified skills down into their component parts so you can learn them. Tim Ferriss teaches in his book The Four Hour Chef (which isn’t really about cooking) if you break any skill down into its most important component pieces and then learn those, the entire skills themselves will become easy to master.
It’s called meta-learning and it’s a way to mimic the most successful people to accelerate your learning. Ferriss is a master at it and has taught himself a number of different languages including Chinese, Japanese, Spanish as well as becoming the first American to hold a Guinness World Record in Tango Dancing.
Tim Ferriss and Alicia Monti competing in the Tango World Championship
Then you’ll want to assess your strengths and areas for development (or weaknesses – let’s call that spade a spade – it’s shit you’re not good at) as they relate to your sport. In the context of your sport what areas do you need to focus on that will have a significant impact on your game?
In hockey for example, your ability to trap the ball dead on your stick is a key skill to give you more time and space on the ball. If you have to chase the ball after its bounced a metre off your stick a metre then you’ve lost that time and space.
Finally, when it comes to your strengths and “areas for development” the last question you have to ask yourself is… are any of my strengths or weaknesses fatal flaws?
Zenger Folkman termed the phrase “fatal flaws” in a leadership context as it applied to leaders or managers who would never be successful because despite all the good skills or qualities they had, they had one “fatal flaw” which ruined everything.
For example, perhaps you’ve had a boss who’s a genuinely nice person but can’t ever see anything other than through rose-tinted glasses. Everything is always great and even though the business is failing, people are under-performing and sales aren’t being made. No matter how bad things are they still fail to see anything but positivity and take no action.
That’s a fatal flaw. No matter how nice of a person they are, or what leadership qualities they exhibit when stuff is good, their inability to a) see and then b) deal with the badwill always prevent them from being a great leader.
In the sports context, I’ve coached players who struggle to take themselves out of the centre of everything. As a coach if I’ve made a decision about what’s best for the team it’s been about them. If they’re not involved in a drill it’s because I don’t like them. If they don’t get personally congratulated after the game why hasn’t everyone seen their greatness? And when they try to take a leadership role they alienate and disconnect themselves from the team because of the view they have of themselves.
That’s a fatal flaw. In a team sport no one player is the centre of everything. And no matter how hard they practice their physical fitness or skills, that mindset about their importance will ultimately prevent them from being truly great.
Strengths can be fatal flaws too.
If you’re ace at running with the ball in hockey or football say and never pass the ball then a) you’ll irritate the crap out of your team b) you’ll miss opportunities the rest of your team creates because you’re so focused on what you’re doing and c) you actually become really easy for the opposition to pick off because you do the same thing every time.
Now not everyone has a fatal flaw but if you do you should probably know about it.
So how do you discover if you have a fatal flaw? Well when it comes to your actions or skills on the Field of Play be truly honest and reflective about who you are, what you’re good at and what you’re not. Go deep. Ask your teammates, friends, colleagues and family for their honest opinion on your strengths and “areas for development” on and off the Field of Play.
It can be hard to hear other people’s opinions of you especially if they go against what you think of yourself. But that’s part of being a mentally strong athlete. You’re willing to be open to hearing their answers because you know those answers will get you closer to being the best athlete you can be.
(For more more specific guidance on how to get the most out of your physical training, download the Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Mentally Strong Athlete PDF and check out the bonus chapter on training)
Now you’ve gone through the process of identifying where your focus needs to lie by:
- Thinking about the skills you truly need to excel on your Field of Play
- Broken those skills down into their most important component parts
- Identified what your strengths and areas of development are, and
- Determined whether you have a fatal flaw or not
You can start to apply your focus and effort to honing these skills. By moving outside your comfort zone you’ll see exponential jumps in your ability.
Is one of your skills mental strength?
As this guide is designed to help you develop your mental strength I’d imagine this is one of the skills you need to develop.
Helpfully, I’ve broken this skill down into its component parts for you following the structure of this guide:
- Foundations: the groundwork you need to do to lay the foundations for success
- Frameworks: building the frameworks or structure on which your success will hang
- Finishing: more of the specific techniques and tools you can use to enhance your mental game
Once you’ve read the guide you’ll easily be able to determine the areas you need to focus on to up your mental game. You could be excelling in some areas and less so in others… now you’ll be able to crush them all.
Being in the zone
Before moving off the topic of focus I want to talk about being in the zone. As an athlete you’ve probably heard about “being in the zone”, “being in the flow” or in a “flow state”.
Being in the zone is an often elusive state and it’s often described as a tunnel-vision-type state where you’re hyper-focused on what you’re doing. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes being in the zone as:
“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other… Sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”
Csikszentmihalyi, who’s researched thousands of people in “flow”, notes there are seven conditions which indicate you’re in the zone:
- You’re completely involved in what you’re doing – focused and concentrated
- You experience a sense of ecstasy – of being outside your everyday reality
- You gain a great inner clarity – you know what needs to be done and how well you’re doing it
- You know and believe the activity is doable – your skills are adequate to the task
- You feel a sense of serenity – you have no worries about yourself and you experience a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of your ego
- You feel timelessness – you’re thoroughly focused on the present so hours seem to pass by in minutes
- You’re intrinsically motivated – whatever activity produces the flow state becomes its own reward
For me personally when I’m in the zone on the hockey field it literally feels like time is standing still. But not only time, everyone around me is also standing still and the only two things moving are myself and the ball. And we’re moving so painfully slowly so I have plenty of time to make the save.
These are the only times I remember making saves. I generally remember the goals that go in rather but when I’m in the zone… I can recall my saves down to the tiniest details.
So how do you get into the zone?
Csikszentmihalyi noted to get into the zone you need the right mix of higher than average challenge and higher than average skills. This is when you’re being pushed by the challenge you’re undertaking but you’re also completing a task complex enough you have to use your higher than average skill base.
As you can see from the diagram, being in the zone or in flow is nestled nicely in-between arousal and control states. According to Csikszentmihalyi, arousal is the state that most often leads to being in the zone because at that point you’re already outside your comfort zone.
Csikszentmihalyi refers to getting into flow as the “Goldilocks” principle – you experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of your current abilities. They aren’t too hard, and aren’t too easy… they’re just right.
To understand this principle in action, author James Clear described like you’re playing tennis. If you try to play a serious match against a four-year-old you’d quickly become bored because the match would be too easy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you tried to play a serious match against a professional tennis player like Roger Federer or Serena Williams, you’d find yourself demotivated for a different reason… the match would be too difficult.
Instead if you compared those experiences to playing tennis against someone who was your equal then you’d have a much better chance of winning. Of course you’d have to try to win – you may pick up a point here and there and you might lose a point. But you’d have to use your skills to address the challenge. By doing so, your focus would narrow, you’d lose any sense of distractions and you’d be fully invested in the task.
Why is any of this relevant to focus?
Because being in the zone is being focused.
To truly get into the zone you need to enter into the automatic and spontaneous process of competing which comes with deliberate, focused practice.
The best way I’ve found to get into the zone is to train how I play. Training how you want to play anchors you in a zone-like place which makes it so much easier to find the zone on the Field of Play.
As an aside, James Clear also noted that to be in the zone you also need to see immediate feedback about how you’re doing at each step. Seeing yourself progressing in the moment is an incredibly motivating feeling. So in the tennis example, you’d get feedback immediately by either winning the tennis point or not.
But as a human you’re motivated not just by seeing achievement immediately but also by seeing achievement regularly throughout your day.
You need to be able to measure your achievements regularly which we’ll cover in the next chapter.
8: Inconsistent, resistant or fed up and wanting to quit?
To maximise the effort and focus you’re putting into building your mental strength you need to measure your progress – good or bad.
Benjamin Franklin would ask himself first thing in the morning “What good shall I do this day?” and in the evening before retiring he would ask “What good have I done this day?”.
Benjamin Franklin’s diary
First thing in the morning it allowed Franklin to open his mind to the possibility that opportunities may arise during the day. In the evening it allowed him to reflect on his actions and whether he had indeed done good for his fellow man.
In his book Way of the Seal former Navy SEAL and creator of SEALFit Mark Divine noted ancient warriors would meditate at the end of every day to find learnings and opportunities for growth and development. They’d also dismiss unhelpful thoughts about their day so as not to hold unnecessary mental baggage or grudges.
As mentioned in Chapter 7, James Clear noted to be in the zone, to be performing in a peak state, you need to seek immediate feedback as well as feedback on your achievement during the day to remain motivated to continue your focused practice.
Performance Coach Todd Herman reinforces this. From his experience working with thousands of amateur, professional and elite athletes he notes the number one reason why people are inconsistent with achieving their goals, feel resistance or get fed up is because they don’t review and measure their progress.
Tracking and measuring your progress, positive or not, allows you to identify patterns in your life that you might not see otherwise. As discussed in Chapter 5, you can predict the future based on your actions today. So it stands to reason, if something isn’t going right today, you can review the actions you took 30, 60, 90 days ago to get an understanding of what led you to this situation.
Another valuable reason for tracking data is if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong how will you know what you’re doing right?
Tracking the right data – the when and the what
There are three general timeframes you should use to track data about your progress – daily, weekly and at the end of your 90 day “horizon line” goal.
To be the best you should also be making notes on your trainings and games to help identify patterns of behaviours or activities that could prevent you from achieving your goals.
There can also be variations to this depending on what works best for you. My clients work with me in two week “sprints” a concept also used by Todd Herman. Two weeks is long enough to devote yourself to one activity to see tremendous growth yet not so long you bored with what you’re doing. It’s also allows for a weekly check-in to ensure if you’re off track you have time to correct.
Measuring and tracking your actions, feelings and behaviours doesn’t have to be an arduous task. You can do it in five minutes before you go to bed and spend 20 minutes reviewing the data once a week.
The flipside of this is if you love spreadsheets and data you are more than welcome to track whatever information you like.
Leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith has a list of 32 questions he asks himself every day. Some are active such as “Did I do my best to make progress in achieving my goals” and “Did I make progress to be fully engaged?”. Other questions Goldsmith asks himself are specific to the goals he wants to achieve in life such as “How many minutes did I walk”.
To make sure he completes this task every single day of the week, Goldsmith receives a phone call from the same woman at the same time every day. While she doesn’t say much, if anything, she just listens to Goldsmith go through his 32 questions and answers holding him to account every day of the week.
Now I’m not suggesting you hire out your daily tracking to someone like Goldsmith does. A simple notebook will work just fine or use technology if you’re that way inclined (just make sure you have it saved somewhere other than on your computer or phone for when the inevitable happens). I’d highly recommend Evernote. I use it every day and it’s literally a digital copy of my brain.
So once you’ve decided on your tracking mechanism, it’s time to start tracking.
Pre- and post-training and game check-in
Capturing data around your training sessions and games is a must if you want to be the best and perform at that level consistently.
I recommend you capture information on all your training sessions and games. The criteria for what you want to track may vary depending on what your goal is but here’s some suggestions to get your started:
Before training / game:
- How do you feel physically? – a 1-10 scale works well here.
- How do you feel mentally? – a 1-10 scale
- What do you want to achieve from your training / game today – by setting your intentions before you take the Field of Play your priming your brain to help you achieve it (remember it loves to help you achieve goals).
After training or game:
- How do you feel physically now? – 1-10 scale
- How for your feel mentally now? – 1-10 scale
- What level of effort did your put in? – 1-10 scale
- What did you try that worked? – notes
- What did you try that didn’t work? – notes
- What skills did you use? (more relevant in trainings to help you identify areas you might need to work on in your focused practice)
- Have I done my best to maximise this time on the Field of Play to reach my goals? 1-10 scale
A quick note on using 1-10 scales. They’re subjective to you based on your perception of what each of the ratings looks like. We could exert the same level of mental strength which for me could be a 10 but you might rate it as only an 8.
So when it comes to using 1-10 scales it’s really helpful if you determine what both ends of your scale mean. And write it down so you remember it.
For example, your 1-10 scale on how you feel mentally after being on the Field of Play might look something like this:
- 1 – I have a pounding headache and need to sleep immediately
- 10 – I’m ecstatic, in the zone, and want to do that whole thing again
This is important to do because it’s your data you’re tracking. It needs to be meaningful to you.
Tracking data on daily basis can give you insights into your life you might not otherwise have picked up on. It’s easy to forget what happened 24 hours ago and perhaps that one extra hour you stayed up watching Netflix last night has caused your training to tank today…? Who knows.
The only way to find out is to track it.
This is where you can get completely out-of-the-box crazy with your tracking. If you’re working at the Elite level, it’s likely you’d be tracking everything from the number of hours you’ve slept to the amount of food you’ve eaten each day.
Unless you really have the desire to track everything, in the midst of you busy life, you probably don’t want to track every minute of the day. So here are five areas Herman recommends you should track to give you some insight into your life.
- Mental Focus – what’s your mental clarity like? How focused are you?
- Emotional Energy – whether you’re drained or upbeat
- Physical Energy – how much energy do you have in your movement and actions? Is your body tired?
- Life Fuel – your nutrition and sleep
- Tribal Growth – the relationships you have in your life
At a minimum, this information will allow you to start tracking patterns. If you see days where your physical energy score is down for example you can start to ask yourself why this might be.
A helpful way to add context to the five key areas above is to write a few quick notes about each day. This will help you remember exactly what went on so you can better interpret your results in a week, month or year from now.
Some ideas for how to capture these daily notes could include jotting down the key activities you completed during the day, make note of any “out-of-the-ordinary” events that occured and jot down what you think worked or didn’t work for you over the last 24 hour period (so you can do more of what does work and less of what doesn’t).
This process should take you 5-10 minutes per day. The best time is usually as part of your night-time routine. It’s a very useful way to close out the day and mentally prepare yourself for tomorrow.
Now you’re capturing information daily you need to make time to review it weekly. This is where you’ll start to see trends and patterns emerging which will allow you to remove the things that aren’t serving you and to double down on what is.
Your weekly review shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes and it’s focused on two simple steps:
- Reflect and look back on how your performed the past week:
- What didn’t work so well so you should stop doing it?
