By Alison Arnold Ph.D. and Janae Whittaker Ali
It's happened to all of us. There you are, at an event, when it hits you -- paralyzing fear and doubt. Your hands start sweating, your heart races and you think, "I JUST CAN'T DO THIS." Learning to deal with fear and pushing through resistance is an important skill to overcome obstacles and reach your goals.
Where does fear come from?
Fear comes from many sources. Sometimes it comes from worrying about a past performance. Many times is comes from our minds taking a field trip into an unwanted future. Fear can be very sneaky. It can rear its head when you are burned out, feel too much pressure or if your own self-critic is out of control.
No matter what the source of fear, the result is out-of-control, negative thinking. Most often when you are afraid, you begin a tirade of negative thoughts. You may say to yourself things like, "I can't continue," or "I'm much slower then usual." Of course, your body hears these negative messages and reacts. It says back to you, "You're right. You are tired and slow." It's important to recognize the power of your mind.
Many people believe, "What you state, you create," Meaning that what you say to yourself over and over again becomes your reality. That is why it is so important you train your mind to perform your best, taking the power away from fear and doubt.
Looking at fear and doubt
You know the importance of proper body position as you train. But what about your mind? The mind is a thought factory, creating thought after thought after thought. A mind out-of-control is the same as a body out-of-control. What we call a "loose mind" creates fear, frustration, doubt and negativity.
The opposite is also true. "Tight mind" creates fearlessness, positivity, confidence and focus. So it's simple: just as you work on proper body position, do the same with your mind.
Whenever you notice fear and doubt, draw your attention to your loose mind with a simple comment. Say something to yourself like, "my mind seems loose, what am I thinking?" or "I see fear is creeping in," and focus on a motivating thought. Without awareness, making a correction is impossible. Teach yourself to identify loose mind whenever you feel it and then listen to what you are saying in your head. If the thought is making you feel good, keep it. If the thought is taking away your energy, "Flip it!"
Flip-it drills strengthen your mind by helping you change negative thoughts as quickly as possible. The first step is awareness. You must be aware of your typical negative thoughts and beliefs if you want to be successful in changing them. Take some time to identify the "loose mind" thoughts that get in your way in practice and competition. Most likely, it is the same thoughts over and over again.
When flipping your mind from negative thoughts to positive you want to utilize your breathing, brain (self-talk) and body language. All three of these elements work together to create your ideal mental state in both practice and competition. The first step to becoming more mentally disciplined is changing your breathing. If you feel yourself going to a negative mental state, break the cycle by taking a deep breath. This will tell your body that change is in the works.
Next, be sure your thoughts are powerful and positive. Many people have a key thought that shocks their mind into a better state. That thought can be "Stop," "Relax," or "Don't go there." After the initial shock thought, begin to flood yourself with positive or neutral thoughts that keep your mind on track. Any thought that creates a positive feeling is much better then a negative one. It could be, "I am strong," or "I am an energizer bunny," or "one step at a time." Thinking of technical corrections or focus points can also help your mind behave.
Finally, change your body. Your body language can actually control the neurotransmitters released in your brain. To change your mental state, change your face, eyes and running posture. This also sends a message to your mind and body that you are turning this around.
Visualizing flip-it drills
It is also very effective to visualize times when your mind is loose and how we're able to pull it back to tight mind. See yourself starting to falter in a race, then change your breathing, brain and body -- pulling your mind back to confidence. After a bad day of training, build your mental muscles by imagining three ways you could have successfully tightened your mind. Visualizing successful flip-it drills helps you plan for any negative situation and allows you to use it as fuel.
Your mind is the creator of many things. In order to perform your best in any sport, take control of it. Remember, out-of-control thinking leads to out-of-control performance.
Alison Arnold Ph.D. is the mental toughness trainer for USA Gymnastics, USA Figure Skating, Australia's Ski Team and numerous athletes in over 20 sports.
Janae Whittaker Ali, as seen on NBC's hit TV show, Starting Over, is a certified professional Life Coach.