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Keep Your Eye on the Prize

December 10, 2018 / Well-Being
Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Mental Focus – It’s Necessary

If you participate in any type of sport, whether it be tennis, football, hockey, basketball or race car driving, it takes a significant amount of mental focus to excel. Not only must your body endure fatiguing practices, often lasting many hours each day, but your mind must also undertake a practice of focus, determination, motivation, and steadfastness. All of this can be quite taxing on aspiring athletes. So, how does the marathon runner stay focus on their 26.1 mile run? How does the pro basketball player tune out the roaring crowd when they are setting up a shot at the free-throw line? And how do you stay mentally fit while you’re improving the athleticism of your own body?

Whether you’re #TheSeriousAthlete or not, your mind can be cluttered with distracting thoughts that can deter you from your main goal. Mental clarity is something you have to practice, just like you would with any sport or activity at which you’d like to be more proficient. Here are a few techniques you can do to help guide you toward greater mental focus and agility.

So How Do You Stay Focused?

Two things that interfere with mental clarity are “mind chatter” and  “negative self-talk.” These can be both overwhelming and detrimental when it comes to the athlete trying to stay focused on succeeding in their task. Mind chatter refers to the constant voices running through your head; they may be recalling events of the past, forecasting about the future, wondering what to cook for dinner. Our minds are consistently running. A form of that mind chatter is negative self-talk. These are the voices in your head telling you that you’re not good enough or that you “should” have scored that last point. Thinking this way drains the psyche and lowers your spirit. Conditions like anxiety and depression can set in if this type of mental heaviness persists.

Easier Said Than Done

Clearing your mind sounds easier said than done, but there are ways to help with this. One way to get things out of your head is to talk with someone. Whether it’s a friend you trust or even a therapist, it can be a good idea to get those running thoughts out of your head. A non-judgmental friend that has a good ear for listening would be a good candidate to be a sounding board for you. You just want to be able to unload those nagging thoughts and feelings. Sometimes you really don’t need solid answers or advice from the other person; just someone who will listen. You’ll be surprised how good you feel after lifting that weight off your shoulders. Simply being listened to and acknowledged can be a powerful thing; it allows for that darkness to clear and leaves room for positive self-talk, confidence, and encouragement.

If there is no one around to listen, you can do some other things on your own to relieve that mental stress. Keeping a journal or writing down what ever is on your mind is another great way to seek mental clarity. Whatever is running through your mind, just write it down; it doesn’t have to make any sense. It’s just a free association exercise that cleans the mental closet from all that clutter.

Clear the Mind

When the mind is clear, you’re less likely to be distracted by unwanted thoughts when you’re trying to focus on the task at hand. It leaves room for more positive thinking, too. The self-talk can shift to encouraging, supportive messages rather than negative false statements about your strength or ability. Fill your mind with positive words and accolades: “I CAN do this. Stay strong. Move forward. I look amazing!” Your positive self-talk accompanied with a run-down of what you need to do in the moment (e.g. keep your eye on the ball, take long strides, breathe) will keep you centered.

And as you’re able to push away the distracting thoughts in your own mind, you’ll gain the ability to push aside the distractions that come from the outside, too: loud sounds, flashy signs, cheering crowds, the other athletes. You’ll be able to focus on what you need to do so you can ensure a more positive outcome.

Like Anything Else in Your Training Regimen

But remember, this all takes practice and more practice. Be consistent with your mental exercises just as you would with your physical exercises. Keep your journal nearby to take notes, meet with your therapist regularly, tape positive messages to yourself on the bathroom mirror. These mental exercises may seem like simple tasks when compared to the effort you put into preparing for your next lift, your next game, or your next marathon, but the simple act of clearing your mind will have vast and long-lasting results.

Knowing you have the right underwear is one less thing to worry about as you focus on tackling the challenges of your sport.

Posted by
John Cottrell, Ph.D.
John Cottrell is originally from Oakland, California and holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. He is also a certified Fitness Trainer, Yoga Instructor, and Sports Nutritionist. He is fitness enthusiast and has a passion for working out at the gym. John uses his psychology experience and devotion to fitness and yoga to understand and offer the benefits of a body and mind connection to his clients.

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