I have written about the importance of mental mindset before and having recently read The Training Think Tanks's post on one of his clients which also reflected some of my own thoughts, I was inspired to put this post together.
You may have heard of the term 'Mental Strength' before but it is something I see missing in people's training regimes or approach to life, and I think it is often over looked, under valued or mis understood.
In your everyday life there are most definitely things you can do to enhance your mental strength and develop skills for dealing with ups and downs of life, of training, of performance etc.
To clarify in terms of this post, I will provide my own experiential definition of mental strength,
'An ability to think, feel and act in unison and an ability to maintain a clear perspective of reality and to remain true to your values/beliefs in the face of adversity or doubt whether from yourself or others.'
So to me I feel that mental strength is the ability to observe your thoughts and cultivate thoughts that are in line with how you feel and how you act and that these thoughts, feelings and actions match your true values and beliefs. In short-keeping it together!
That even when faced with obstacles from yourself or others you can keep the ability to do what you believe in or act in the way you value.
That an individual can remain clear on the present situation or the steps needed to be taken for progression without getting lost in hypothetical or drama.
Think about performance or training and how you approach these, can you look at your thoughts or reflect how you were thinking during a given session, did you think and act how you would have liked? If there were distractions such as a crowd watching, a bad day at work, or your training partner is late or you don't feel physically on form, did you respond appropriately to aid a positive experience and effective learning?
To further understand my definition a little more I will draw on a little yogic philosophy which shows that states of mind that put us at 'un ease' are those such as doubt, fear, anger, greed, bitterness, jealousy etc. So it can therefore be understood that we cannot stop ourselves from feeling or being in these states but what we can do is observe their occurrence and when noticed encourage a response that effects us moving forward in a positive, beneficial and helpful manner.
To apply this to your life or your sports or training, consider the following;
1. Can you notice if your thoughts or feelings that you have at a given time are creating a sense of 'un ease'?
2. Can you observe that sense of 'un ease' and then without putting any more thought of distractions, get to the root of why you feel that way.
3. Can you now acknowledge your feelings and accept them and without ignoring them or running away from them understand that it is completely human to feel different ways and then allow yourself to move on?
4. Can you keep your focus then on what it is you wish to do, how you wish to act?
Taking the above steps, for example in a training/performance context, as you begin, are you aware of how you are feeling? Are you aware of what thoughts are present? Are those feelings and thoughts creating a sense of 'un ease'? For instance are you nervous/anxious/ stressed? Are you thinking that you cannot achieve what you are about to do? Is there doubt? Are you distracted by others or your surrounding environment? When noticed we can see that perhaps these feelings, thoughts do not help us in a positive way.
Once noticed you could assess why you feel that way, 'ok I feel afraid because im trying a new skill or I feel doubtful because I'm not confident in my ability today or are you distracted by your friend who looks stronger etc
So here is where a lot of people hit the stumbling blocks, on noticing our thoughts or feelings of 'un ease' we create more un ease maybe because we are ashamed of thinking that way or embarrassed, or annoyed at ourselves for being that way. All that does then in the situation is create more anguish, perhaps anger or frustration. Another reaction here is to ignore those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and not address them, but this is like avoiding that area under the couch every time you sweep and one fine day you find a big mess!
What will help you is in step 3, acknowledge the fear, the nerves, the doubt, whatever it may be for you and realise that is completely normal and in doing that allow yourself to now choose to adopt more productive, positive ways to think in the situation and move on to step 4. So for example a climber may have now noticed 'ok I am a little nervous and hesitant but that's ok, I've tried this problem before or I know my friends will spot me, or I'm confident I won't fall this time'.
Whatever solutions you create to the original feelings or thoughts holding you back is the key to your progression going forwards. Realising that it is ok to feel frustrated or doubtful or fearful but in that realisation not allowing them to consume you or your potential for learning and being involved in the situation.
In the realm of mental strength, this is where the gold is, how you can effectively listen to, move on from and learn to deal with unhelpful thought processes and barriers.
Think of how you have felt or thought about your body image for example, or your ranking in relation to your peers, often if negative thoughts around these issues go un noticed over periods of time or become more consuming they can play an adverse effect on your progress and experience and ultimately hold you back.
This is what is most amazing, we can choose how to think, we can choose how to respond to situations, we can choose how to deal with challenges.
A lot of emphasis is placed on our physical strengths, our physical training and approaches and I know a lot of people who talk about these topics and share knowledge, but how often do we address our mind set during a training session or during a performance? How often do you take time to notice what thoughts or mindsets you often have and maybe ones that could help you achieve your goals quicker or in a less stressful manner?
It is not about right and wrong, it is not about changing who you are, but about allowing you to enjoy yourself more and adopting attitudes and thoughts that will make things easier for you.