Want to know the #1 difference between the rest of the world and athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Aaron Rodgers and Herschel Walker?
It is not completely their athletic gifts.
What caps it off is their mental toughness.
When the game is on the line all of these athletes seem to rise above the norm and perform at an extraordinary level. Mental toughness is their secret.
So how do you gain the same mental edge they have? Check out these tips to condition your mental muscle and improve your game like a champion.
Tip#1: Focus on the Present
It is hard for us to focus on the present because most of us have conditioned ourselves to either be stuck in the past or stuck in the future.
But remaining focused on mainly the past or future is why we get stuck and stall out. We can’t change the past and we can’t live in the future.
Don’t think about what is going to happen in 20 minutes. Or what happened in your past. Only focus on the present and taking that next step (or next putt or next free throw or next hand off with the football).
The only moment we can control, change or predict is the present one.
With so much chaos going on around us it is easy to see how we could forget our own names. Cell phones, texting, traffic, earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear disasters.
You name it–there is crazy stuff happening all around us and it is tough to stay centered and focused.
So how can we stay focused?
By only focusing on taking the next step. Then take the next step and the next. Do it with awareness. Make conscious choices that will better lead you to where you want to be tomorrow.
Tip #2: Have a Short Memory
This is directly connected to Tip #1.
The number one job of a quarterback is not to pass the ball—it is to protect the ball.
So what happens when a quarterback fumbles the ball in a big time game like the Super Bowl and the opposing team goes up by 6 points? A great quarterback that has made a mistake needs to have a short memory. Meaning they need to learn from the mistake and forget the past and move on.
A great quarterback like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady will not dwell on the past mistake or let it shadow them.
They move on. You must do the same. Learn to let go and move on quickly so that you can achieve your goal.
Here’s an example of an extreme case of not moving on and not having a short memory. A friend of mine who worked as a mental conditioning coach told me about a client she had who was still hung up on a lie he told when he was 7.
He’d spent 40 years stuck on that moment. All of that time wasted on something other people had forgotten about decades ago.
There’s no benefit to hanging on to something you did (or something someone did to you) 40 minutes, 40 days—or 40 years—ago.
Tip #3: Stay Positive
It is easy to become negative when a tough situation arises and it’s easy to stay there.
If left to our own devices our brains will seek the easy way out and sometimes that means flight instead of fight. Negativity is easier to focus on than positivity, because our minds are programmed to look for dangers and problems.
A warrior who has command of their mind will take control of the situation. There’s a difference between acknowledging a problem and assessing it (that generates a switch to being solution-focused) and staying stuck on it.
On the teams, we had a phrase we used all the time (and I still use it): Adapt, improvise and overcome.
A friend in the Air Force told me they had a similar phrase: Adapt, overcome and proceed.
See the point?
Mentally practicing the ability to drive out the negative and reinforce with the positive is an acquired skill.
You can work on it every day with tough physical workouts or being exposed to arduous conditions (swimming in cold water, running in heat).
The easiest and best method is to control your thoughts. Start generating awareness around times when you typically focus on the negative and are stuck there. When you notice you’re doing that, make a point to shift your thoughts.
It takes 21 days to form a habit so start now and write down all negative thoughts you have in the day. Like any skill, this will take practice and more practice.
On the next day begin to get rid of those negative thoughts and one by one replace them with positive ones. This is a great start to a new mindset.
Tip #4: Become a Ritual-Aholic
Everyone has a ritual. We get up in the morning on the same side of the bed and brush our teeth. We get a cup of coffee and read the news on our iPad (or newspaper).
We go to the gym and workout and then go to work. We all have a ritual. Some rituals are good – some are bad. Top championship athletes also have rituals.
- Michael Jordan goes to the basketball court every day and shoots 1000 free throws.
- Tiger Woods putts for hours and hits 1000’s of golf balls.
- Herschel Walker does 1000 pushups every morning.
They all have a ritual that has conditioning them to be tougher than the average athlete.
Yes; there is athleticism involved in shooting 1000 free throws but Michael’s mind has made him perform this task daily to condition himself for future success.
Rituals are about putting your focus on practicing a skill you want to master. They also help you gain control of your thoughts and shift your thinking from what can’t be done to what can.
Tip #5: Enjoy the Battle
I have competed in the Masters Division of CrossFit competitions. It may be one of the hardest things I have ever done. At my age, I could go sit on the couch on a Saturday and know one would give me crap. But I want to progress and become a better athlete and warrior.
So I keep finding ways to push myself, and one way I do that is by competing in hardcore mountain bike races that have hundreds of miles to cover and take several days.
