Mental skills training is a relatively new discipline, having been popularized in the last 25 years or so. It has been around for much longer, but without a name or a brand attached to it. When working with teams and individuals I often ask the question, “What percentage of your game is psychological?” To this question, most – if not all – performers agree that there is a mental component to their craft that deserves considerable attention, yet all too often there is only a small percentage of practice devoted to mental skills. I was recently thinking about this phenomenon and the reasons behind it.
As you are probably well aware, there is only so much information that our brains can process before mental fatigue inevitably sets in. This often happens when we try to do or think about too many things over a prolonged period of time. Mental fatigue occurs when we exceed our limited stores of mental capacity, or what I like to call “mental energy.” We spend mental energy every time we use our brains to process information, an example being when we are deep in thought or completing complex tasks.
The ability to manage thoughts, process information and think critically is an important predictor of success in most performance domains. Unfortunately, when our mental energy is drained, cognitive performance suffers, as does our ability to complete tasks effectively and efficiently.
Often, during athletic competition and other performance scenarios, we do not spend enough of our limited mental energy on things that actually benefit our performance. Take a moment now to think about what you spend mental energy on before an important competitive event (examples being an athletic competition, job interview, or business proposal)…
Oftentimes, in a competition between equally talented opponents, the competitor with the greatest confidence and self-belief comes away on top. One simple way to enhance confidence is to surround our self with messages that communicate confidence. We are constantly sending messages, both to ourselves and to those around us, and we do so in a number of ways. The obvious way we send messages is through verbal communication, meaning through the use of language. This occurs both at an audible level, where we are communicating to others, and an inaudible level, where we communicate to our self through inner thought. Less obvious is the messages that are being sent through nonverbal communication, such as the messages being communicated by our body. If we coordinate the messages that we are sending to communicate confidence – both verbally and non-verbally – we can fully expect to see a boost in our self-belief, allowing us to improve performance and achieve more.
The second most common question I receive from my family behind “What is Sport Psychology?” is “What can you do with that?” I appreciate the curiosity, and understand our field’s developing notoriety. However, I believe there is much more value in what I study than simply a means to a job. If sport is commonly seen as a microcosm of our larger society, then the skills developed within its context are equivalent to the ones needed in the greater life experience. Given sports have encompassed my entire childhood development, perhaps a more prudent inquiry from my family should be “What are you doing with [sport psychology]?”
New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to adhere to. We have all heard, or know from personal experience, of failed resolutions lasting no longer than a couple of weeks. Fortunately, the field of sport and performance psychology is full of insights for how to turn the desire to change into a reality. In this post, you will receive several suggestions for making your 2016 resolution a story of success.