Most of us would agree that life is fast-paced. Between juggling school, work, athletics, relationships, and self-care; it can all become a big race against the 24 hours we are given each day. Although the physical world we live in has constant movement and motion, what is often overlooked is the world that we live in within our minds, which is also in constant motion. The question is: what direction is the world of our mind heading in? We can’t always stop the constant motion of the thoughts that run rampant in our mind, but we can definitely work on the positive direction these thoughts are heading in.
One of the biggest downfalls and battles that occurs in the minds of athletes is the view of themselves. This comes in many forms. From self-doubt, believing they are not good enough, and a failure to take risks. As athletes, we create an idealistic “self” and when we fail to meet these demands, or we compare ourselves to others, we create unrealistic expectations for ourselves which ultimately cause us to live cautiously.
Many times our self-doubt is really a fear of failure, a fear that we will never accomplish those dreams that are so dear to our hearts. When this starts to happen, the world we live in within our mind is heading into a direction of mediocrity. The excuse is “I’m just not good enough,” but nevertheless, it is still an excuse that keeps us from becoming the best versions of ourselves. When an athlete stops comparing themselves to others, this is the beginning of taking ownership over what belongs to them; which is their mind.
So, how does an athlete take back their mind? They begin with being honest with themselves. Each athlete’s respective sport has its demands. The demands are what makes the sport so special and it takes a special person to make such a commitment. Recognizing this will begin to change the athlete’s mind to an appreciation for their sport. When an athlete is honest with where their mind currently stands, they can make the necessary adjustments to becoming stronger mentally, which will ultimately improve their athletic performance.
The second thing that an athlete can do is build their self-talk. Self-talk will build your confidence, but it must be something that becomes habitual. The idea that you are just not confident is a false belief system. This is because just like an actual sports skill; confidence can be trained. It is something that must be practiced daily. Self-talk can be expressed through affirmations, which are positive beliefs we have about ourselves.
Some of the examples of these can be “I’m a good person, I am strong, I am fast, I have what it takes, I can and will accomplish everything that I strive for.” It can also be a realization that even if we do not meet an athletic expectation, it is not an excuse to fall back into negative self-talk, but we can use these affirmations to give us hope for the next challenge in our lives.
Self-talk can be added into morning routines, workouts, and rest periods. Our thoughts can often feel like a car running without brakes, but self-talk, when done properly, becomes those brakes we need for the vehicle of our mind. The way we talk to ourselves builds mental muscles in our brains that were meant to be stressed in a positive way. Just as our physical muscles grow, so does our mind. When we believe good things about ourselves, we push towards becoming both better athletes and more positive individuals.
One of the best things you can invest in as an athlete, outside of your hard work and skill building, is to understand how your mind works and how you can use it to your advantage. When you figure out what makes you happy, sad, angry, excited, scared, and so forth you have taken back control of your mind, and as a result you can add or avoid the things that bring about these certain reactions. Self-talk is one of many ways to take back control of your mind.
So, take a chance on fixing your mind. You know what negativity has gotten you, so try something positive. Small steps forward are still steps forward, so don’t get caught up in the immediate result; instead enjoy figuring yourself out as an athlete and as a person, and soon you will reap the benefits of a more positive outlook that will create stronger performances, and most importantly, a stronger mind!