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)…
Some common responses to this exercise are: other competitors; who is watching and what will they think; the weather; referees, judges or other officials; aches, pains and injuries; past performances; future performances; life events such as relationships, an upcoming exam, or the speeding ticket we got last weekend… the list could go on and on….
If you look at these examples, you might notice a common theme. The subject of these thoughts are outside of our control, and there is little to nothing that we can do to change them, no matter how much mental energy we invest in them.
Let’s continue with this idea of mental energy as an investment. I am going to give you $100 worth of mental energy to spend on your performance. If you spent $10 on each of the thoughts mentioned above, you could have spent anywhere from $60 to $80 of your mental energy, with very little to show for it.
Spending your mental energy on things out of your control is a poor investment because you will receive nothing in return. Instead, invest your mental energy on things within your control, and in return you will see improvements in your performance.
There is a common adage in sport psychology and in coaching that there are three main performance-boosters totally within our control: attitude, preparation, and effort. Conveniently, these three combine nicely to form the acronym APE. If we invest our full $100 or mental energy on “feeding our APE,” we can expect a full return on that investment. This return comes in the form of improved performances and the reaching of our full potential.
So the next time you are going into a competitive situation, take a step back and think about where you are investing your mental energy, and remember to FEED THE APE!