Hey Angels and Alphas!
Today, we’re talking about a topic that goes beyond the physical and into the world of sports psychology!
We all know fitness has a mental aspect to it, but it’s something we can never really give a concrete definition to. It’s like some athletes just naturally possess qualities that set them apart from the competition in a positive way, give them laser-like focus, and help them cope with setbacks.
And here, we’re talking about top level athletes. Athletes who know how valuable that mental aspect is, so they invest more of their time and energy toward understanding it and mastering it.
If you take a closer look at the athletes who focus on developing their mental qualities, we can see they are just as strong and confident outside the field as they are in it.
Whether you’re an athlete or not, you definitely know the feeling of developing these qualities – in the times when you genuinely learned from a mistake you made, overcome a setback, or dedicated your full focus and attention toward the goal you were chasing.
So it doesn’t matter if it’s in the gym or outside of it, everyone can benefit from the mental health training techniques that sports psychologists teach the world’s top athletes.
A stable and focused mind is always going to give you an edge in your approach – be it for a sport, a competition, or just your everyday life.
So, let’s begin by giving a definition to sports psychology – just so we know what we’re getting in to!
Once you have an understanding of this concept, you’ll see how easy and yet powerful it is to use sports psychology techniques to train your mind all the way until you reach your desired goal.
Let’s get started.
What is Sports Psychology?
The best definition I’ve heard for sports psychology is a branch of science aiming to learn more about the impact our mind has on our athletic ability in different sports.
This scientific approach toward understanding an enhancing your performance via your cognitive ability allows us to learn more about relevant topics such as motivation, focus, and mental imagery.
A lot of athletes hire professionals that study how psychology influences sports, exercises, and physical activity. They teach them how to get a mental edge in their sport, improve their motivation, help them cope with the pressure of competition, and guide them toward achieving their sporting and health goals – all through the power of mental training.
These sport psychologists don’t just work with professional and amateur athletes. They also work with regular people – those who want to feel more joy from exercise, those who have trouble sticking to a program, and even the people who are just trying to get through a plateau in the gym.
Regardless if you’re an athlete or not, there are psychological techniques you can use to improve your cognitive health and maximize your performance during physical activity.
Maybe you’ve reached a point where you’re not motivated enough to go to the gym, or you’ve completely stopped seeing progress toward your goal.
If that’s the case, then it’s pretty clear that something is going on in your subconscious that needs your attention. Athletes who are aware with the concepts of sport psychology have no problem sparking their motivation back up – they find it easy to see their “why” because they’ve practiced meditation, mental imagery, self-talk, and other cognitive training techniques.
And after all, if you want to do something significant, you have to give yourself a significant reason to do it. Through sports psychology, you can use the power of your mind to make that reason real to yourself through visualization and goal setting.
So if you want to use these techniques to improve your performance in the gym (and out of it), hack your brain to be in a positive, focused state all the time, and set goals that motivate you instead of overwhelm you…
Here are four of the most effective cognitive training techniques sport psychologists use to help the world’s top athletes perform at their best!
Technique 1. Goal-setting and routine creation.
Goal setting is the strongest tool at your disposal. Your mind has given you the ability to make choices and decisions that better your life – and only you get to decide what bettering your life means. The top athletes in every sport are using complex strategies, plans, and routines to move closer and closer toward their goal – they aren’t just aimlessly practicing their craft.
A physique competitor might be adjusting their strategy to lean out more this season. A basketball player might be taking an extra hour working on their agility today. And a businesswoman might be practicing her skills by speaking in front of the mirror before every important meeting.
These are all examples of setting goals in the right way. Dynamically instead of statically. They’re all identifying their weaknesses, and adjusting their goal to work on improving their skills where they most need it.
Sports psychology research in the past two decades shows that setting goals the right way comes down to making them;
Constantly tailor your goals to fit the sweet spot between challenging and reachable. Don’t expect to increase your squat every time you step in the gym. Setting goals too high will overwhelm and frustrate you while setting goals too low will not give you the necessary motivation to go out and achieve them. Be realistic and continuously come back and revisit your goal, adjusting it to fit that challenging/reachable sweet spot.
Try to find a unit of measurement that helps you track your progress over time. In fitness, there’s variety – weight, macros, PRs, you name it. But in other sports, for example, it could be a goalkeeper daily saves, or a basketball player’s steals throughout a particular game.
If you know exactly what you have to do, doing it becomes easier. Athletes don’t get up in the morning saying “I want to perform better.” They wake up saying “Today, I’m working on this, this, and this.” If you have a specific, defined plan for what you need to do, you’ll naturally gravitate toward taking action.
4. Written down
A Harvard University study on habits and behavior concluded that tracking your progress and writing down your goals increases the chance of their attainment. Not to mention, a journal is an excellent source of motivation and helps you remember where you started.
Another great goal-setting technique is small-chunking. Basically, it means that you should be breaking down all your goals into small parts, making them more manageable, and then focusing on your next immediate target.
These small chunks of your overall goal create routines that you can follow all the way to success. These routines help you target your focus, prevent distractions, and spend your energy in a controlled matter.
They make the entire process of managing your growth and progress much more straightforward – they help you identify and learn from your mistakes while allowing you to focus on what you’re doing right and build up the confidence you need to do better next time.
