Much of our mental preparation involves reducing anxiety, building confidence, and attaining a “winning” state of mind and body. What if you don’t know what that “winning state” feels like? How do you know what to aim for? Professionals in our industry have an advantage with considerable experience under their belt to build a mental portfolio of successful performances.
People just starting out in a sport, however, don’t necessarily have that experience to draw from and may find themselves struggling with self-doubt and uncertainty. Success and failure seems more like a pot luck draw than a well planned strategic process.
What signs should you be looking out for during your performance preparation to indicate that you are in an optimal performance state?
Loehr and McLaughlin describe a number of emotional states, in their book “Mentally Tough – The Principles of Winning at Sports Applied to Winning in Business,” that are familiar to successful performers:
· Mental Calmness – Described as an “inner stillness” that allows mental clarity and efficient thinking. In this state your performance almost feels like it is happening in slow motion.
· Physical Relaxation – This is when your muscles feels relaxed and supple in comparison to the tension brought on by anxiety. While in this state your body is ready to respond in fluid motion without the overreaction we often experience when up tight and nervous.
· Freedom From Anxiety – Anxiety manifests in our thought processes and physiology. It can negatively impact our performance in any number of ways and although a little can help motivation, a lot is detrimental to any type performance whether in the sporting arena or in the board room.
· Energy – Loehr and McLaughlin refer to energy as the “single most important ingredient.” They refer to the feeling of energy without tension. Athletes describes this as being “pumped up” or “psyched.”
· Optimism – Optimistic people believe that they can overcome whatever challenge is thrown their way to achieve their goals. This is compared to one who feels defeated. To get to the top you need a little fire in your belly that just won’t give up. You need to believe that anything is possible and there are always options. Truly believe that you can always find a way.
· Enjoyment – Loehr and McLaughlin point out that if you enjoy something you will do it well. This is contrary to the popular belief that you enjoyed it because you did it well. Never underestimate the importance of enjoyment because if you cease to enjoy doing something you generally cease to do it well. This should be an huge incentive for employers to make their work places enjoyable and attempt to make their employees happy.
· Effortlessness – In those moments when everything seems to come together your performance should almost feel effortless even though you are giving it your all.
· Automaticity – Loehr and McLaughlin refer to the common concept of “paralysis by analysis.” Great performances occur at an automatic level that does not require conscious thought. When we focus on a specific skill and think about what we are doing we often miss other important cues and our timing is slowed down.
· Alertness – Think about your best performance and you may recall a sense of “heightened awareness” where you were acutely aware of your body position and what was going on around you. This alertness allows you to tune into important cues and respond instantly and accurately.
· Focus – This requires attentional control and a focus on the performance itself rather than the score, outcome, or others opinions.
· Self-confidence – To achieve an ideal performance state one needs to possess a fundamental belief in one’s self.
· Control – Quite simply a feeling of control gives us comfort which aids our inner calmness and physical relaxation to promote an ideal performance state.
If you are new to the sport and don’t have a lot of experience to build your own game plan it’s ok to fake it till you make it. Model those who are already successful and get a taste of what it feels like to be a champ then you will be on your way to building your own mental portfolio.
Read more Competitive Edge