I hope you don't mind my asking, but how much time have you spent working on the mental side of your game?
If your focus is strictly on what your body is doing and you're not bringing your mind into play when you play, you're making a big mistake. Understanding the link between mind and body, body and breath, is one of the best and easiest ways to boost performance, calm your nerves, bolster self-confidence and otherwise improve your game, on the field and off.
What are you doing to bring your mind into play when you engage in physical activity? Here's some important information to help you get started.
- The more relaxed, the better you play. There's more than 15 years of sports-psychology research to back up the basic belief that too much anxiety and tension can sabotage your game. Any game.
Too relaxed isn't good either. The trick is to find a balance, very relaxed yet very focused. When you get there, you're in The Zone, that state of mind-body equilibrium that allows you to play your best.
- Visualization equals relaxation. One way to achieve inner calm is to close your eyes and visualize a time and a place when you felt totally at ease.
See the beach. Feel the sunshine. Smell the woods - whatever is meaningful and calming to you. The more senses engaged - recalling smells, sounds, sights - the more effective the technique.
Research proves that when you visualize a scene mentally, positive physical changes can occur involving your breath, muscles and hormone levels. In short, your body experiences a calm feeling even if you've just created the circumstances in your mind.
- Think high energy. If your sport - cycling, basketball, tennis - calls for bursts of high energy, visualization can help you there, too. The trick is to find an image that pumps you up and makes you feel super-energized.
- Accentuate the positive. Remember Dave. Negative thinking can have a disastrous effect on your sports performance. If you constantly tell yourself to avoid the sand trap or not to miss the free shot, you will achieve the opposite result.
Instead, stop all negative thoughts and put yourself in a positive, can-do frame of mind. If you do miss, don't dwell on the failure. Smile, shake it off quickly and keep moving forward, repeating positive messages to yourself all the while.
- Reframe the competition. Seeing the competition as your enemy is old-fashioned thinking. And counterproductive to doing your best because it increases tension and gets in the way of superior play.
Instead, reframe the situation in your mind and see your opponent as your partner, not your enemy. Your "partner" is there to challenge you to play your best, eliminating tension and allowing you to meet the challenge with strength and confidence.
- Let go of the need to win. This may go against all the "winning is everything" stuff you've been taught, but again, it's a technique that defuses tension and allows you to actually win more. Instead of focusing on the win or the score, focus on the positive benefits of playing your sport - how it's good for your health, energy, peace of mind, etc.
Redefine what winning is, and you'll win more.
- Get into the rhythm of it. Understand the joy of playing your sport. Go with the natural flow of your game and how good it feels to be moving, running, breathing.
The more you focus on the rhythm and dance of your activity, the more you let go of the score, and the more you let go of the score, the more you can win.
- Be in the moment. Don't allow your mind to wander back to some error you might have made. And don't let your mind project ahead to your play in the future. To play your best, to be your best, stay focused in the moment. Here and now.
One great way to bring yourself back to the present moment is to listen to your breath, the sound of your inhalation and exhalation.
Write Marilynn Preston in care of The Light, 565 Pearl St., Suite 300, La Jolla, 92037.