Focus More on the Mental Game
I have worked with a large number of performers over the years, from young athletes with big dreams, to elite athletes representing their country, to performing artists, and professionals in a variety of fields, in particular medicine. What I have found is that once these performers have established the foundations required in their fields (for instance in sport, the physical fitness, technique, and tactics) then it is the mental aspect that separates performers who achieve their goals from those who don’t. First, having the right mind set and consistent, well-structured mental preparation enables you to get the most out of your training. Second, when you have a major event in your field (a competition, an exam, an interview, a presentation or board meeting) then you have the mental skills to regulate your energy, remain focused and calm, and help you withstand the expectations, pressures and distractions. This makes the difference between a good performer and an excellent performer, who can actually lift their performance when it counts most.
I’ve sometimes asked performers; “how important do you think the mental aspect of being a professional in your field is compared to the physical and technical aspects?” Of course there are always some people who say that the mind is less important than the physical and technical aspects, but I think most people would say that it is as important or more important. Having said that, I make it clear that all the mental training in the world won’t help if you’re not physically or technically capable of performing well in your profession. However, I think you’d agree that, without a well-trained mind, there is less chance of success.
I might follow up with a second question, “how many hours a day do you spend on the physical and technical development in your field?” Many would say that it’s a full time job, or that they spend a few hours every day on physical and technical development. Then I ask, “so does that mean you’re spending an equivalent amount of time on mental training?” Most likely, the answer is “no”, which I would expect, but the question is asked to make performers aware of the need to focus more on such an important contributor to their field.
What I have found in my many years working with performers, the main reason they come to see me is because, despite the fact that they do well in practice, or in training, or in a normal work situation, when they get evaluated or have to present at an important event they can’t seem to translate that practice into meaningful results. They find it really frustrating and often disheartening. There are a number of factors that make performing and being evaluated different from the usual day-to-day practice. But the main difference is entirely in the mind.
You probably already do some informal mental training – you try to motivate yourself, think good thoughts, increase your focus, get differing advice from a variety of people who are already professionals, put more time into practice. But, do you do it methodically, as you would do with the physical and technical aspects of your training? Are you organized and consistent in your approach? Possibly not. Yet I would imagine that your physical and technical training would be organized and consistent, because trial and error is neither an effective nor efficient way to improve. I would think that to become a professional in your field there would be a systematic program that guides your physical and technical training in order to maximize your efforts.
There are some things that you can do:
If you change your mindset, recognize that the mental side of your performance is just as important as the physical, tactical and technical sides, and commit to a well-structured mental training program, you will be a more confident and well-prepared performer with a greater chance of achieving your goals.
Be mindful – it’s worth it!
Dr. Patsy Tremayne