But perhaps the most important part of successful goal-setting is not even about the outcome. It’s about the realization that you have to create your own process, and make it one you enjoy. When you’re focused on improving, things are in your control.
Outcomes though are something you can’t control. But if your focus is on the process and the small-chunked goals you set for yourself, your confidence and ability will keep improving even when the outcome isn’t what you wanted it to be.
Technique 2. Visualization and mental imagery.
All successful people practice visualization. They’re masters at seeing success in their mind, then turning it into reality.
Recent discoveries in neuroscience show us that just imagining ourselves performing an activity will activate the same regions in the brain as when we’re physically performing the task. Visualizing yourself practicing and/or winning is an excellent way to prepare yourself for what’s coming.
When an athlete is imagining scoring a goal, winning the belt, or finishing first, they’re building up the mental imagery necessary to perform that way in the real world.
When you’re exercising, use a variety of positive mental images to create feelings of power, happiness, and excitement, and then visualize them during your workout. Next time you’re doing a squat, imagine a gigantic magnet pulling the weight from your shoulders as you start moving up.
This type of visualization will help you build newfound ability and confidence in any area of your life you apply it to.
Here’s the expert advice on how to maximize the impact of your mental imagery!
1. Activate all of your senses.
When you’re imagining yourself, evoke as many as your senses as possible. Imagine what you’re hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, touching, and feeling in that moment, and take a mental snapshot. The more senses you can activate, the more real the image becomes to you, and the more impact it will have on your psyche.
2. Involve a timeline.
When you’re visualizing yourself, do it from beginning to end. Don’t just imagine yourself winning. See yourself practicing, strategizing, exercising, focusing on your weaknesses, going out there, and earning your victory. Go through every emotion you can find and build your mental image piece by piece.
3. Use the first-person perspective.
Take that moment of you winning. Close your eyes, evoke all your senses, and experience it as if it was happening in front of your eyes right now.
* Watching video footage of yourself performing a task/exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen your mental imagery.
Technique 3. Positive self-talk.
Planned, specific, positive self-talk is something all successful people do – and with good reason.
It’s powerful! So much that depending on how you use it, it could make or break you.
If you’re in your head all day beating yourself up over past mistakes, doubting yourself, and spreading negativity like Nutella on bread, it’s going to be impossible for you to perform like you would when you’re “in the zone.”
Research done by the Association for Psychological Science confirms that the way athletes talk to themselves during training/competition makes a dramatic difference in their physiology and the way they perform!
So if you ever happen to beat yourself up over something you did (or didn’t), just remember that negative thinking is common. An inner critic lives in everybody.
But if we’re aware that these thoughts exist, we can slowly start replacing them with positive self-statements!
Here are three methods of self-talk you can try right now;
Research shows that motivational self-talk helps you perform tasks that require strength and endurance. It boosts your confidence, hypes you up, and allows you to create a loop of positive, inspiring, motivational thoughts.
Next time you’re doing a set, check in with your body and talk yourself through the entire range of motion of each repetition. In a situation like this, telling yourself to squat deeper or keep your feet aligned will be a better option than motivational self-talk like “I can do this.”
3. Use cue words.
Cue words are simple phrases or even noises that bring you back to a mental image or a focus point. Repeating words binds them inside your mind, and when you happen to hear them (or purposefully remember them), your physiology responds. Use that to your advantage when you want to redirect your focus.
Technique 4. Breathing and meditation.
The words psychology and meditation go hand-in-hand. In fact, meditation is psychology’s most well-researched tool. Countless studies have concluded that it helps you become more focused, reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes overall health and well-being.
Nowadays, most sports teams have scheduled meditation routines.
Mastering meditation helps you block out doubts, worries, and mistakes while blocking out the distractions around you. Meditation allows you to create a you-bubble in which the only things that exist are you and the object of your focus.
A basic way to meditate involves focusing on the sensations going on inside your body (like breathing) and ignoring everything else. With time, you learn how to sustain your focus for longer, and at that point, every distraction becomes a conscious choice.
While you’re paying attention to your breathing, you’re being fully present in the moment.
Control your breath to produce different psychological effects.
If you want to be calm and grounded, breathe deep.
If you want to be sharp and pumped up, energize the tempo of your breathing.
* And if you want to psyche your opponent out, breathe normally while they’re gasping for air…
Meditation and breathing are a powerful combination. You can use your breathing to create energy in your body, and through meditation, learn how to focus and target that energy anywhere you want.
But if you really want to feel the benefits of meditation, I suggest you do a little research so you can choose a method that you truly enjoy doing!
Where does that leave us?
To conclude, we can say there are a billion different ways athletes gain a psychological advantage in their field using sport psychology.
But the four techniques you learned today will serve as a perfect foundation for your mental training – it doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete, a gym goer, or just someone who likes going outdoors and being active.
If you practice and master these four techniques, pretty soon you’ll be able to;
• Set clearer goals.
• Control your mood.
• Control your focus.
• Avoid distractions.
• Create a positive thought-loop.
• Develop a better mind-body connection.
What do you think – if you’re able to learn and cultivate these things in your life, is any goal out of reach for you?