- What’s missing that you need to start doing?
- What’s working well that you should continue doing?
- Look forward and plan how you’re going to incorporate those changes into your next week
Also check in with your 90 day goal and ask yourself “Will my planned actions next week help move the needle in achieving my goal?”
To move the needle your actions need to be the most useful to help you achieve your goal. You can use the 80/20 rule here to identify the best actions to take.
Pro tip: If you’re struggling to stick with a weekly review you can do a review every two weeks but don’t push it out any more. This can sometimes be more helpful if you’re learning a new skill that takes a bit longer to develop.
90 Day Review
Every 90 days it’s time to see how far you’ve come and whether you’ve achieved your goal or not. This is often a moment of honesty and clarity for you. It could be you’ve realised the dream of becoming a podium finisher in Olympic cycling (Chapter 5) isn’t really for you. It could be you’re discouraged as you haven’t achieved what you’d hoped. You could have smashed your 90 day goal in 75 days or perhaps you’re tracking steadily.
Whatever space you find yourself in doing a 90 day review can be an enlightening experience. Approach it with an Ultimate Strength mindset so you’re not looking at it with judgement just using it as an opportunity to learn and grow so you can become the best. You’re reviewing what has happened and how far you’ve come and you’re shaping your future based on that.
Take your time to answer these questions:
- Has my long term vision of what I want to achieve stayed the same or has it changed?
- What worked and why?
- What didn’t work and why?
- What is standing in my way or stopping me?
- What can I do to change that?
- What will I continue to do the next 90 days?
With all of this information you can now go through the process of setting a new 90 day goal using the exercise in Chapter 5. Stay focused on only one goal at a time to give yourself the best opportunity to meet it.
The art and science of the daily practice
In the world of high-performance, whether on the Field of Play, in business or creative endeavours, there is one concept that appears more often than not in the lives of those that achieve above and beyond. This is the concept of the daily practice.
A daily practice isn’t the same as getting up, having coffee, showering and racing out of the house to get to work. That’s a daily routine.
A daily practice is instead a set of actions – routines or habits – you complete daily and with purpose to add value to your life or the lives of others.
It’s a way for you to win the day and to give yourself a personal jump start on the world around. Navy SEAL commander Admiral William H. McRaven noted you should always make your bed because if you make your bed you win the day.
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss is a fantastic resource, based on his interviews with over 200 world-class performers, on their actions, behaviours and thoughts which have led them to be successful. Ferriss has noticed there are three daily habits which most world-class performers tend have
- Mindfulness practice – generally done in the first 90 minutes of the day (more in Chapter 11)
- Prioritising sleep – a restful and restorative good night sleep is amazing for your brain
- Journaling – to free your thoughts on paper so you can develop better thinking using something like the Five Minute Journal or Morning Pages.
Ferriss notes it’s important to complete your daily practice before you start to get into reactive mode because you’re taking time to give yourself the opportunity to learn and grow. You might not have this time after your day starts.
Daily practices can be done in the morning, evening or often both. You can book-end your day with wind up and wind down daily practices.
Why am I bringing up daily practices?
They can be a good way to incorporate your daily review into your schedule and they can be a good way to introduce new routines and habits. If you can carve 10, 20 or 30 minutes a day to give yourself a jump start on everyone else I highly recommend you do.
Don’t wanna be all by yourself…?
“This is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky, And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Humans are not solitary creatures. We’re community and social animals and thrive on a sense of belonging. We want to feel wanted, loved and supported and together as a pack we can do more than if we tried to go it alone.
How many elite athletes can you think of that have achieved success by doing everything themselves?
If you’re struggling to come up with an answer that’s probably because there are none.
According to Mark Verstegen, Founder of human performance company EXOS, every elite athlete has a support team of 7 -15 people. They have coaches including sports specific, strength and conditioning, mental strength, mobility, sleep, nutrition coaches nevermind the health professionals to keep them moving and playing at their best on Field of Play.
The question I have for you is:
If an elite athlete can’t achieve their goals on their own can you?
If you answered yes to that question, while I appreciate your optimism, let me know how that works out for you. The reality is if you’re a wolf that breaks away from the pack it won’t be long before you’re failing to achieve your goals.
Play smarter not harder and use your pack to your advantage. Engage your family and friends to help support you, speak with your coach about what you’re doing and reach out to people who can help you achieve your goals.
I used to think I could do everything on my own, back in my fixed mindset days when I believed I was super talented and could win life by being myself. As a story I was telling myself it was not serving me in any way.
As soon as I stopped thinking I could do everything on my own my progress in all areas of my life exploded.
I started to invest in myself. I’ve worked with (and still do) coaches for hockey, my health, my fitness, my business and my mindset. I’ve worked with successful people two-three steps ahead of me to try and emulate their progress to get a jump on my own life. I’ve sought advice and guidance from mentors, many of whom I’ve learned from just by reading and applying the advice from their books.
I’m in several mastermind groups, I’ve got a network of hockey friends who I can bounce ideas off who are honest with me. My close friends and family are super supportive and hold me accountable.
If you want to be mentally strong you can’t hold onto everything yourself.
Your strength as a wolf is the strength of your pack. How are you going to get the accountability and support you need?
Finishing Overview: Tapping into the power of your mind to achieve epic results
If you’ve made it to this section of the guide without skipping straight here, and you’ve gone through the exercises, you’re on the cusp of being a mentally strong high-performing athlete.
You’re also miles ahead of everyone else you’re competing against who hasn’t taken the time to strengthen their mental foundations or build strong frameworks to ensure their success.
But this isn’t a reason to breathe a sigh of relief and think you’ve aced it. Leave those thoughts to the complacent and the comfortable. That’s not you.
Instead we’ll cover some of the techniques and tools you can use to tap into the power of your mind. These will help you overcome the challenges that’ll come your way.
The reason we finish with these techniques and tools is that their power is enhanced by having the foundations and frameworks in place to support them.
If you’re on the Field of Play and you’re struggling to get the best out of yourself… before you begin to lose your belief in yourself dive into your toolbox instead.
9: Breathing and stress: Learning how to breathe
Let’s start with stress.
Not all stress is a bad thing.
Some stress can actually propel you from your comfort zone and into a whole new arena of learning, discovery and growth.
The key to understanding stress is to differentiate the good from the bad. Good stress (acute) is typically stress that’s short lived, infrequent, over quickly, inspires you to take action and can build you up leaving you better than before.
As an athlete good stress is standing on the sideline of the Field of Play waiting for your event to start. The nervous energy you feel is inspiring and you’re excited to get out there and play. As soon as you get your first touch or make your first move the stress magically goes away. You’ve recovered from this stressful moment quickly and your mind has shifted to focusing on the action on the Field of Play.
Bad (chronic) stress is the opposite. It lasts a long time, is chronic and ongoing, negative, depressing or demoralising, it de-motivates and paralyses you and breaks you down leaving you worse off than you were before.
Bad stress is when you’re in the bathroom five minutes before you need to take the Field of Play. You’re shaking and can’t get your heart rate to slow down. You’ve felt like this for days before the big event and you’re starting to doubt yourself. Your inner critic started talking days ago but it’s getting louder and louder. As soon you take the Field of Play you can’t focus, you fumble your first move and spend the rest of the event listening to your inner critic.
Having lived through both I can tell you good stress is the more empowering stress!
I’ve also coached players who were literally running from the changing room, with tears in their eyes, onto the Field of Play after vomiting for the 100th time that week because they’d worked themselves up into such a stressed state of frenzy there was absolutely no talking them off the ledge. This is an extreme version of bad stress that has a significant impact on your ability to perform on the Field of Play.
Aside from the differences in how stress makes you feel, the one key difference between good stress and bad stress is how well the stressor (event or action) matches your ability to recover from it.
There is a sweet spot with stress and you can learn how to use it to your advantage.
If the stressor you’re adding to your pile is too low, it won’t be enough to cause any kind of reaction and nothing will happen. Life will be fine but you won’t change. The flipside is if the stressor is too high, is too strong or lasts too long it will outpace your ability to recover from it and then you’ll eventually break down.
If the stressor however is within your recovery zone, it’s not too much or too little, you’ll not only recover but you’ll also be better off than you were before.
To find your sweet spot for stress – your unique recovery zone – you need to understand yourself. Depending on how many things that are already on the pile of stress you’re carrying around (known as you allostatic load), you’ll either thrive or collapse under the weight of one more stressful event.
Self-awareness about how you feel when you’re stressed – mentally and physically – is important because it allows you to keep your stress load down and keep you in the good stress recovery zone.
How does your body respond to bad stress
Responding to stress, in particular bad stress, your heart rate goes up, your blood vessels constrict and your blood migrates to your extremities. Your muscles tense and your rate of breathing increases. Your pupils dilate and your hands get sweaty or clammy, your tears and sweat decrease and adrenaline is released.
You brain is also affected. Your memory and judgment suffer. You can’t concentrate and you get repetitive and racing thoughts running through your mind. Your inner critic kicks in and you lose your confidence and start to feel overwhelmed. You may even experience anger and resentment and have a desire to escape or run away.
How do you control your stress response?
If you find yourself in a place where your stress levels are starting to peak either from having too much on your stress pile, or it’s naturally kicked in because of a “fight or flight” response, there is a simple fix you can use to get yourself back under control.
It’s called breathing.
Learning how to breathe
Focusing on your breathing will normalise your body’s stress response and control the symptoms. By concentrating on your breathing it forces you to change your point of focus so you’re no longer thinking about the danger or event that’s stressing you out. Instead you’re just focused on your breath.
This has the effect of centring your mind and giving it focus. Your brain is no longer panicking and your ability to concentrate is returning as you focus on just your breathing.
There are two types of breathing you need to master to keep yourself focused, composed and mentally in your event on the Field of Play.
The first is what I like to call your Control Breath. This is the type of breathing you do when the shit starts hitting the fan in the middle of an event and you need to get control and composure back.
You use the Control breath when the wheels are starting to fall off your game or something is about to, or has, gone wrong. Your heart rate might start to rise, your concentration will go and you’ll feel panic or worry start to set in.
Instead of giving in to the feelings it’s time to start taking a deep breath.
The Control Breath has three parts you put together to make it complete:
- The Belly Breath – put your hand on your stomach then push your stomach out to draw the air deep into the bottom of your lungs. Then release it by pulling your stomach as close into your spine as you can while exhaling – you’re trying to get your belly button to touch your spine. You should feel air inside you like it’s sitting underneath your rib cage.
- The Diaphragm Breath – this is where you draw air into your diaphragm so it raises up. You again draw air into your stomach as in the Belly Breath but this time as you feel your stomach near full with air, keep breathing in as your diaphragm also fills up. Then release, starting with the air in your diaphragm first before the air in your stomach.
- The Chest – once your stomach and diaphragm are full it’s time to then fill the top of your lungs. This will cause your chest to rise and your shoulders to go back. This is completes the third part of the breath and completely fills your lungs with air.
The second type of breathing is called Box Breathing. Box Breathing is taken from the Pranayama Yoga breathing practice where pranayama literally means breath extension or control and it’s a powerful way to control your stress response.
Again using the same breathing technique as for the Control Breath, this time instead of just breathing in and out one breathe after the other, this time you’re using a set number of seconds to inhale, hold, exhale then hold your breath. Like the sides of a box.
To practice you can inhale to a count of five and then exhale to a count of five. Repeat this a couple of times as a warmup.
Then start Box Breathing:
- Begin fully by inhaling a five-count breath in through your nose.
- Hold your breath for a count of five
- Exhale slowly through your nose to the count of five
- Hold your breath again for a count of five
- Start with a practice of five minutes then work your way up to 20 minutes a day
Divine notes all breathing should be done through your nose rather than your mouth (unless you absolutely need to breathe through your mouth to get enough oxygen into your system). Breathing through your nose actually allows you to get air deeper into your lungs than breathing through your mouth does. Plus you are also less likely to hyperventilate!
I find breathing deeply through my nose to be a powerful way to breath even when I’m slightly out of breath. I can feel the air going deep into my lungs and filling my body. It’s an experience where I feel connected to my body which helps me focus on what I’m seeking to achieve.
When to use the Control Breath over Box Breathing?
The Control Breath is for when you’re on the Field of Play and need to control your stress response or kick yourself back into a powerful and focused mental state quickly. It’s used by Navy SEALs in the middle of firefights to ground themselves and regain composure and control. Clearly they don’t have time on their hands in those situations!
Box Breathing is for when you have more time on your hands. It can ground and centre you before a workout or a training. You don’t have to be stressed out for it to have a calming and focusing effect.
Box Breathing is also a useful way to breath during your Visualisation practice which we’ll cover next.
10: Visualising your way to success
One on my favourite questions to ask the team I’m coaching before they hit the Field of Play is “How many of you have already won in your mind?”
It’s a question designed to see how many of them have thought about the game and their role on the Field of Play. As a coach, it’s also a good way to spot which players I might need to keep an eye on at the start of the game… those who didn’t put their hand up.
The genesis for the question comes from the book The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese Military Strategist. In the Art of War Sun Tzu notes:
“Victorious warriors win first in their minds and then go to war. Defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
Sun Tzu understood the power of visualisation. Or as former Navy Seal and creator of SEALFit Mark Divine says “To win at anything, we must first control our minds”.
I started using visualisation in 2015 and since I started I’ve had a significant amount of success. I began using it as a technique after I noticed I’d let goals in when I caught myself saying in my mind “this is going to go in”. No wonder they did if I was in that frame of mind!
Now I practice visualisation regularly. Whenever I visualise myself before a match regardless of where I am playing, I’m standing at my home hockey turf in New Zealand. I’m at the top end of the field (randomly whenever I look at a hockey field I always see it as being on an angle with a “top” and a “bottom” end) and it’s always a cloudy overcast day. I imagine myself in my full kit and I run through all the great saves I can remember ever making. I run through saves with my feet and my hands. I focus on clearing the ball wide every time. I think through penalty corner saves, diving saves and using my stick. I visualise how my body feels after making the saves, how either out of breath or energised I’ll feel.
