I’m sure most of you have heard that there’s a difference between being a great athlete and being a great competitor. Obviously physical performance is very important, but one of the key ingredients to being a great competitor is your mental game. If you’re serious about competing then it’s critical to give equal training to the mental side.
Have you ever noticed when you’re doing a repetitive daily task, like making your coffee and breakfast or driving to work, that your mind is off somewhere else? You’re thinking in the future, “Did I pack my training shoes for gym after work?” or the past, “I probably could have done an extra set on my leg press at the gym yesterday.” That’s called autopilot mode and it means you’re not experiencing the current moment. This same thought process can also happen in a competition and is unhelpful for your performance. I have suffered from this before in competitions but have learnt a method to overcome this way of thinking: it’s called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is about experiencing the world in the ‘here and now.’
Mindfulness is about experiencing the world in the ‘here and now.’ The concept has been around for many years and is helpful to reduce stress, enhance performance and manage emotions. Human cognition is amazingly brilliant, yet also very fallible, which leaves us prone to irrational thinking. Competitions are stressful and often full of emotion, making the perfect cocktail for irrational thinking and drawing attention away from the important things to focus on, which can be performance hindering. This is where mindfulness steps in. It allows you to regain focus on what’s important in the current moment, such as the competition, rather than focus on all the unhelpful, negative or external thoughts. The ideal competition mind, for me, is to be focused on what I have to do – gate 1, check, gate 2 check, gate 3 check, exit. I ride best when I keep focused and keep it simple.
Everyone has negative or unhelpful thoughts; the way I control these tendencies in a competition is by observing these thoughts, recognising them just as thoughts, with no judgement, assess if they are helpful or unhelpful, and then refocus on my simple, in-the-moment task.
I suggest doing further research into this technique by either contacting a sports psychologist and/or trolling the web for sports related cognitive techniques. To get you started, here’s a YouTube clip about human cognition that I found interesting – Cognition: How your mind can amaze and betray you.
By Janine Jungfels – Pushys sponsored athlete