Even if you are not the least bit athletic or interested in participating in sports, you can learn how to be a winner by applying the principles culled from sports psychologists, who focus on the mental skills that turn competitors into champions. By learning the four C’s of mental toughness, you too can be a champion – in any endeavor you choose.
Commitment to winning
It is essential to take the time to reflect on why you really want to win and do well. Before setting out to achieve your goal, consider whether you want to succeed to please other people (such as parents, peers, partners, spouses) or to meet some external judgment of “how you should be.” If this is the case, it will be very difficult to sustain your efforts because your actions are motivated by factors outside of you. In contrast, if you driven by a genuine desire that comes from within, it will be much easier to increase and sustain actions needed to make it to the winner’s circle. Rather than trying to motivate yourself from outside, you are inspired by your inner being. Your winning instinct is engaged.
Confidence and optimism
In one major study, the researchers found that the most mentally tough athletes were also the most confident. They were optimistic and hopeful when facing uncertain outcomes, a major factor in determining which of two types of behavior were adopted: continued striving or giving up and turning away. Optimistic individuals are more likely to increase their efforts to attain goals, whereas pessimistic people are likely to withdraw from situations and disengage from attempts to reach their desired outcomes. To be more mentally tough, learn to replace negative thoughts (“I made a mistake”) with positive thoughts (“I can win if I stick to my game plan”). If you fall into a spiral of uncertain thoughts, don’t dwell on the voice that tells you you’re not good enough. Instead, do something that builds your self-esteem, such as recounting past successes. And remember, when you make an error, refocus on what’s ahead of you. A mistake is already history, so learn from the situation and move forward.
Control your emotions
The difference between winning and losing often comes down to the ability to control your emotional responses when facing difficulties or disappointments. One emotion that often leads to a poor outcome is anxiety. This can take the physical form of butterflies in your stomach or the mental version of confusion and lack of concentration. To counter anxiety, try breathing deeply, stretching, or muscle relaxation. Remember that anxiety and excitement are flip sides of the same coin. They share the same feeling state of nervous energy. Change your anxiety into excitement by anticipating a successful outcome and accepting that nervousness is a result of stepping out of your comfort zone and up to the next level.
View a stressful situation as a Challenge
Champions have the ability to cope with stressful situations because they exert control over the stress they experience. Here are three strategies they use. First, break down any stressful situation into smaller, more manageable pieces and determine what you can and cannot control. Now you are ready to direct your energies towards the elements you can control, which sets the conditions for a successful outcome. Another strategy is mental imagery. Create images in your mind’s eye were you see yourself performing a specific task successfully and feel the resulting sense of satisfaction and competency. A third tactic is logical analysis. By evaluating past successes and failures, you can think of solutions to any possible problems before they arise. In this way, you are lowering the intensity of the stress you may experience.
Are you ready to put yourself in the winner’s circle by improving your mental toughness? Athletes know that if they want to succeed they need to practice. The same is true for you. Repetition is the key to developing the mental acumen you need to unlock your potential and perform at your best. “Just Do It!”