Usually there is one attacker taking all of the shots – either someone from my team who hits hard and fast or often in my head I default to the former New Zealand Black Stick striker Niniwa Roberts (we’ve played against each other a number of times and to this day I still get an immense amount of satisfaction saving the shots she fires my way).
Why is visualisation so important?
In his book Peak Performance: Mental Training Techniques of the Worlds Greatest Athletes author Charles A. Garfield recounted his meeting with Russian researchers on an experiment they did with Russian athletes before the 1980s Winter Games in Lake Placid, USA.
In the experiment, four matched groups of world-class Soviet athletes diligently trained for many hours each week. Their training regimens were:
- Group 1 – 100% physical training
- Group 2 – 75% physical training, 25% mental training
- Group 3 – 50% physical training, 50% mental training
- Group 4 – 25% physical training, 75% mental training
When the four groups were compared shortly before the 1980 games, Group 4 had shown significantly greater improvement than the athletes in Group 3, while the improvement for athletes in Groups 2 and 1 followed in that order.
How crazy is that? On the basis of that research it would seem Group 4 thought their way to success.
Now I concede there is a lot of information missing from this study to but there is enough to suggest visualisation is an exceptionally powerful tool.
Today the majority of athletes from amateurs through to professional and elite players use visualisation to give them mental strength on the Field of Play. Some 90% of athletes who complete at the Olympics use forms of visualisation and 97% of them have said it’s helped.
Visualisation is a way to practice without actually practicing. As it turns out, as complex as your mind is, it can’t actually distinguish between what you imagine and reality or what actually occurred.
By thinking about completing in an event or performing on the Field of Play you’re actually wiring that event or performance in your mind as if it’s already happened.
Ever wracked your brain and been 100% convinced you’ve done something only to find out you haven’t done it at all?
The mere process of visualising an event or an act creates the same pathways in your brain as actually completing that event or action would. This means if you visualise your performance in an event before you see or participate in the “real” event it’s actually the second time your mind has seen it.
Visualise yourself winning in your mind before you do in real life
As Sun Tzu said, win in your mind before you step into the arena.
Visualisation can also help you create your future-self by shaping the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors Future You will have. If you struggle because you get angry on the Field of Play when you make a mistake, then as well as taking time to visualise yourself executing your skills flawlessly, you can also visualise how you’ll respond if something doesn’t go your way.
While it’s not directly sports-related every night as I fall asleep, in that halfway between awake and asleep state, I visualise the person I want to be. So as I’m falling asleep I’m encoding into my brain the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of my future-self.
Different types of visualisation
Visualisation can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be.
It could be you need to calm yourself before taking the Field of Play so while Box Breathing you take a minute to visualise yourself competing. Or it could be you use 15 minutes to visualise yourself completing every move you’ll make on the Field of Play.
Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus is well known for visualising every shot he ever played right before he played it:
“I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a colour movie. First, I “see” the ball where I want it to finish… then the scene quickly changes and I “see” the ball going there, it’s path, trajectory and shape, and the next scene show me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality”.
Ways to Visualise – Perspective
There are two different perspectives you can take when visualising yourself performing on the Field of Play.
The first perspective is to visualise your actions from an internal point of view. This is you imagining your execution of a skill or competing on the Field of Play from your own vantage point and seeing it through your own eyes.
The second is from an external point of view where the perspective is from a viewer or second party. Imagine someone has a camera filming you. What would they see?
Both types if visualisation are useful ways to see yourself in action, however, an analysis of over 21 studies into visualisation and the use of mental imagery indicated that visualising events from an internal point of view gives you the greatest performance enhancement.
The internal perspective puts you closer in the moment than just viewing yourself from the outside. It allows you to finely-tune your actions and how you’d react on the Field of Play
Visualisation Technique – Mental Rehearsal
Mental rehearsal is the process through which you visualise yourself performing on the Field of Play.
Mental rehearsal helps prime you by running through the internal computer programmes your brain and body use when you execute skills or movements. By thinking about yourself performing these movements in advance both your brain and body know what to expect when you come to do them in real life. It will strengthen your body’s ability to perform the movement or action but also reinforces the neural pathway for that movement or action in your brain.
Mental rehearsal is also a way to repeatedly practice competing on the Field of Play without actually having to do it. You can practice your skills, actions and behaviours without having to leave the couch.
Mental repetition strengthens your mind and allows your skills, actions and behaviours to be moved from the conscious part of your brain (that you have to think about) to the unconscious part of your brain (that happens automatically so you don’t have to think about it).
This means you’re more likely to perform well on the Field of Play without having to be consciously aware of what you’re doing. It’s how elite athletes look so graceful and at ease executing their skills.
Visualisation Technique – Mental Practice
Mental practice differs slightly from mental rehearsal as it’s visualisation of a specific skill or movement in its individual parts. While mental rehearsal is all about your overall performance, mental practice is about dialing in on a specific skill or movement. It’s best used when you want to learn a new skill.
For example, when I began learning how to Olympic Weightlift, I would visualise all the component parts of a lift movement. I’d visualise my hands on the bar, how my knees were bent and the position of my hips. I would visualise how it felt as well as how I saw it from both my internal perspective and an external perspective. Then I would visualise the bar moving slowly off the floor, up to my knees, above my knees, how my shoulders and hips moved back together to clean the bar off the ground.
By imagining the individual parts of the movement I was ingraining the movements in my mind at the same time I was physically learning how to do them. I’m still a long way off from being “good” at Olympic lifting but it’s been beneficial to help me hone the movements.
Visualisation to recover from injury
Interestingly the technique of mental practice is also a really useful way to help yourself recover from injury.
By mentally practicing the skills you’d normally physically do but can’t because you’re injured your brain thinks you’re actually completing the movement. Remember how your brain can’t distinguish between reality and imagination?
This means by visualising yourself practicing physical skills your muscles will respond in the same way as if you had actually completed the movements themselves.
Freaken awesome right?
So as part of your recovery if you’re injured you should still “work out” or practice your skills by visualising them. Not only will it help your recover faster if you visualise yourself using your injured body as if it wasn’t injured you’ll also stop your injury from having a serious impact on your level of fitness and muscle mass.
How do you actually visualise?
Visualisation, like anything else, is a skill that takes practice. The more you do it the better you’ll become at it and more results you’ll get.
Sitting in a quiet corner of the changing room and thinking about performing on the Field of Play is a start when it comes to visualisation but what I’m talking about here is dedicating time to the practice of visualisation the same way you would dedicate time to your physical training.
This is how often you visualise. The more time you spend visualising yourself on the Field of Play the better. Remember visualising is focused practice, so the more you do it, the stronger those neural connections will be. Ideally as a minimum you should try and work visualisation into your daily and pre-event routines.
The longer the sessions are the more time your brain will have to embed the experience and practice. Interestingly in her book Framework For Sports Psychologists – Enhancing Sports Performance Karen Lee Hill notes that overall studies into mental rehearsal have shown it works best when it’s done for one minute or less or in sessions that are 10-15 minutes long.
That said, if you’re new to visualisation start with a small time frame, say 3-5 minutes, and work up from there. If you link it to your Box Breathing practice you can learn both skills at the same time.
The more intense you experience the event or action then the more connected to the experience you will be. When you recall the most positive experience of your life to date, perhaps your heart beats a little faster and you can feel the excitement building within you. You can remember how you felt, your surroundings and exactly what you were doing.
This is the same type of intensity you want for your visualisation but instead of remembering a positive experience you want to create the positive experience in your mind first and then go live it later.
If you can enrich your visualisations with specific details and make the images you see in your mind clear then you’ll not only enjoy the practice of visualisation but you’ll also get more from the practice itself.
This can take time. The first time I tried to visualise myself before hockey I saw a green blob (the turf) and a stick figure shape with a helmet (me). It’s taken me a lot of practice to come up with an image that I can truly see and feel. So stick with it as it gets easier.
The best way get vividness into your images and to try and experience the event or performance is to involve all of your senses.
For example, if you were going to visualise yourself in a swim race you’d feel the grip of the starter block against your feet and the air against your skin. You’d smell the chlorine in the air. As you dove into the water you’d feel it flowing all over your body, warm or cool, and the sound of silence as your head goes under the water. You’d taste the saliva in your mouth, pooling up under your tongue and the pool water as your turned your head to breathe.
You’d see yourself doing the perfect freehand stroke as you guide your arm into the water. You’d sense your leg position and feel how your body moves when you kick your legs. You’d hear the bubbles and the noise of the pool as you turned your head to breathe and feel he water flowing over your body.
Visualising isn’t just about sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and taking time out. You can also visualise with your eyes open or uses props or equipment to make the visualisation more real to you. Montreal Canadiens, Ice Hockey player Mike Cammalleri was caught on camera using props and visualisation to practice his movement on the ice.
I also use visualisation on the Field of Play. At the start of every game or half as I walk towards the goal I’m visualising myself standing in it and taking up all the space so no-one can get past me. It grounds me in the moment before the game begins.
Visualising negative outcomes
There is a downside to the magical power of visualisation. That’s when you visualise incorrect movements or skills, or if you replay situations that didn’t go well over and over again in your mind.
Just as visualising what you do want to happen will reinforce these images in your mind, visualising what you don’t want to happen can do the same thing. Repeatedly imagining a negative outcome can actually lead to you having reduced performance on the Field of Play.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t go over events that didn’t go well to get the lessons out of them. The key is not to dwell on them. Rather then beating yourself up over and over for something in the past, review it, think about the ways you need to improve and instead focus on making those improvements through positive visualisation.
I can speak to the dangers of focusing on the negative firsthand. At the 2017 New Zealand Masters Hockey Tournament I got stuck in a massive mental rut. Despite an epic buildup, I had one match where I made an uncharacteristic error. No big deal, I usually pick myself up and move on.
Instead this time, rather than accepting I’d made an error, focusing on the lessons learned and moving onto the next game I sat in my room and mulled over it. The next game came and once again, I made an uncharacteristic error. This started the process of me reliving my errors over and over again.
I was so frustrated with myself I couldn’t get out of the situation. Which ultimately made the situation worse. I even caught myself speaking loudly at the coach after one of the games angry at the “rookie” errors I was making.
It wasn’t until after the tournament ended when I was reflecting on my performance did I realise how much of a hole I had dug for myself. By not focusing on the positive and visualising the confident saves I usually would, I’d allowed my focus to stay on the negative.
And as a result, while we won the tournament, I know deep down I could’ve performed better. It’s a valuable lesson about the importance of taking the lessons and moving on. Dwelling gets you nowhere (but further down the rabbit hole).
11: Mindfulness and meditation
Two tools you can use to get control of your thoughts, emotions and behaviours are mindfulness and meditation. These two powerful tools will help develop your mental strength by raising your awareness, understanding and ultimately control over your mind.
As mentioned in Chapter 8, Tim Ferriss has discovered 80% of world-class performers including athletes, entrepreneurs, executives, actors and military officers he’s interviewed on his podcast have a daily mindfulness or meditation practice.
I used to think mindfulness and meditation were a crock of shit mostly because I misunderstood both practices (they are different!). The idea of being mindful felt “woo woo” while meditation or “clearing my mind of thoughts” seemed impossible. But when I finally got over myself and actually tried them I discovered a whole new world of clarity and understanding about myself.
Being mindful and practicing meditation are subtly different and I’ve described how you can use both to boost your mental strength below.
Both are skills that require practice. Like exercising a specific muscle the first time you try it it’ll feel weird and might hurt a little but the more you practice the stronger and stronger that muscle will become.
Mindfulness (or awareness) is about being in the present moment and paying attention to what’s happening to you right now. It’s not clearing your mind of thoughts by ignoring them or suppressing them. Mindfulness is about bringing your thoughts away from the past or the future (where you can’t do anything about them), and back to the present moment.
Mindfulness practice draws your attention and focus to the present moment giving you time and space to form a perspective on your ever-changing emotions, thoughts and feelings. It helps reduce your stress response (fight or flight) moving you from “doing” mode where you feel you must take action now to “being” mode where you are able to think more clearly and function better as you make wiser choices on how to respond to a situation.
See what I mean by woo-woo?
Mindfulness can be super helpful in situations where you want to lose your shit. Think of the difference it would make to a situation if you didn’t respond in the heat of the moment (doing), instead gave yourself time to thinking clearly about how you should handle the situation (being).
In the 2006 World Cup soccer final, French player Zinedine Zidane headbutted Italian player Marco Materazzi in the chest in a seemingly unprovoked attack. Zidane, in his final international match, was red carded and Italy went on to win in a penalty shootout. Materazzi finally admitted to making inappropriate comments about Zidane’s sister. Regardless Zidane’s response showed why a bit of mindfulness can be helpful in the heat of the moment.
Zinedine Zidane not practicing mindfulness
To help you focusing your attention on what’s happening right now, here’s a couple of questions you can ask yourself:
- What am I doing right now?
- What am I experiencing right now?
- What am I thinking right now?
- What’s going on around me right now?
You might be trying to read this guide while sitting in a coffee shop, with your headphones on messaging your friend who is late to meet you. You’re taking in a lot of information and trying to multitask. The question is how much of that information are you actually conscious of?
You make thousands of small decisions every day and most of them are automatic. The upside is some automatic decisions are repeat patterns you do over and over again so you don’t have to think about them like running, driving or tying your shoelaces.
The downside is some automatic decisions are repeat pattern you do over and over again like skipping your evening workout or hitting snooze when your alarm goes off at six a.m.
The reason you practice mindfulness is to become aware of those repeat patterns. If you’re mindful and aware of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, behaviours and surroundings you can change them if they aren’t serving you.
Sometimes the very act of being aware of a thought, feeling, physical sensation or behaviour means your behaviour will automatically change. Take stretching for example. If you’re stretching too much and your muscle starts to hurt then as you become aware of the sensation of pain you pull out of the stretch. You’re mindful of the physical sensation.