It is hard to keep your chin up in such awful conditions of heat, mud, rain, flat tires, broken bike chains and hardships.
But I love to compete. I tell myself I love to compete—and I have grown to learn to love and enjoy the middle of the battle as much as the finish.
Telling yourself that you love the battle is a start. Over time as you grow accustomed to this thinking you can embrace it on a more wholistic manner. But start out by telling yourself you are enjoying this tough competition and force yourself to “smile” inwardly.
You can feel the paradigm shift right in that moment. It works.
I dare you to try it.
Check out the video below to see where it all started for me.
Tip #6: Visualize Your Future Self
That’s right—get a mental picture of how you want to be in your future self. In order to get through this current tough workout or hardship you have to not only survive – but thrive.
Think of your future self and how it will feel to stand on the podium with a medal draped around your neck.
Think about the cool breeze flowing against your skin and you hearing the crowd cheering in the background. Use details to create a positively charged emotion that your mind will connect with.
It has been said that if your going through Hell—don’t stop. So keep on driving through the tough stuff and use this clear mental picture of what you will be and what you will look like at the finish.
Very powerful stuff.
Mental visualization is key. Before the Championship game, athletes like Michael Jordan rehearse the winning shot, playing it over and over in their mind as they practice and shoot baskets.
- Michael Jordan pictures himself cutting down the basket from the winning game.
- Tiger Woods see’s himself putting on the green jacket at Augusta Nationals.
- Muhammad Ali used affirmations
“It is the nature of thought to find its way into action” – Chrisian Nevell Bovee: was an American author and lawyer in the late 1800s.
What do you visualize that you will put in your mind to help carry you through the rough and bumpy road?
Tip #7: Hang Around Winners
If your wanting to get great at basketball do you go down to the local playground and go for a pick up game with some first graders?
Or do you go downtown to the courts where the big boys hang out and jump in the game? Do you head to the gym on a Friday afternoon or do you head out to the local bar for Miller Time with Joe and the boys?
To get better, you have to workout with (and hang around) those that are at or above a level you want to be at.
To get mentally tough you have to do the same.
Get in an environment where only the tough survive and you will see your mental conditioning rise after the first day.
Metal sharpens metal.
So get tough by getting next to those athletes at the next level.
Tip #8: Repeat Affirmations
Mental affirmations are a great method.
Repeating words in your mind to help you focus on a task is an excellent way to cast off the extra chaos. It is harder for negative thoughts to enter your mind while you are chanting “I am a winner”, “I’m an overcomer”.
Come up with a few affirmations. Write them down and use them when your out on your next 5k run or weight workout.
Affirmations are not junk, New Agey crap. They reinforce your ability to think more positively, they get you solution-focused instead of problem-focused, they create self-esteem and self-confidence.
You will be surprised how well they keep you on track, focused and keeping negative thoughts in the far back of your mind.
Tip #9: Read Good Books
I may have put this at #9, but it’s one of my top favorites and things I do to get motivated and inspired.
You can create discipline by reading every night. Reading a good book is a form of ritual but it also helps to put great things into your mind.
Most people go to sleep watching all of the violence and no good on the evening news at 11. Try reading 10 pages of a good book every night.
A good book to help build your mind is Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. Another good one is Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink.
Reading every night will build consistency and ritual in your life. It will also help to build mental muscle that you can use in your next tough workout.
Tip #10: Calm Yourself
Have you noticed that the top championships are calm during the toughest of situations? T
hey have learned to calm themselves through conditioning to be ready for the unexpected.
Yoga and meditation are excellent methods to calm your mind and body. Stretching and long distance running are also great exercises.
The key is to find the method that works for you and begin to incorporate that activity into your weekly routine (remember ritual?)
The bike races and the obstacles I face during them help with this. Another thing that does is trail running, so I make sure to add this in to my weekly schedule to help me cruise at a higher level and to remain tough when the situation turns south.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad McLeod knows first hand about mental toughness. After passing Hell Week and Dive Pool Comp at BUD/S, he failed a math test and was kicked out of training. A year later, he returned, graduated, and served as an operator on the Navy SEAL Teams.
Today, he is one of the most sought after mental conditioning coaches in the world. SEALgrinderPT audios and ebooks have been downloaded in 20 different countries around the globe. Check out SEALgrinderPT Coaching to help you step up and take hold of your dreams and realize your goals.
If you have any questions on mental conditioning and toughness or would like to be coached in mental conditioning techniques please email [email protected].
I look forward to hearing from you and starting you on your path to your goals today.
Proceeds from this website go to help raise funds for the Navy SEAL Foundation on CrowdRise.