How to build Mental Strength
As athletes, we spend a lot of time and energy training our bodies — fitting in long runs, busting out two-a-day workouts, hitting the weight room, and refining our skills. And though these things are essential to success, mental strength is just as, if not more important than, physical strength. Our brains not only command our bodies to perform but they also help us navigate the complexities of the game. And anyone who has ever mentally pushed past physical pain knows the true power of the mind.
“Our brain is the governor of everything we do and the ultimate decider of the quality of the work output and outcomes”, says John Sullivan, Ph.D., a Clinical Sport Psychologist and Applied Sport Scientist. Here, Sullivan shares his top three tips for building mental strength to help you put mind over matter when everything’s on the line.
Adequate rest is integral to any athlete’s performance. In fact, clocking Z’s can actually improve and enhance your performance. “Remaining in the healthily range of sleep — seven to 10 hours for adults nightly — allows for better reaction time, decision making, speed, and endurance”, says Sullivan. He recommends trying to stay on a consistent sleep schedule by creating a bedtime routine, reducing caffeine intake, dimming or eliminating light in the room and reducing screen time from smartphones, tablets, laptops, and television.
Emotions play a large part in both sport and life, so mismanaging them comes at a high cost. If you can control your emotions, you can create an optimal state of performance. “Too much or too little emotional energy can interrupt an athlete’s vision, processing information, movement patterns, speed, and endurance”, says Sullivan. He recommends practicing some methods to assist with mental readiness like diaphragmatic breathing, which is as deep breathing technique taught to high-level performers to recover quickly, improve execution, and condition responses that are optimal under stress.
Anyone who’s ever successfully Zen-ed out knows: Meditation is not only highly beneficial to your mental state, it’s becoming more and more essential in our ever-crazy lives. Sullivan points out that meditation helps regulate emotions, increases resiliency, and positively increases brain-based capacities, most importantly: focus and concentration. “The evidence is clear that with regular practice, not only does the structure of the brain change, but so too does its function”, says Sullivan. He suggests a training program of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, to enhance your ability to focus and concentrate, two critical components of performance and mental readiness.