Being mindful is helpful in understanding why you feel or a think a certain way in response to outside stimulus such as other people or events. Perhaps you’ve experienced those moments when your friend or coach says something offhand but you suddenly have a strong reaction to it. Being mindful in a situation like this could help you understand why you reacted as you did.
How do you become more mindful?
I use a simple technique called Notice and Name myself and with clients. It’s a powerful, non-judgemental technique to help you understand how you’re thinking and feeling and to give you awareness of your thoughts in the moment.
Notice means paying attention. Ask yourself:
- What’s going on right now?
- What am I doing?
Naming is taking an extra moment to describe the situation to yourself:
- “Oh, I’m feeling panicked because I have to run a 1600m”
Notice and Naming slows you down so you can pay more attention to your thoughts putting your conscious, rational and logical brain in charge rather than your subconscious, automatic brain. You’re now more in control of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, behaviours and surroundings.
You learn to understand yourself better and you can make more informed choices in the moment.
If Mike Tyson had been a bit more mindful, and noticed and named some of his emotions, would he have bitten Evander Holyfield?
Meditation is taking mindfulness to the next level by taking time out of your day to sit and focus on what’s going on inside your head.
It helps you get more clarity about what’s going on in your mind generally, trains an awareness of your thoughts and gives you a healthy sense of perspective all without judgement. It can help lower stress, reduce blood pressure, sleep better and can improve your concentration.
Meditation isn’t about sitting down, legs crossed trying to clear your mind of every thought. That’s what I used to think and got very discouraged when I would sit down, close my eyes, let my mind wander and open my eyes at the end feeling worse than when I started. I was frustrated I couldn’t clear my thoughts.
Your mind wanders when you meditate and that’s okay. The practice is to learn and observe those thoughts without judgement so you can better understand them. As Tim Ferris said “I would sit down for 20 minutes and for 19 minutes I’d think about Thundercats before observing I was doing that and coming back to notice my thoughts. I was discouraged until I learned the practice of meditation is the practice of coming back”.
Your mind will go off on random thoughts but that’s all part of it. It’s the practice of coming back to observe your thoughts rather than participating in them which makes meditation work.
Your mind can be a weirdly uncomfortable place at first and it does take time to settle in there and be comfortable with your thoughts. The key here is to be consistent with your meditation practice which can be the hardest part. The best way I’ve found to get you started, and be consistent, with the practice of meditation is an app like Headspace.
Headspace does a great job of teaching you about both mindfulness and meditation. It’s super easy to use and if you’re new to meditating their free starter pack is a great place to begin. You can get your practice going with as little as 2-3 minutes a day and can slowly build up from there. Headspace is guided meditation meaning you don’t have to sit there wondering what to do, Andy (whose voice you hear) talks you through it, including the different techniques you can use to stay focused and present with your thoughts.
One of the reasons I love Headspace is that they also have a number of packages related specifically to sport such as:
- Recovery, and
I’ve used these sessions before big games previously to help myself stay centred and present before taking the Field of Play. I find it I turn up to a game in a calm mood then I’m more focused on the task at hand.
12: Feeling fear and how to conquer it
In her book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway author Susan Jeffers noted there were three levels of fear. Level One fear is external – the fear of being afraid. This can be a passive fear like death or having an accident but can also include active fears like public speaking.
A level two fear is an internal fear which is the born out of the image you create of not succeeding. This could be not succeeding in a sports event or even something broad as life in general. It’s the image you create of the things that could go wrong.
A level three fear is a real fear. A fear of not being able to handle the outcome of success or failure. The fear isn’t the act itself but your inability to deal with it after the fact.
The question Jeffers proposes then is if you can handle anything what do you have to fear?
The answer is nothing.
Fear also happens naturally and it’s designed to protect us from danger. Remember the fight or flight conversation in Chapter 1? Your never-helpful inner critic could spark up and reinforce any less than positive thoughts you have making the surmountable feel insurmountable.
According to Performance Coach Todd Herman, as an athlete, the three reasons you feel fear are because you’ve:
- Focused on the negative repercussions that could occur without providing your brain an out. The more your focus on the negative the fewer options your brain has to come up with solutions to your problem so you’re paralysed which impacts your ability to perform
- Spent time talking to people who don’t believe in your goal or who are just generally negative. Sometimes all it can take is a wayward comment from a family member, friend or coach to crush your hopes and dreams so it pays to choose carefully who you either hang around or share your goals with
- Not doing things daily or weekly to push yourself outside your comfort zone. The more you learn and grow the less scary things become. Thinking about doing something is often worse than actually doing it. If you can handle anything then what is there to be afraid of?
So when it comes to being mentally strong on the Field of Play how do you feel the fear and do it anyway?
But I don’t want to fail!
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.”
The specific fear of failure often comes from high expectations you have of yourself and your focus on the results of the event you’re about to participate in. And let’s face it, usually the results or outcomes you’re focused on are success. But this can build up anxiety or tension in your mind and body so when it comes to executing on the Field of Play you’re just a big ‘ol ball of stress.
Being afraid to fail is something many athletes face. The fear you’re not going to succeed at what you do, or to fail at something you try, can be very paralysing.
But as Jeffers points out the actual fear lies in your inability to handle the failure. In many cases the idea of what might happen is often worse than what will.
When I ask the athletes I coach what they think will happen if they fail, when they try to articulate it, they quickly discover the fear in their heads is far worse than when they try to speak about it. The most common answer I get is “well… nothing”.
Think about it now… if you failed your attempt to achieve your goal what do you think will happen? And if you didn’t try to achieve your goal what is the cost of your inaction?
It’s easy of course to say “feel the fear and do it anyway” but how does that actually work in practice?
Tim Ferriss uses a tool he calls Fear Setting to help himself take action on the things that scare him. By “defining your nightmare” Ferriss notes you can then start this think of ways to solve the worst if the worst were to eventuate.
The best way I’ve found to look at failure is to assume it will happen. Failure is not an option so you should expect it!
Too often when you fail you’re not mentally prepared for it so it comes as a massive shock to the system when it happens. But here’s the catch…
The reality is everyone fails
There is no single human in the history of the universe that has done everything right, always. There is no such things as the perfect athlete. Even the most elite athletes have tried and failed many thousands of times. The idea that success is a smooth ride is a delusion.
Understand it’s okay to fail. Failure is really about making, and learning from, your mistakes.
In fact, your mental strength depends on it. Like any other muscle your mental strength gets better and stronger the more you work it out. The more times you can flex it on your journey by getting out there, taking action, falling down and getting back up again, the stronger it will be. The stronger you will be.
You should expect obstacles and challenges to get in your way and by doing so you’ll be better for it.
This is best articulated in an article written in 2015 by Bud Elliott and Peter Berkes that detailed the statistics of the two final teams – the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.
For context, every player in the NFL is given a star rating as they come up through the NFL system. A five star player is a top player who is expected to go far. A one star player is the opposite of that.
Reviewing the player line up for the 2015 Super Bowl Elliot and Berkes discovered the average rating for the Patriots and the Seahawks lineup was 2.4 stars. None of the teams had a five star recruit. There were a couple of four stars across both teams but overwhelmingly the rest were two or three stars. In fact a follow up study off the back of the article found that 2015 was not an anomaly with the highest average star rating being 3.5 / 5 over the 2012 – 2015 seasons.
Why is it then that in the NFL Super Bowl the teams in the final were overwhelmingly made up of two or three star players?
According to former NFL safety, Bo Eason the reason the five star recruits weren’t competing in the Super Bowl is because at some point they failed and gave up. Despite being players with “natural ability” and “talent”, the first time they failed they gave up because all of a sudden it was too hard for them. They had a Fixed Mindset and by failing they thought they’d reached the peak of their abilities. It was a frightening prospect to them and the idea they could practice and grow didn’t occur to them.
One, two and three star players on the other hand have constantly failed throughout their careers. They’ve all had a Growth Mindset and have had to learn how to get past failure, to learn from their mistakes and to keep getting up even though the odds might have been stacked against them. These players have seen failure as growth opportunities rather than negative events. They are the athletes who prevailed, who stuck at it and ultimately had the success they were seeking to achieve.
To quote Mike Tyson “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.
If your plan doesn’t work what do you do? If you’re a five star you give up. If you’re a one-three star you pick yourself up and move on.
Reframe the situation
So how can you turn a perceived negative into a positive? How can you change a failure into something you can learn from? You do it by changing the narrative, or reframing, the situation. No matter what the situation is there is always an opportunity to learn, grow or develop from whatever event has occurred.
As I mentioned in Chapter 2, when I first put my name down for selection in the New Zealand Masters squad and failed to make the team I was really upset. But rather than saying “oh I’m not good enough” I reframed the event to ask myself the question “how can I be good enough?”.
When the New Zealand All Blacks lost the World Cup semi-final to France in 2007 it was a devastating blow. Leading at half-time 13-3, the All Blacks then lost the match 20-18. Heralded as one of the most successful sporting teams of all time, the All Blacks were expected to win and when they didn’t the rugby world looked on shocked.
In hindsight however that loss, according to former All Black captain, Richie McCaw was the best thing that could have happened to them. McCaw said:
“I know for myself it was a disappointing day, but it’s perhaps shaped what’s happened since. Those days are the ones you learn a few lessons from and have good times after that”.
Which is evident from how the All Blacks reframed the loss… between 2010 and mid-2017 the All Blacks had a win rate of 90%. Not a bad way to move on from your failure.
There is always a silver lining your job is to find it.
To maximise reframing as a tool you can try to get excited when you know you’re about to make a mistake. If you’re excited about the prospect of making a mistake and learning from it, you’re more likely to be encouraged by it.
Reframing doesn’t have to be used just when you fail either. Reframing is a really good way to get some enjoyment out of tasks you don’t like doing.
Take fitness testing for example. I would rather stab pins in my eyes than run a 1600m but it’s a necessity for my sport. So rather than hating on it which makes me all nervous and anxious I instead reframe the fact I have to do it to something like “I can’t wait to test myself”, “I’m going to use this as an experiment to see how well my fitness training is doing” or “Even if I don’t get the time I want (aka fail) then at least I know how far off I am and what I need to do to get better”.
Reframing is an outrageously useful technique to help yourself get over failure and your fears.
Worrying about what others might think
An unfortunate side-effect of having friends or family is occasionally they’ll make a comment or someone will say something that will have a lasting effect on you because you take it as a judgement or criticism.
Or you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to live up to your parents expectations. Even as a 37 year old I can’t shake the idea that my parents have expectations for me and that I’ll be disappointing them if I don’t do well.
The fear of what judgement and criticism you’ll receive from others can paralyse you in taking action. You don’t want to fail when other people’s expectations are on the line right?
Well here’s something I have learned over the years. I actually have no right to worry about what other people think of me or my performance because I’m putting my views onto their thoughts. I actually have no way of understanding, or being able to guess, what other people are thinking so why should I?
I’ve done a lot of dumb shit in my life and my parents still love me. I’ve screwed up any number of games and I still have my friends, family and teammates who care about and support me.
The fear of letting others down by not performing to their expectations is a sure-fire way to cripple your mindset by introducing doubt and insecurity into your mind. And if you’re worried about not making mistakes you’ll actually miss opportunities to make greatness instead because you’re paralysed.
You’re not being true to yourself by being worried about making mistakes and letting people down. Personally, I grew as an athlete and an individual when I changed my focus to meet only my expectations.
The meaning you give
Another useful tool to help you stare the fear of failure in the eyes, or to avoid it altogether, is to think about the meaning you’re giving the opposition or event.
Every single day you’re exposed to actions of others and many of these actions will pass you by. They mean nothing to you. But then someone will do something and you’ll notice it because all of a sudden that action has meaning to you.
The meaning you give the events in your life dictates how you feel about them. It’s feelings not conscious thoughts that drive your actions. The meaning you give to an event of the Field of Play will either make that event a threat and something to be feared, or a challenge and something to learn and grow from.
The best example of changing the meaning is at the Olympics. When athletes compete at the Olympics they’ve gone from competing for themselves or their WHY to now competing for their country. In that moment the meaning has changed and they’ll either thrive because they see it as a challenge or die because they see that meaning as a threat.
So if you’re looking at your competition and thinking “She looks fitter than me” or “Her skills are better than mine” then immediately you’ve attached a negative meaning to what you’re about to do and your body will automatically respond with fear.
It’ll do that automatically because it senses you’re in danger. Your mind is saying to itself “She’s better than me and we’re going to head-to-head and this isn’t going to end well” which is something your body perceives to be dangerous so it’ll kick in your human stress response. The next thing you know you’ve had a thought and now you’re stressing out on the sideline.
So instead of looking at your competition and thinking “She’s fitter and more skilled than me” try to attach a different meaning. Instead this “I’ve not matched up against a competitor like this, it’ll be a good test of my fitness and skills”.
“As soon as you think you can’t beat someone, you wont. And you won’t beat the ten other people who are just as good as them”.
2017 Silver Medalist Crossfit Games, Brent Fikowski
How do you stay positive when you’re getting crushed?
There will always be times in sports when your resolve is tested. Like on the Field of Play when you’re getting crushed by the opposition or you’re not performing as well as you wanted to.
Days like this happen and when they do, you respond by reframing the event, taking the learning opportunities from it and moving on. These tools will help you keep control of the situation, stay positive and competitive when the wheels are falling off.
After the fact you have your feedback system from tracking data (Chapter 8) to give you impartial information which will allow you to identify areas for development.
Strive for progress not perfection.
13: I’m not good enough… I don’t believe I can do this
Have you ever felt despite all your hard work and training you shouldn’t be standing on the Field of Play? Perhaps you’re questioning your ability to deliver? Or wondering whether the coach made a mistake? You wonder whether your skills are good enough or if you’re even capable of being able to play at the level you’re at?
If you’ve ever thought to yourself… “I’m not good enough. I don’t think I can do this” then you’ve got a confidence problem.
Confidence is your belief in your ability to execute a task or win an event on the Field of Play. With confidence and trust in your abilities and training, you’ll soar above everyone else.
