Imagine a basketball game where the score is tied with just 5 seconds to go, a foul has been made and now one player will get to do a free throw. One throw, one that he or she has done a million times. It should be so easy to make that one basket, but now the pressure is huge because this could win the game.
Do you think this player might react differently to the very same shot during practice? What is the big difference, it's the same basket and the same player, right?! I am pretty sure you will say “well the pressure is on, so it's all in the head now”. We know this to be true, that in that moment, it is not how fit that athlete is, but how fit his or her thinking is, especially under pressure, just like Tommy Bolt says “The mind messes up more shots than the body.”
It would make a lot of sense then to practice the mental game – I mean, the best athletes always do, so why shouldn't we?
“What you are thinking, what shape your mind is in, is what makes the biggest difference of all.” - Willie Mays
What is so different in sports compared to real life? Why don't we practice our mental game on a regular basis for everyday life, which tends to throw us a lot more difficult curve-balls than what we get in the sports arena?
Don't you want better computing power with faster software?
Don't you want less glitches, bug fixes and especially crashes??
Don't you want to be the “player” in real life that makes the shot with only 5 seconds left on the clock?
Well, how are you going to get there if you never practice?
“Things don’t correct themselves, you’ve got to go out there and work hard to correct them” - Tom Brady
Every day you are creating your very own mental game app. You have programmed it for years and are still reprogramming it every single day. Do you even know what your inner podcast is broadcasting, or are you so used to the same old, same old, that you don't even realize what is being said? Stop and take a listen – and if you do not like the daily podcast you are listening to, make sure you change it - because you can!
What would your daily self-talk sound like in the above example? “I cannot miss this shot! I cannot let the team down! Shit, what if I miss. I cannot screw this one up. What will everybody think? I can't be a loser.” The end result of that type of thinking might look like this:
Or does it sound like this? “You can do it. You got this. This is just like practice. Take it easy. Breathe. It is just you and the basket. My team is here for me. I can do this.” That might look like this:
I believe that we have the power to change our inner dialogue, and how we use our brains. In one of my favorite sports psychology books, Mind Gym, it says “ Sports psychology is the science of success. Studies show that within a group of athletes of equal ability, those who receive mental training outperform those who don't almost every time. Mental skills, like physical skills, need constant practice.” So let's get practicing then!
"Ok, I'm listening, but how?"
Daily meditation works really great for increasing your brains capacity. Think of your brain as a mind gym, one that you need to practice in daily to be in the best shape. Did you know that a daily meditation practice changes structures in the brain for the better with just as little as 8 weeks of meditation? Did you know that a session of meditation lowers the amount of stress and anxiety in your body? Did you know that it also improves your memory and learning capabilities(A), as well as lowers levels of inflammation? (B)
“The mind is a powerful thing and most people don't use it properly.” -Mark McGwire
Calming the mind and giving it a chance to recover is so important, especially in this day and age of constant over stimulation from all the tech, computers and social-media we use everyday. We are constantly being bombarded by stuff that our brain is trying to sort through, so giving it a chance to relax and recover, and training it in how to respond in difficult situations is worth a million.
“While you can't always control what happens, you always can control how you respond to it. It's not the situation but how you respond that makes the difference.” -Mind Gym
Listen to what neuroscientist Sara Lazar has to say about meditation:
I really like to use an app called Headspace, which I use daily for my meditation practice. (Full disclosure, I am not affiliated, I just think that it is a great app.)
“Stop, Breathe & Think” is also a great app, where you choose keywords describing your current mood and they will suggest a meditation that suits that, which is pretty cool. There are of course a lot more meditation apps out there, so do not hesitate to explore further to find one that suits you.
When you start out you might not feel an immediate difference, and that's OK because change takes time. Just commit to the process and show up every day to do the work. Over time you and the people around you will notice a difference.
When to meditate? It is of course up to you, however I think it is a good plan to outsmart yourself from the beginning and plan it in as if it was an important meeting. If you don't chances are you will never get to it. I do it first thing in the morning. It is the least chance for me to get interrupted and I also feel that I set a really nice tone for the day. Some people like to do it in the evening, but I find that I tend to fall asleep, and often other things will come in between, and it becomes a struggle to get it done. But, hey, just try it out and see what works for you.
If you still find this to be too much, try a mini meditation by taking 3 deep breaths and really focusing on each breath. Your inner commentary might say something like “one, I breathe in, one, I breathe out. Two, I breathe in, two, I breathe out. Three, I breathe in, three, I breathe out” And you are done, simple as that! Try it next time you are waiting in line at the grocery store or stuck in the car.
It needs to be said that a healthy mind needs good nutrition and good hydration. There is a very strong gut-brain connection in the body, and if your gut is not in order neither will your brain be. (C) That is however an entire topic on its own, and not the focus on today's blog.
Great news for you readers - I have a free month of Headspace to give away, as a part of their give some get some program! Yes, that is correct, anyone in the world can send in their reason as to why I should give them a free month of subscription. Rules: Summarize your reasons into a maximum of 3 sentences, and email them to me before midnight CET Monday the 27th of February 2017, at email@example.com. I will announce the winner later that same week!
So let me ask you again,
Is your mental game app up and running?
If not, I think it is time for an update and some bug fixes, don't you? 😉
A. Harvard Neuroscientist
B. Meditation and Inflammation in the body
C. Heal your Gut, Heal your brain
Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness
Making meditation easier
Mind Gym by Gary Mack with David Casstevens (I really can recommend this book to anyone who wants a short and user friendly book to the point on Sports Psychology.)