Train Your Mind, Train Your Body: Exercises to Develop Mental Strength

Attitude is like a pair of eyeglasses. It is the lens through which we view the world.
— Gary Mack

Pushing through that last rep, prepping meals for the week, getting up early to workout before a busy day; all of these efforts require mental toughness, the willingness and commitment to do the hard things particularly when you don't want to do them.  Consistently exercising your mental strength prepares your mind for the stresses of demanding situations, such as championship competitions.  At the highest levels, athletes and coaches know that developing mental skills becomes as important to performance as one's physical skills.  According to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), what was once thought of as an innate ability, "mental toughness" can be learned through developing a range of psychological skills, and, in turn, used to elevate physical performance.

Here are three exercises that can help you on your way to becoming a mentally tougher you:

Use Positive Cues and Affirmations

Instead of telling yourself what not to do, it is more effective to tell your mind what to do instead - "hit this shot", "sink this putt", "run this mile at a good pace", as opposed to - "don't miss this shot", "I'm not going to miss this putt", "don't slow down".  Let positive cues dominate your thoughts to create positive outcomes.  Listen to the internal voice that reinforces positive thoughts.

Visualize Success

Mental rehearsal is a very powerful tool, studies show that athletes who receive mental training often outperform athletes of equal physical ability who don't have access to mental training.  Visualize creating your own mind gym, an imaginary retreat where you can mentally prepare for competition, a refuge where you can put your worries away into a mental locker, a sanctuary you visit to train your mind and prepare for competition.

Overcome the Fear of Failure

Not even the strongest of opponents can compete with an internal fear of failure in stopping you from achieving your desired outcomes.  To realize your full potential, you must first overcome the fear of failure by letting go of beliefs rooted in perfectionism and by eliminating any hyper critical or judgemental internal dialogues.  Failure is a part of the process of growing and learning, feel the fear and proceed anyway.

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