You know that person who always performs no matter what and always seems unflappable? That’s confidence.
Take Serena Williams for example. She radiates confidence. You can feel it when she takes the court. Or LeBron James. In 2010, James even hosted a television special to announce what team he was going to play for. He’s constantly in the spotlight being praised or criticised as no matter what he does he gets attention. He walks, talks and exudes confidence.
Without confidence you’re more likely to experience performance anxiety when you take the Field of Play. Your heart rate will go up, you’ll start to doubt your ability to perform, and even though you’ll soldier through the event you’ll only ever play inside your comfort zone.
Where does your confidence come from?
Confidence comes from you:
- trusting the process that got you on the Field of Play; and
- the stories you tell yourself
Trusting the process is your belief in the fact you did all you could, in the time you had, to be the best you can.
Without trust in the process a lack of confidence can creep in. It might be small at first, just a thought or two about how you should’ve pushed yourself a bit more at your last training. Then that thought becomes louder and starts to get critical. Your inner critic is about to take a starring role in the event you’re about to compete in. It will latch onto your self-judgements, fears and criticisms and will attempt to sabotage you.
The stories you tell yourself are also crucial for your confidence.
It’s no good thinking you trust the process only to think “Yeah but I only got selected because our usual super starry player was injured” or “I’m still not fit enough”.
In that moment you’ve just undermined your whole foundation of confidence. It doesn’t matter whether those statements are true or false, the fact you’ve thought them brings in doubt, and doubt starts to diminish confidence.
When I lack confidence on the Field of Play my legs start to feel heavy and I don’t think I can move them to save the ball. I have images flash up in the my head of someone taking a shot at goal and I won’t be able to move to save the ball. It happens in training or games, occasionally my feet will get stuck to the turf, and I’ll miss the ball completely.
It comes from a moment where I’ve started to question my ability to save it. I’ve become conscious of what I’m doing, I can’t remember how to save the ball and then the wheels fall off.
In those moments all I can can do is pick myself up and start again.
“I’m a fraud and everyone is going to find out”
Have you ever thought other people were exaggerating your success? Or your success was solely based on good luck or timing? Maybe you’re afraid everyone is going to learn you’re a fraud and you don’t deserve the success you’ve earned?
If you have you’ve got Imposter Syndrome…
Imposter Syndrome is used to describe the feeling of phoniness in people who believe they’re not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement. While it’s not a “real” psychological diagnosis Imposter Syndrome is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt.
It’s your inner critic being subtle for a change as it slowly gets you to question your abilities and successes to keep you safe and protected in your comfort zone. It’s insidious as it can stop you in your tracks if you don’t recognise it.
When you feel like a fraud
As a high-performer you’ll likely get Imposter Syndrome because you don’t think you’ve done enough. Or that you got lucky this time around. If you’re stepping outside your comfort zone you’ll hear the voice that says “Who do you think you are to try this?” or how I commonly feel is “I’m a fraud and everyone is going to find out”. Then you’ll start to explain away your successes as those of other people… “Oh I had a great coach” or “I got help from the team”.
As I was writing this guide I had a constant nagging thought in the back of my mind saying “Who are you to write something like this?” and “Who is even going to read it?”. Imposter Syndrome right there.
“I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take the Oscar back. They’d come to my house, knock on the door and say ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep’”
Actress, Jodi Foster
How do you get over Imposter Syndrome?
Quite simply you have to “fake it till you make it” which in the short-term can help you get over an immediate obstacle. Take a deep breath, get out there on the Field of Play and perform.
“Fake it till you make it” is successful as it’s a modern day twist on the “I think therefore I am” and “Be, Do, Are” from Descartes and Charles Handaal (Chapter 3). If you act as something then eventually you are something.
But there is another, more powerful way, to not only get over Imposter Syndrome but also resolve your confidence problem.
You create an Alter Ego.
13.1: Creating an Alter Ego
An Alter Ego is one of the most powerful ways you can silence your inner critic and create belief and confidence in yourself where it might not normally be there.
Performance Coach Todd Herman, the leading expert on Alter Ego creation in sport, notes creating an Alter Ego for performance is probably one of the least talked about, or known strategies, many of the worlds greatest athletes have used to perform even under the most extreme circumstances.
What is an Alter Ego? An Alter Ego is a person or character you step into that has the character traits, strengths and skills you need to not only succeed but to crush it on the Field of Play. By stepping into a different character you step into a new realm of possibility about what you can achieve.
Think about Alter Egos as a secret identity, a person or character you step into to elevate yourself to a higher level and in some cases… to get the f*ck out of your own way.
Is Clark Kent or Superman the Alter Ego?
Clark Kent is. He’s the secret identity Superman steps into so he can live in the real world and go unnoticed.
Beyonce also has an Alter Ego in Sasha Fierce. Beyonce grew up in a conservative and religious household but wanted to express herself on stage in a more aggressive and sensual way. So she created Sasha to express that:
“I have someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m on stage, this alter ego I’ve created that kind of protects me and who I really am. Sasha Fierce is the fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken side and more glamorous side that comes out when I’m working and when I’m on the stage.”
Beyonce and Sasha Fierce
Two-starred NFL and MLB star Bo Jackson created an Alter Ego in the same vein as Jason from the Friday 13th films. Jackson said “I refused to let him out of his box except for Sundays in the Fall when I’d strap on my football helmet”. Jason would then be unleashed whenever Jackson crossed over the white line onto the Field of Play.
Creating an Alter Ego isn’t about throwing out your current personality, strengths and skills and creating a completely new person or character. Creating an Alter Ego is about blowing up and enhancing the aspects of yourself that do serve you, adding in other traits and skills you believe you need to succeed and reducing the behaviours, actions and beliefs holding you back.
Alter Ego Framework by Todd Herman
Remember when you were a kid and you’d create all sorts of interesting characters in your mind. You’d be able to fly, breathe underwater or scale tall buildings in a single bound. There were no limits to your imagination, no limits to what you could achieve and no rules about what you could do.
That same mindset and approach you is what you need to take into the process of creating an Alter Ego. Here’s a five step process you can use to create an Alter Ego from Todd Herman:
1: Conduct a Personal Limiter Analysis
Take a good hard look and identify where you limit yourself. The best place to start is with the stories you tell yourself about your beliefs and abilities. You need to identify what you’re missing, what’s causing you to stall or stop and what you’re weaknesses are. Identify what you’re hiding from yourself and where you put the brakes on yourself unnecessarily.
To do this you can ask yourself questions like:
- What are the thoughts I’m tired of having at the end of every day?
- What are the weaknesses I have that don’t serve me as an athlete?
- In what ways does my thinking, attitudes and behaviour stop me?
- What do I avoid doing when it comes to sport?
Basically, if you’ve just skipped to this chapter, head back to the start of the guide and go through the process of figuring yourself out.
2: Talent Magnifier
Here you want to identify the qualities, strengths or talents you need to be successful. Think about the talents or qualities you admire in others whether they’re your role models, mentors or people in your life now who you wish you could be more like.
You should also look for the qualities, strengths and talents you already have that have served you. You don’t want to throw those away instead you’ll look to enhance them and make them stronger. There are probably more of those than you give yourself credit for.
You can ask yourself questions like:
- People who are exceptional in my sport have which qualities?
- What thinking, emotional and physical skills would serve me even more in my sport?
- What are the moments where I’ve stepped up and moved the needle in my life?
- What would my qualities, strengths and talents be if I were invincible?
All of this serves to identify the qualities, strengths and talents your new Alter Ego will embody.
3: Origin Profile
Every Superhero has a powerful backstory that has shaped and moulded them into the person they’ve become. Bruce Wayne saw his parents killed in front of his eyes by criminals in a dark alley in Gotham City. He went on to become Batman, to fight for justice and to battle evil, as vengeance for their deaths.
Bruce Wayne became Batman to avenge the death of his parents
This shouldn’t be any different for your Alter Ego. You need to be emotionally connected to where they’ve come from and resonate with their story. Otherwise it’d be like connecting with a stranger when you have nothing in common and we all know how awkward those moments can be!
One of my clients has an Alter Ego born from a zombie apocalypse!
To create a powerful backtory or origin for your Alter Ego think about how you’ve been shaped in your life.
- Who has inspired you?
- What has inspired them?
- What do you like or respect about those people?
- What makes the people you admire who they are?
From thinking about people in real life you then move that into your Alter Ego character. Consider about what your Alter Ego values.
- What or who has influenced them?
- What do they value?
- What’s the theme or defining moment in their life that’s helped them become who they are?
Finally what does your Alter Ego do and what do they look like?
- What are their behaviours, attitudes and beliefs?
- How do they think and carry themselves in their mannerisms and physical behaviours.
A good way to know if you’re truly inspired by something is to be conscious of how your body responds. If you chest tightens, your heart starts racing a bit faster or you feel a little emotional, those are great triggers to look for in figuring out what traits or events mean the most to you.
This isn’t something you need to overthink or over complicate however. You don’t need to have every year mapped out from birth. You just need enough of a story to give your Alter Ego a history and a defining moment, as well as an understanding of who they truly are.
The beauty of creating an Alter Ego is that you get to use your imagination and create an inner world that means something powerful to you.
4: Artifact Enhancer
The Artifact Enhancer is the item or object that puts you into the Alter Ego space.
If you imagine sitting at your desk and then me asking you to become someone else you’d probably find that quite difficult.
Not saying it’s an easy process (like anything it’s something you need to practice) however it does get easier if you can link your Alter Ego to an item or object that will help you step into your character.
Ideally this item or object should be something you can hold, wear, touch or see and it should be available to you when you need it. Picking the grandfather clock in your living room which has special meaning to you might not be such a good idea, but a picture of it could help.
Todd Herman notes the most powerful Artifacts are the ones that are already steeped in meaning for you and have possibly been given to you by someone who is bound into or makes up part of your Alter Ego.
They are also naturally linked to or readily identifiable as belonging to your Alter Ego, for example, Superman and his cape. Artifacts are also linked to the activity your Alter Ego is designed to perform in, for example, shoes you perform on the Field of Play in or Bo Jackson’s helmet. When he put his helmet on to take the Field of Play, that’s when Jason would be unleashed.
5: The Immersion Experience
Here’s where you step into your Alter Ego and all the new traits and qualities that come with it.
This is about how you’re going to feel and how you’re going to show up when you step into your Alter Ego. For example:
- Will your physical posture change, what facial expression will you take on?
- Will you talk differently or walk in a different way?
You can also use mental triggers to step into your Alter Ego such as mind-body scans or visualising light. One of my clients mentally scans down her body and as she does so her own persona is replaced by that of her Alter Ego. You can also use a mantra or saying to step into an Alter Ego.
Whatever you chose to go from everyday you into your Alter Ego you must be deliberate about it. This is what the Artifact and Immersion Experience are designed to do. If you’re not deliberate about the move then you’ll just end up being you and the exercise won’t have the power it can.
This is a new skill that will take time to practice so start by showing up as your Alter Ego in smaller increments. Even showing up 90 seconds at a time a couple of times a day is a good start. The more your practice it the easier it will become and the longer you can stay in your Alter Ego.
The Power of the Alter Ego
The amazing power about having an Alter Ego is that eventually through the process of Be, Do, Are you will start to take on and become the traits and strengths of your Alter Ego.
Beyonce has now gotten to the point where she no longer has stage fright or a fear of performing so she doesn’t need Sasha Fierce anymore. While Bo Jackson… well he claims he’s never actually played a game of NFL in his life as it was always Jason who took the field.
So get creative, get your imagination going wild and create an Alter Ego you can step into to help you crush it on the Field of Play.
“I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point along the way.”
Actor, Cary Grant
14: Which wolf are you feeding? Positive self-talk
In old Cherokee legend, the Tale of the Two Wolves, a grandfather explains to his warrior grandson that there are two wolves within each of us. One wolf is positive and beneficial while the other is negative and destructive. These two wolves fight for control over us daily. The grandson, curious about the two wolves, asks “Which wolf will win?”. The grandfather replies “The one you feed”.
Former Navy Seal and creator of SEALFit Mark Divine asks when you’re talking to yourself are you feeding the Courage Wolf or the Fear Wolf inside you?
That is the premise behind positive self-talk. Which wolf are you feeding? Because whichever one of those wolves you choose to feed is how you’re going to show up. Is it the wolf that gives you the courage to be strong and push through or the wolf that has you focusing on fear or negativity?
In a 2011 meta-analysis (analysis of other papers) on positive self-talk, Dr Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, from the University of Thessaly in Greece, confirmed by using positive self-talk it would produce significant improvements in your performance.
The study even showed how different positive self-talk was useful depending on the situation. For example, if you were playing tennis, a task requiring a fine motor skills, using instructional self-talk like “Swing through the ball” was found to be more effective than motivational self-talk like “I’m the best”. On the flip side, that type of motivational self-talk was found to be more effective for tasks requiring your strength and endurance, such as running or cycling.
Positive self-talk then is a vital tool for your mental strength. It focuses you on the thoughts and actions that’ll help you produce the results you want regardless of the challenges you’re facing.
The ingredients of positive self-talk
So what exactly is positive self-talk?
Often I think positive self-talk is misinterpreted by people as reciting a few fluffy affirmations like “Dream. Believe. Achieve” or reading an empowering quote and you’re good to go.
But if it were that simple then everyone would be better at it.
In my opinion, positive self-talk is a bunch of ingredients that when you mix them together they create a space for you to step into a positive mindset.
Positive self-talk is equal measures of the attitudes and intentions you set, your optimism, the powerful statements you tell yourself mixed in with a splash of reality. These ingredients all come together to help put you in a positive mindset.
Attitudes and Intentions
“The attitude with which we approach the situation can determine success or failure”
American Football Quarterback, Peyton Manning
Your attitudes and intentions set the scene for your positive self-talk as the approach and intention you have towards an event or person will shape the outcome you end up with.
For example, say you have to go to training and it’s pouring with rain outside and freezing cold.
If your attitude is “F*ck this sucks, I just want to sit inside on the couch and stay warm” then training is going to be a nightmare for you. Every miserable second will drag and you’ll likely get nothing from it so you probably would have been better off staying on the couch.
If instead your attitude is one of “It’s cold and wet but I know after training I’ll feel better for the fact I went out and did it” then you’ll get more from the training.
By having a positive attitude and focusing on how you’ll feel at the end of training, knowing you’ve pushed through the bad weather, then you’ll feel 100 times better than if you whinge and moan the whole time.
Training in the cold and rain can suck unless you set the right intentions
Setting the right intention also helps you stay in a positive space. Using the same cold and wet training example, it’s easy to set your sights on what you’re losing which is a night at home, dry inside in the warm curled up on the couch watching TV or reading a good book.
If instead you focus on what you’re going to gain from a night of deliberate, focused practice including the confidence you’ll gain from pushing through the adverse weather then you’re winning.
Set your intentions to gain rather than lose. Focus on the good that will come from training in the cold and rain.
Performance Coach Todd Herman calls moments or days like these Seperation Days because if you’re out there with positive intent and a positive attitude doing the things other people aren’t, then the gap between where you are and where they are will widen. And you’ll be a mentally strong successful athlete because of it.
Being optimistic is also an ingredient of positive self-talk.
According to Martin Seligman when negative events occur in our lives we explain them away from either an optimistic or pessimistic viewpoint. You either start to feed the Courage wolf or the Fear wolf depending your viewpoint.
As an optimist you’ll see any failure or challenge as temporary, as a one-off and external to you. You won’t take the pessimistic point of view and see that failure or challenge as a permanent thing, universal to any other situation and internal to you.
To understand this in action let’s say you’ve just received a dubious yellow card on the Field of Play (look it happens).
As a pessimist you’d likely think to yourself “That referee always picks on me” and by using the word “always” you’re making that explanation permanent to you. You’re more likely to generalise the situation and see that referee’s decision as unjustified. You’ll then judge all of the referees calls through that lens whether they’re good or not and probably start to question the calls of other referees too. Finally you’d take the call personally and think something like “They’re picking on me and don’t think I’m good enough”
I’ve seen this scenario play out on the Field of Play more times than I can count and when it happens, you get shitty with the referee and then your own performance starts to tank.
In the same situation as an optimist, however, rather than seeing the referee’s call as permanent, universal and internal to you, you’d say “Damn I got a card. That wasn’t a good move – I won’t do that again”. You’d see the situation as a one-off recognising the referee’s call in that instance was just one of many calls they’d make in a game. And you’d see the call as external to you “I don’t think he read that situation right but it is what it is”.
The difference between the optimistic and pessimistic view point, especially if you play a team sport, can be contagious. I won’t lie… occasionally I’ve played teams where our approach has been to target the opponent’s angry person because they bring the whole team down. As soon as you step into that pessimistic space, you’ve lost the ability to positive self-talk.
Interestingly, according to Seligman, women are more likely to see events as internal to themselves so are therefore more likely to have a pessimistic mindset. This means as a female athlete you need to be very conscious of your self-talk.
How do you create more optimistic self-talk?
You can create more optimistic self-talk using the the ABC(DE) model (originally developed by psychologist Albert Ellis) and enhanced by Seligman. This model helps you understand that what you believe or think about something is how you feel about it.
ABC(DE) stands for Adversity, Belief, Consequence, Disputation and Externalise.
ABC(DE) model from Martin Seligman
Using the yellow card example above, here’s how you could use the ABC(DE) model, to have a more optimistic point of view:
- A = Adversity – describes any challenging event or situation, in this case being given a yellow card
- B = Belief – is how you interpret the event or situation. Here it’s important to distinguish your thoughts from your feelings (as your feelings are the consequences of your thoughts). In this case your thoughts or beliefs could be “The referee thinks I’m a terrible player”
- C = Consequence – is the result of the event and what you thought about it. Did you feel sad or angry? Or cry? If you got yellow carded would be annoyed at yourself? Angry?
- D – Disputation – here’s where you dispute your beliefs and thoughts to see if they actually serve you. You can do this by asking yourself four simple questions:
- Is my belief really true? If so, what evidence is there?
- Is there an alternative explanation?
- What are the implications of my belief if it were true? How probable are they and are they really bad?
- Is what I’m thinking useful to me?
After getting a yellow card if your original thought was “The referee thinks I’m a terrible player” then the process to dispute that thought would be to ask yourself the questions above:
- Is that really true? How do you know that the referee thinks you’re a terrible player? Did they say so?
- What alternative explanations are there? Could the referee be in a bad mood? Or had something in their eye when they made the call?
- What are the implications of your belief if it were true? Well if you really were a terrible player then you’d have no real skills, you wouldn’t be able to perform to the level you do on the Field of Play. You’d likely never play at this level again.
- Is what you’re thinking useful to you? Probably not.
- E – Externalising (or energising) – this is really the process of externalising your defence (the referee is in a bad mood cause he’s got something in his eye) to the beliefs you have (the referee thinks you’re a terrible player) and becoming energised by way that makes you feel.
Think of it this way, if you asked a friend to talk to you the way you do to yourself you’d be mortified and would defend yourself every way possible “How dare you say that! No, I’m not a terrible player, the referee could have had something in his eye!”. You wouldn’t let them talk to you like that so you shouldn’t let you talk to you like that.
Get energised in defending yourself. The energy and feelings you create disputing your incorrect and negative statements about yourself turns your mind to start looking for the positive out of the situation. Which is an optimistic reframe.
The trick to using the ABC(DE) model, like many things in this guide, is that you’ll need to practice it before you need to use it.
This is because the internal dialogue you have with yourself, lead by your inner critic, can happen in an instant so unless you’re conscious of what’s happening (or you’re already an optimistic person) then you could spiral into negativity quickly.
So take some time to practice before you need to use this on the Field of Play. When you feel yourself reacting to an event use the ABC(DE) model above to question and change your thinking.
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”
Power statements are short, snappy positive statements about yourself and your abilities that help you focus on the task at hand rather than getting overwhelmed with everything going on around you. They help remind you of the strong, confident athlete you are.
Power statements can be whatever you want them to be really. The key to having them work for you is to make sure they’re meaningful. You want them to make you feel something so they inspire you into action. And the more you use them, the more useful they become as tools to keep you focused and moving forward.
The best power statements are also kept to the present tense using phrases like “I am” rather than “I will be”. This is because you live in the present tense, the now, not the past or the future. And while being great in the future is awesome, if the shit’s hitting the fan right now, you want to be able to act with confidence.
Here’s a couple of power statement examples:
- I’m the best prepared
- I’m playing with purpose
- I’m the best I can be right now
- I’ve got this
To find power statements that really work it helps to test them out. I’ve put some power statements together that really sound good but when I go to use them I’m like “meh”. You want to derive energy and power from your power statements so make sure they work for you.
One of the power statements I use especially when I’m training and feel really tired or like I can’t push through anymore is actually a short mantra I picked up off former Navy Seal and creator of SEALFit Mark Divine:
“Looking good, feeling good, shoulda been in Hollywood”.
I like it because it’s light hearted and funny. It makes me smile when I’m tired which can be a massive boost. It’s also almost impossible for me to say without laughing which also pulls me up and inspires me to keep moving forward.
Being Realistic – The Positive Power of Negative Preparation
One of the interesting things about high-performance athletes Herman has observed is the majority of them are not positive thinkers all the time. They don’t believe everything will be okay, that they’ll triumph over any adversity and whatever they want will come to them if they think positively about it enough.
The fact is you do have to be realistic at times. This is what Herman calls the Positive Power of Negative Preparation. This is essentially being realistic and thinking about all the possible ways things can go wrong and being prepared for them.
Being an “everything will be okay” positive thinker won’t be enough to give you the mental strength to respond to adversity. If something happens which is so unexpected to you and you’re overwhelmed even if you say everything will be okay, you’re probably not confident about it.
And if you just keep telling yourself everything will be okay you’re more likely to fail or feel worse. Instead of trying to see things solely from a positive thinking perspective instead become a Positive Expecter.
A Positive Expecter is when you think about and anticipate threats, weaknesses or other potentially negative situations so when, or if, they occur they’re not a surprise to you. And you’ve got plans in place to mitigate against them. You need plans against the unexpected as the more rigid you are the more likely you’ll snap under pressure.
To help yourself put mitigations in place, ask yourself two questions:
- How will I overcome this if it happens?
- How can I mitigate this for the least impact?
It’s entirely possible events will occur that force you to ask yourself those two questions in the moment. Occasionally the unexpected occurs.
In the 2016 New Zealand National Masters competition our first game of the tournament was to be played at 8am in the morning. It was an early start and at 6:30am as I was getting ready I realised I’d left my turf shoes behind in a completely different city.
I quickly moved myself into problem solving mode and asked myself “How can I overcome this”. I went straight to everyone in my team to ask what size their shoes were and did they have a spare pair. Luck wasn’t on my side unfortunately. Instead of panicking at this point, I thought about my possible options – “Play in my Converse… or hold on, I can go and wake up other hotel guests to ask for their shoes!”. Luckily other teams were at the same hotel so I went and woke up someone from a different team to ask if I could borrow their shoes.
I went on to have a really good game against the top seeded team in the competition which played me into the New Zealand squad.
I’ve also turned up to a game before not expecting to play only to find the other goalie in my team also hadn’t turned up expecting to play. It was a miscommunication between the two of us and our coach. I was relaxing upstairs waiting for the game having ordered a coffee when my coach asked me to play. I had to borrow a team mates car, drive home, get changed and get my gear, drive back to the turf and warm up… all in 40 minutes.
If I’d panicked or let the pressure get to me then I would’ve ended up in a stressed state. Instead I calmly went about solving the problem. In the end I had an awesome match. Chatting with the opposition players afterwards they were surprised I’d been so calm on the field. They’d been banking on the confusion upsetting my team but that didn’t happen.
The more you embrace what negatives could possibly go wrong, the faster you’ll bounce back from those setbacks. And potentially, the more ferocious and driven your fight back will be.
Self-talk – the catch
There is one small catch with self-talk. You can overuse self-talk and hope it solves all your problems.
While there is a dose of reality in expecting the unexpected you also need to be realistic about you can physically achieve to make positive self-talk work for you rather than against you.
Say you want to become a pole vaulter. Self-talk won’t be helpful when you’re trying to psych yourself up to complete a pole vault if you’ve never actually done one before in your life. You have no idea of the movements, how to use the pole, how to launch yourself off the ground or how to position your body to fly through the air.
There’s a physical challenge you need to address first – how to actually successfully complete a pole vault. Learning how to do that would increase your chances of success in the long run rather than just self-talking your way up and over the bar.
The “she’ll be right attitude” can only take you so far. If you can’t physically do something then no amount of positive self-talk will help. It does need a dose of realism as well.
This is also the same when it comes to negative self-talk.
For all the good positive self-talk can do, if you’re talking negatively, telling yourself negative stories and reinforcing a negative view of yourself, then this will absolutely be to the detriment of your performance.
Hopefully you can see how positive self-talk is a complicated beast in its own right. Which is an understanding most people won’t have. Let them use their positive “Dream, Believe, Achieve” affirmations and watch their foundations come down when the shit really hits the fan.
At its core, positive self-talk will help shape your thoughts and actions to get the outcomes you want.
Feed the Courage Wolf:
Create the space for a positive mindset by using positive self-talk:
15: Do you trust yourself? What to do when your mental game disappears?
At some point you’re going to have an off day. You’ll turn up to the Field of Play and you won’t perform how you expected or how you wanted.
You can call it losing your mojo or having an off day.
Whatever it is you’re having performance issues and you need to fix them quick.
Losing your mojo vs. choking
Don’t confuse losing your mojo and choking. Losing your mojo or having an off day is different to when you “choke” on the Field of Play.
If you lose your mojo you can still perform but to a lesser standard than you know you’re capable of.
“I do good when practicing but come game time I’ll get in my own way and don’t allow myself to perform the best I can” is a lack of mojo.
But choking is a debilitating act that causes you to essentially forget, or be unable to do, what you’ve trained so hard to do. In your mind you’re performing the actions you should be but your body is doing something completely different.
Phil Mickelson choking on the 18th hole in the 2002 US Golf Open
2002 US Golf Open Runner Up Phil Mickelson after his choke on the 18th hole “Well, I still am in shock that I did that. I just can’t believe that I did that. I am such an idiot.”
Malcolm Gladwell sums up the difference best in his book What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures “Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct. Panic is reversion to instinct. They may look the same, but they are worlds apart”.
I’ve lost my mojo. Now what do I do?
When you don’t show up on the Field of Play and perform to the standard you know you’re capable of, or that you expected of yourself, you’re likely in bit of a slump. Maybe you’re having an off day or perhaps you’re tired. Or it could be something that happens across a couple of trainings or games in a row.
In my experience, this slump or loss of mojo can be attributed to two main reasons:
- you don’t trust yourself; and
- you’re not focused
To make it worse, in situations where you don’t trust yourself to perform or you’re not able to focus on performing, you’ll start to panic. And when panic starts to creep in you find yourself rushing which is the complete opposite of the calm, collected and mentally strong athlete you want to be.
A lack of trust is usually driven by your inner critic. It will make you question whether your body can perform like you’ve trained it to. It will be overly critical of your performance, your strategy and game plan. Your inner critic will hold you to a high standard of perfection that is unachievable. It will cause you to be indecisive which will undermine your confidence.
You’ll recognise a lack of trust when you start to hear yourself questioning your process or you start to make changes to your plans, rituals or techniques either right before you take the Field of Play or when you’re on it. It’s when you’ve done a skill a thousand times before but when you take the Field of Play you try to change it up.
Notice this and recognise it for what it is… you’re second guessing yourself. When you start to do that the wheels will fall off and you’ll have a bad day in the office.
To avoid this, it’s important you take the Field of Play with an Ultimate Strength mindset. You need to be confident in that moment you’ve have done everything possible to help you achieve your goal on that day.
But if you are finding it hard out on the Field of Play, if your mojo has gone, you can get it back by getting focused.
Remember your brain is a goal setting machine (Chapter 5). It wants to help you by giving you something to focus on. Trouble is if you let it focus on what it chooses you’re unlikely looking in the right place.
So the fastest way to focus, to boost your trust in yourself, your confidence and your performance, is to set goals you have complete control over while you’re on the Field of Play.
Setting Game Day Goals
Game Day Goals are one to three performance or process-related goals which are 100% about you. An example set of Game Day Goals:
- Tight marking so the opposition has to fight to get around you
- Strong, firm, flat passes
- Not rushing tackles and being patient on the ball
By intentionally setting these goals up your brain will know exactly what it’s supposed to achieve for you. It’s going to take the reins so you don’t have to overthink it you can just turn up and play.
And because these goals are actions you control, and you’re focusing on the process of completing these actions repeatedly throughout the game (rather than the outcome itself) you’ll find your confidence increases and the stress or panic you’re feeling will decrease.
The Game Day Goals technique is something you can do before you take the Field of Play. Go one step further and write your goals down beforehand. Writing them down makes them more real and tangible to your brain so it’ll take more decisive action to help you achieve them.
Now let’s talk about the choke, which thankfully, actually happens less frequently than you losing trust in yourself, or your focus, on the Field of Play.
Author Matthew Syed said in Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice choking usually occurs under moments of severe pressure often in career-defining moments for athletes.
Syed, who had his own experience of choking at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, describes choking as when you lose your skills and touch, your technique is replaced by a curious mixture of twitching and lethargy, your demeanour is that of confusion and your complex motor skills seem to vanish.
Essentially you perform and act like a novice just starting out.
Choking is essentially when your conscious thinking brain takes over and starts to try and control the movements you’ve spent years ingraining in your subconscious mind.
Go back to when you were learning a new skill for the first time. You’d think about it, run through all the component parts that made up the skill, maybe talk it through out loud and then you’d go through the motions of piecing it all together. While you’re were doing this you were using your conscious brain to think through the skill.
This is contrast to when you’ve spent months or years practicing a skill so when you go to do it, it all happens naturally. You don’t need to think through the component parts because you can naturally piece it all together. This is because you’re using your unconscious brain.
When you choke your brain moves from the unconscious to the conscious brain. Rather than being able to do what you do automatically you now have to think about it. As a result, you go back to beginner status, even though the skill is so deeply ingrained in your subconscious you can’t remember what the basic components are.
Syed refers to this shift between your unconscious to conscious mind as a “neural glitch” which is unfortunately entirely outside of your control.
In essence, too much focus is what causes you to choke.
So how do you get out of the choke?
Unfortunately once it happens and your mind has switched from unconscious to conscious thinking it is insanely difficult to get yourself out of it until after the event is over (by which point the damage is done).
The key to getting out of the choke is for it not to happen in the first place. And since choking occurs in high-pressure situations, the best way to prevent it is to remove the pressure on yourself before taking the Field of Play.
The first time I played for New Zealand Masters in a tournament in 2016 I had a massive choke moment. The opposition had been awarded a penalty corner and took a straight shot towards the goal at my right post. This is usually a textbook save for a goalkeeper and instead of moving my foot and body to the ball so I could clear it, I dropped to my knees and tried to swipe at it with my stick. The ball went in.
I remember thinking to myself “Why the f*ck did you do that?”. I couldn’t explain why I had tried to swipe the ball with my stick while on my knees. I was very confused with myself and what was going on. In that moment I had choked.
In hindsight I’d been standing on the field that day psyching myself up “Oh this is it you’re playing for New Zealand now. It doesn’t get any bigger or better than this. You’d better perform now you’re on the field for your country”. By piling the pressure on myself I was inadvertently causing myself to choke. And it was super embarrassing.
Contrast this to my mental preparation in 2017 in the Trans-Tasman series against Australia. I was calm, relaxed and focused because I was taking time to reduce the pressure on myself. I’d tell myself things like “It’s just a game of hockey. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose. The world won’t end. Just play your game”
This is a mental technique I’ve used for years (2016 aside) before high-pressure matches. I tell myself either before or during the game “I don’t care if we win or lose, I just want to have fun”. Or during the game occasionally I find myself looking at the clock thinking “Oh when will this be over? I’m bored”.
The reality is I do care and I’m not bored. It’s very important to me. But by taking a lot of the mental pressure off myself, for example, that I won’t die as a result of losing the game, I actually perform better than if I focused on the importance of the situation.
This is how you too can take the pressure off yourself before a big match. Tell yourself you really don’t care about it.
George Orwell in his novel 1984 called this process doublethink where you “hold two contradictory beliefs in your mind simultaneously, and accept both of them”. And as Syed points out in Bounce, it’s a widely used tactic by all athletes.
Like when you’re standing in the changing room after a terrible loss and your coach says “Look not everything went our way but there’s a lot of positives to take out of the match”. That’s some retrospective doublethink in process.
16: “I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul” – Control what you can control
An area of mental strength you need to grip up to become the best you can is understanding you’re only responsible for what you can control.
Things always go wrong, not go the way you planned or are unexpected. Whatever the scenario there are two key areas you cannot control and so you shouldn’t waste mental energy trying to. They are:
- Other people’s actions towards you or thoughts about you
- Events that will influence you but which are outside your direct sphere of influence
Say one of your competitors tries to smack talk you before taking the Field of Play. Or you get stuck in traffic on your way to the Field of Play, the referee makes a bad call during the game, a key player in your team gets injured or you look over at the oppositions bench, and in a local club friendly, they’ve got an ex-international player in their starting line-up.
The only thing you can control in any of these situations is your response.
American football Coach, Urban Meyer calls this the Success Equation:
E + R = O
Event + Response = Outcome
You don’t have direct control what other people think of you, the events in your life, and you don’t have direct control over the outcome. But you do, 100% absolutely, have direct control over your response.
To be a mentally strong athlete you should only focus on the R of the Success Equation.
From my experience, there are five elements you can control to ensure you’re not rattled in any situation:
- Your attitudes
- Your emotions
- Your intentions
- Your breathing
- Your focus
You can control your attitude to the event and how you approach it – “Oh this is going to suck” vs “This is going to be an awesome challenge”. You can control your emotions to the event and how you feel about it “I’m nervous about lining up next to that ex-international player but this is actually going to be fun”. You can control your intentions towards what has happened for example, “I’m going to perform at my best no matter what”.
You can take control of your breathing to help settle down any panic that might be creeping in from your inner critic and you can control how focused you are by ignoring everything going on around you that’s not relevant to where you are now “Who cares who they put on the field, I’m just going to focus on my game”.
If you can control those five elements – attitude, emotions, intentions, breathing and focus – you’ll be unstoppable. Not only won’t you be phased by what’s happening but you’ll also be more adaptable and flexible in any situation.
I see this play out quite a bit where players try to take on the responsibility of the Coach or the Manager on the Field of Play rather than just focusing on what they can control. Don’t do that. Don’t try to do others jobs for them. Just focus on what you can control.
Ultimately controlling what you can relaxes you, gives you confidence to focus on your one job and most importantly removes unnecessary stress.
Samantha Briggs, the 2013 Fittest Woman on Earth, said of her final event before winning the title “I wasn’t thinking what do I need to do to win this. I was thinking what do I need to do to not lose this. I always go at my pace and my pace only.”
Regardless of what was on the line Briggs controlled what she could control. She didn’t let the gravity of the situation overwhelm her and she didn’t go out with a completely different strategy just because in one event the situation had changed where’d she gone from competitor to leader.
Instead she continued to focus on what she could control… her pace.
Superstitions and pre-game rituals
Controlling what you can control can have a dark side if you’re an athlete who is deeply superstitious.
Superstitions, or pre-game rituals, are a great way to help your mind focus before taking the Field of Play. But they can have a power over you with unintended consequences.
I used to be superstitious. I would always wear the same (unwashed) socks to a game that I’d trained in earlier in the week as I didn’t want to wash out the great saves I’d made. I used to sit in the same place in the changing room so as not to f*ck with my chi.
I used to walk towards the circle, then as I hit it, walk backwards to the spot facing the opposition before starting the game there (an act similar to that of ice-hockey NHL goal keeper Patrick Roy who thought it made the goal shrink).
If I didn’t do those things I was convinced I would play badly and my team would lose. If I didn’t have the right socks on, no matter how good the my team was, we’d lose.
But even elite athletes have superstitions too. Serena Williams has chalked up some major losses to the fact she didn’t tie her shoelaces right or didn’t have her shower sandals at the game. Professional Basketballer Michael Jordan used to wear his old University of Carolina shorts under his uniform. To cover his lucky pair of shorts he had to wear longer shorts in the NBA starting a basketball fashion trend that continues today.
While superstitions and pre-Field of Play rituals are really good ways to get yourself to focus on the task at hand, and get yourself into the Zone, your entire performance on the Field of Play can’t be dictated by a superstition.
This became clear to me when my socks accidentally got washed right before a semi-final. My unconscious self lost the plot… my heart started racing and I got a flood of negative thoughts thanks to my inner critic “We’re going to lose the game now and it’s all my fault”
Oh boy. 11 people take a hockey field and we’re going to lose because my socks got washed?
That’s when I realised I still had to control what I could control. My socks might be clean but I can still control how I approached the match. And how I performed on the Field of Play.
17: “I get way too amped up before the big event, can’t get my heart rate and breathing under control and it hurts my performance”
The day has arrived. It’s time for the event you’ve been waiting for. Everything you’ve done for the last 12 months – all the training and deliberate, focused practice, the gym and whiteboard sessions and the thinking – is about to be tested on the Field of Play today.
How do you feel?
Nervous? Excited? Scared to death?
Composing and preparing yourself for a big event on the Field of Play will help you perform your best on game day. The key to doing that, as with much in this guide, is to do it before you even get there.
When I was at University I used to read through my study notes right before I went into an exam. While one element would inevitably stick in my short-term memory everything else came from what I’d studied before. I’d done the hard work up front before I made it to game day.
The one element that stuck in my mind wasn’t going to be the make or break that got me through my exam. The same is true for when you take the Field of Play on the big day.
Visualising your success on the day of the event will make it real and focused for you but the work to win in your mind needs to have been done weeks or months ago when you set up your powerful visualisation in the first place.
It can be easy to play mind games with yourself but the likelihood of that decreases dramatically if you trust in the system and process that got you to the big day – not only mentally but physically.
If there is a glaring omission in your mental training, physical skills or fitness levels then the time to make changes to remedy those issues was 90 days ago not now.
Doing the work up front will help you be composed on the Field of Play. But no matter how mentally strong you’re feeling you should always expect game day nerves.
Game day nerves
Nerves and stress are helpful because they get you ready to “fight or flight”. Your brain recognises a challenge is coming so automatically gets you into the physiological state to defend or protect yourself.
The issue is when you can’t keep nerves or stress in check. I’ve seen players suffer from nerves running from the bathroom straight onto the Field of Play after their 100th vomit of the week. That’s not helpful for them.
Nerves are natural so the key is not to try and fight them. Even professional basketballer Michael Jordan said he got nervous every time he played. You don’t want them to go away, you want to use them so they empower you by becoming your allies.
Some advice I was given many years ago by a former New Zealand Hockey Black Sticks player was when you’re nervous use that energy to make you play well. Put those nerves all into one place and use that as fuel to drive you on.
Over the years I’ve taken this advice and augmented it. The best way I’ve discovered to combat game day nerves are:
- Acknowledge you have nerves – often this means me saying out loud to someone you trust “I’m nervous”. This takes some of their strength away and you instantly feel more composed.
Pro tip: Don’t go making other people nervous by jabbering on about how nervous you are. Make sure the person you’re talking to either isn’t playing or competing with you or is mentally strong enough to handle the conversation. People who share their nerves-burden without considering how that makes other people feel are just unhelpful and selfish.
- Identify where your nerves are – Once acknowledged, it’s easier for you to notice how you’re feeling the nerves in your body and it’s easier to identify where they are. If you take time to notice them, you’ll often find they’re present in one area – perhaps your chest, or stomach.
- Thank them – once you’ve found where the nerves are residing in your body, put your focus on them and the area. While focusing on them, thank them for showing up. When I do this I’m literally saying “Thank you for showing up today and reminding me I have a job to do”.
- Move them on – once you’ve thanked your nerves for showing up, you’ll feel calmer. With your focus still on them, ask them to kindly move on. They’ve done their job. For me, I imagine all my nerves filling up a box, or a tiny grandstand, in my stomach. They don’t go away, but they’re contained and all in one place so I can immediately draw on them if I need.
- Breathe – all throughout this process Box breathing to help your mind stay focused and controlled. It’s crucial to keep you mind at ease.
Over the years this technique has helped me stay calm on game day and to channel my nerves into into something I can use to help me rather than hinder me.
Pull some power poses
Power poses or postural feedback effect is when you put your body into a position of power, strength or confidence so you feel powerful, strong and confident. The idea was made popular by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy in her 2012 Ted talk.
Now while the science of actual physical and hormonal changes within your body are still up for debate, there is certainly no denying how powerful and strong you can feel when you move your body in a powerful and strong way.
Try it now. Put your hands on your hips or stretch your arms up above your head. Do you feel powerful?
The idea works on the basis of Be. Do. Are. If you act (or be) powerful, strong and confident you will become (are) powerful, strong and confident.
Before big games or matches I’m often stretching my arms and shoulders a lot. I’ll reach up into the air, or stretch my arms out wide and back to stretch my chest and shoulders. It helps get air into my lungs to help with my breathing. It wakes my muscles and mind up as I feel the energy in my body. It makes me feel strong and confident.
So find a pose that gives you energy and makes you feel confident and strong. Then use it before games to help you get focused.
Timing is everything
While most of the heavy lifting for your mental strength is done well in advance there are ways you can increase its effectiveness on game day.
The day before:
The steps you take the day before will help you wake up refreshed and mentally prepared on game day. And while it sounds like I’m being a good parent you need to get sleep, eat well and drink plenty of water before game day.
In terms of your nutrition, everyone is different when it comes to what they eat and what you need to fuel for to compete effectively. Regardless of what works for you the key is to make sure you’re eating well the days leading up the event and you’re taking on board water. Dehydration by just 1% can decrease your levels of performance.
(For more more specific guidance on how to get the most out of your nutrition, download the Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Mentally Strong Athlete PDF and check out the bonus chapter on nutrition and sleep)
Spend time the day before running through your visualisation and spending time living the event – win in your mind. You should have a well oiled visualisation now so it’s a case of truly diving into it. You can have a few nerves before game day so use your Box breathing now to keep yourself calm.
Also take time to set yourself three Game Day goals which will keep you focused on the Field of Play. This is an opportunity for you to set your intention for how you’re going to play.
Leading up to and during the big event:
Game day is when your nerves are likely to be at their peak. But don’t overthink it.
There is something to be said for being relaxed on game day. If you can do something fun with others or something that will take your mind off the big event it’s helpful to rest your mind. Remember your subconscious will be doing a lot of thinking for you. You don’t need your conscious mind or inner critic to talk you into a stressful state beforehand.
I like to walk my dog, get coffee (or maybe brunch depending on what time the game is). Game day is also when I allow myself to watch crappy television which is great for relaxing my mind. I’ve also found watching other athletes (not in my sport) is also helpful. I’m not focusing on my sport or game but I am thinking about performing well and getting excited to compete.
My dog Sydney gets exercise on Game day
Spend time visualising on game day. You want to prime your mind to do what you need to do. Keep your breathing controlled and your positive self-talk flowing.
Take the time to warm up properly. Warming up isn’t just for your body it also serves as a primer for your brain on all the activities or actions it needs to go through when you’re out on the Field of Play.
Before you, or as you, hit the Field of Play step into your Alter Ego.
And when you’re out there in the heat of the moment you have your breathing and positive self-talk to. Focus on your Game Day Goals to block out unnecessary distractions and to get you into the zone.
“If I’m feeling nervous, how the f*ck are they feeling? They have to deal with me”
Tim Grover – Relentless
After the event:
Assuming it isn’t the end of your sporting career once you’ve competed on the Field of Play, and the celebrations or commiserations are over, then it’s time to reassess and reevaluate where you’re at.
That’s what the best do.
It’s time to check-in with your goals and make sure they’re still meaningful to you. Is your resolve strong? Are you still motivated? Do you still resonate with your WHY?
It’s also time to look back at the data you’ve collected and your feedback from game day so you can analyse it to look for areas where you need to learn and grow. Then pick the one or two of those areas that’ll give you the most bang for buck and add them to your training regimen.
Positive self-talk is helpful here as well especially if things didn’t go your way. I’ll assume you were successful on the Field of Play but, if you weren’t then you need to check in with the stories you’re telling yourself. Are they optimistic stories? Do you have an Ultimate Strength mindset?
18: Overcoming adversity
It was pre-season field hockey trials.The selector called my name and I walked past the other goalkeepers around the side of the building to speak with him. We’d just had 20 minutes of goalie trials for the premier one (P1) team in my club and I was about to find out who the P1 goalkeeper was going to be.
“I’m sorry Rachel but I’ve decided not to go with you this season. You weren’t as strong with your left leg as [the other keeper]. She’s a bit better technically than you”.
I’d just come back from a week away playing for Wellington 35 Masters where we’d finished third in the country. I’d had a great week. I’d played in the Capital NHL side the year before in the top domestic competition. I was in really good form and was looking forward to having a great year, perhaps even making NHL again.
But turns out I wasn’t good enough to keep my P1 spot.
I tried to fight them back but tears welled up in my eyes.
He could see I was upset “I know you wanted to make NHL this year and maybe I’ll have a chat to the coach about opening up the trials” (traditionally you had to play P1 only to be selected in the NHL squad). “I’m sorry” he said. And with that the conversation was over.
Now I’d been dropped before. My career in my Club has spanned about 18 years and during that time I’ve played in both the P1 and P2 teams. But at no time had it hurt quite like this.
Word got around the hockey community like wildfire, and while I certainly got a sense for people’s opinions on the subject, none of that made me feel any better. I was confused and lost. In my mind I had to play P1 to make the NHL side so I was grappling with making a choice between moving Clubs or playing in a lower grade at a level that would unlikely see me in contention for the NHL side.
I became all-consumed with making a decision. I was offered a spot in another P1 team that was then retracted the day I was planning to accept it. I was also offered a P1 time-sharing arrangement with another Club though while I was considering that I learned my own Club’s P2 team was struggling to find a goalie for the season.
So I then had a personal dilemma on my hands. Be loyal to myself and play P1s for half the season or be loyal to my Club and friends and play P2 hockey so they didn’t struggle for a goalkeeper.
Finally I decided I couldn’t leave my Club and the P2 team. We ended up winning the Championship that year with the best defensive record of the competition.
That year, I also went on to trial for the NHL side. I busted my arse over the three month trial period. I attended every single training and game. I pushed myself to improve everytime I took the field. I sought feedback from the coach. And finally my determination paid off and I successfully beat out five other goalies to make the team.
To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only P2 player to have ever been selected to play NHL for Capital.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
If you want to be a mentally strong athlete you need to be able to deal with the bad as well as the good. No matter what the adversity is, whether you don’t make a team, your gear gets stolen or you get injured, if you want to truly be the best you can you need to be able to handle what gets thrown at you.
Aside from my own experiences being dropped, as a coach, I’ve had to tell players they haven’t made the grade. On one occasion I recall dropping a player that hadn’t really performed well the season before, partially through injury, but who hadn’t improved over the summer. When we told her she hadn’t made the team that year she stormed off and was never seen again.
She had no plan for when she got punched in the face.
Here’s the deal… bad things happen all the time. In my opinion, the measure of you as an individual is how you deal with shit when it goes wrong. It’s easy being mentally strong when everything is going well. It’s harder to keep going if you fail or if things don’t go your way.
And I’ll be honest with you… the majority of people quit when it gets hard. Only a few keep going and ultimately go on to do bigger and better things.
But how do you keep going?
Well, this entire guide is written to get you to a place where you can handle adversity!
Remember your mental strength comes from your ability to adapt, be flexible and respond positively no matter what is thrown at you.
So if you’re following the principles in the guide adversity should be something that slides right by you.
That said, adversity has two parts – the during and the after – and it’s how you handle both that will give you an edge.
During – Take control
When the shit’s hitting the fan you really have be able to take control of yourself so the adverse event doesn’t f*ck with your chi.
You can only control what you can control and in an adverse situation the only thing you can control is how you’re going to react. How you handle any adverse situation comes down to how you handle your emotions. It’s a display of your emotional resilience and gives you choices.
Flying off the handle, breaking down or panicking and getting angry are unhelpful emotional responses. Being calm, composed and in-control on the other hand are exactly the emotions you want to feel.
Here’s two tools to keep yourself on track in adverse situations:
- Control Breathing / Box breathing – control your breathing as soon as possible. This calms your mind so you’re better focused. It starts to quieten your panicked inner critic so your rational and logical mind can take control
- Use the DIRECT process – described in his book The Way of the SEAL, by former Navy SEAL Commander and creator of SEALFit Mark Divine:
- Detect – seek out the thought that’s causing you to have an emotional response
- Interdict – simply tell yourself “Stop” or “No” when the thought comes to you. This will give you a moments relief
- Redirect – in that moment of relief you need to redirect your thoughts from negative to positive. You do this by talking to yourself in a positive way
- Energise – solidify the new thought by getting your whole being involved in it. Smile, shake it off, breathe deeply and feel strong and confident energy through your body
- Communicate – you need to keep talking to yourself from a positive place to get you through the adversity
- Train – you need to practice and train this process often to get it occuring naturally
When I first discovered the DIRECT process it was like a lightbulb going off in my head. It was the exact same way I’d been speaking to myself for years whenever there was chaos in my brain… often on the Field of Play and often after I’d let in a goal.
“Rachel you’re shit – you let that goal in. That was so simple and we’re losing now” – the emotional response – Detect
“Stop it Rachel. That’s not helpful” – Interdict
“You tried to get there and next time you will (I’d quickly evaluate what I’d do next time in the same situation). It’s done now. The game’s not over yet so focus! I’ve got this! We’ve got this!” – Redirect
I then stand tall, start communicating positively with the rest of my team “Let’s go”, usually clapping my stick and glove together, standing at the top of the circle powerfully and breathing – Energise
“I’ve got this” – Communicating with myself repeatedly to keep my mindset positive
This conversation happens quickly in my mind so I can get back to being focused on the Field of Play. This technique is one of the reasons why as you’ll never see me lose my cool – I’ve trained it over the years – the training component of DIRECT.
I’m always straight back up and ready to go no matter how much that goal might’ve cost us. I grip up the negative emotional response and redirect it into something positive.
To help you master the DIRECT process, it’s important to understand yourself and how you react and feel in certain situations. The more you get to know yourself, the feelings you have, the way you respond, the stories you tell yourself and not just on a surface level, the faster you’ll be able to detect, interdict and redirect.
After – Reframing the situation
I won’t lie, I can be in a foul mood when I leave the Field of Play and things haven’t gone well. A foul mood. This is because I have super high standards for myself – I want to be the best after all – and anything less than that is not something I tolerate for myself.
But being angry, upset or frustrated won’t help me in the future. It’s just emotions clouding my judgement. So to get from annoyed, angry and frustrated (all with myself) I need to change my point of view.
This is done through reframing.
Reframing is a powerful way to change a perceived negative event into a positive. You can use this technique to find the silver lining in any the adverse situations. No matter how shitty the situation is, there is always something you can take away from it and use. Even if it’s not super obvious up front.
Reframing can even help you strengthen your WHY. Adversity is often a driver to strengthen your resolve so you either continue on the path you’re on or it will make you realise you’re truly not invested in the process you’re going through.
In 2015, Mat Fraser stood on the podium at the Crossfit Games for the second year in a row. He was aiming for the top spot but fell short by just a couple of points. Reflecting on that finish Mat said:
“My medal from 2015. I hate that f*cken medal. Cause I didn’t do it right. It’s like second place. I should be proud of that result. I was the second Fittest Man in the world. But I just look at that and I like….. f*cken hate that year. Because I’m not proud of the effort I put in, I’m not proud of the corners I cut”
Fraser has since dominated the Crossfit Games becoming the Fittest Man on Earth in 2016 and 2017. The adversity he went through in 2015 strengthened his resolve to want to be the best.
And he’s since gone out and crushed it.
Reframing an adverse situation can also give you insight into the skills you’re lacking and may need to develop to get to the next level.
When I didn’t get selected to play for New Zealand Masters in 2015 I took the feedback from the coach and started to train on the areas he thought were lacking. When I made the team in 2016, the coach told me he could tell I had been working hard on the areas of development.
The areas I needed to work on had been identified, I’d work to resolve them and in the end they helped me achieve my goals.
To reframe an adverse situation ask yourself these questions:
- What can I learn from this situation?
- What are the key takeaways I can use?
- Could I have done anything better?
- What good has come from this event?
I like the last question “What good has come from this event?” because even if the answer is “I’m sitting here reviewing it” or “I’m looking for the silver lining” then you’re already steps ahead of others who don’t look for learnings.
If you look at every situation with an Ultimate Strength mindset not only will you be mentally stronger than your competition but you’ll also develop faster because you’re more willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Your adversity muscle gets flexed with every challenge you face. So like any muscle, the more challenges you face and then overcome the stronger your adversity muscle becomes.
And the harder it will be for anyone or anything to stop you.
Increasing your emotional resilience:
To increase your emotional resilience, start by thinking about up to four dominant emotions that stand in your way or stop you from achieving what you want:
Then think the emotions you want to replace those dominant emotions with:
When you feel the four dominant emotions coming up that don’t serve you, use the DIRECT method to control and replace those emotions:
You’ve made it to the end of your Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Mentally Strong Athlete.
Now you have every tool at your disposal to be mentally strong and to perform at your best in any circumstance on any day.
But having knowledge and taking action are two different things
Make sure you take the time to go through the exercises to help you develop your mental strength. By putting what you’ve learned into practice you’ll see success.
For some people, wanting to be the best isn’t an endearing character trait. But I don’t agree. You should never apologise for wanting to be the best you can be.
“You’re never playing an opponent, you’re only really playing against yourself”
Former tennis champion, Arthur Ashe
It’s about pushing yourself to the next level so you can have the opportunities and success the mediocre won’t bother to strive for. The gap between the amatuar and the elite looks wide, but really:
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”.
As I finished writing this guide I discovered I’d been named as the Vice Captain of the New Zealand 35s Masters side to travel to Spain in 2018 to compete in the Hockey World Masters Cup.
When you push yourself to be the best you get opportunities that might not otherwise have opened up for you so you get to test yourself at the next level.
Can I ask a favour?
If you enjoyed reading the Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Mentally Strong Athlete, I’d like to ask you a favour.
I spent weeks working on the guide to bring you the most comprehensive free resource anywhere to help you become a mentally strong athlete. So you can compete with confidence and belief and perform to win.
If you know someone else who would benefit from, or be interested in, reading the guide would you mind sharing it with them?
To do that, you can share this link with them where they can download their own version of the guide: http://rachellilley.com/mentally-strong-athlete/
And, if you feel like it, it’d be super cool if you could share this link on your Facebook or through your email list (just copy and paste the link above).
If you do end up sharing the guide, feel free to tag me in your post so I can say thank you!
Finally, I’d love to hear how how you’re progressing using the guide to become a mentally strong athlete. So if you’re implementing the guide and seeing results I’d absolutely love to hear about your success. Simply reply to an email I’ve sent you through my email list.
“The difference between winners and losers is that winners start by taking care of the little things. Little things make tiny ripples which create waves of opportunity.
Win this minute, then win the next”
Performance Coach, Todd Herman