The Art of Mental Training: The intersection between Sports Psychology & Entrepreneurship

It’s been a very long time since I last published a blog post. Been very busy building my business and been doing a good job of it… Writing a blog post feels like it both tickles my mind and exercises my brain cells & a chore… So I hope, if I can get off my fat arse, to write more often. Even if the writing is poor, but to try and get into more of a writing habit, so that it becomes more routine and less chore… After all my English teacher Mrs Silver was disappointed that I got into medicine, she thought I had a writing career ahead of me… So here is to Mrs Silver 🙂

It might come as a shock to you, but the main motivator of most people is almost always selfish at its core. So I’ve been reading quite a lot lately (inspired by some of my other entrepreneurial friends), and I sometimes feel that I don’t reap the full benefit unless I create a summary… So I guess by writing this summary as a blog post, I can benefit and so can others who read this.

In my mind entrepreneurship is a very mental game. I recently sat down with a young entrepreneur who wanted my 2c on business. And we came to discuss the issue of belief in self and he reminded me what a hurdle it is to get started. And one of the major hurdles is just believing that you can do it. That’s why earning your first dollar online is such a major milestone, just to prove to yourself that it IS possible, even if the money starts out as a measly trickle.

Entrepreneurship is quite a young field academically. It is a field with lots of room to grow. There is no doubt that mindset plays a massive role in an entrepreneur’s success, but this area of entrepreneurship I think is not spoken about so much in academic circles.

Sports Psychology on the other hand is an established field. There is probably quite a bit of money in the field. There are lots of books written on the subject, since mental toughness is a critical part of an athlete’s success. And there are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between the mindset required to succeed as an elite athlete and the mindset required to succeed in business.

My interest was recently rekindled after I listened to a great podcast with the “Peak Performance” coach Todd Herman.

This served as a springboard for my interest, and I dived into Amazon to buy up a few kindle books to look further into the topic.

One of the better books I read recently was “The Art of Mental Training – A Guide to Performance Excellence” (Amazon Affiliate Link – I get a tiny commission if you buy through this).

A word of “warning” about this book. It wasn’t quite what I expected. I was expecting more of an academic type text, but instead it was written more as a parable. Which actually made it highly readable and fun.

Anyway, lets get into the summary.

The major thing that I took away from the book was the following – control your mind and you will control your life. This might seem obvious, but at least for me it is a lot harder to do (but I’m working on it!).

“A champion teaches himself the skill of turning things around inside his head… He learns how to look at a negative setback both as temporary, and even as an opportunity for positive change”.

This ties into to things I read in the past from Martin Seligman, a leading psychologist and founder of the Postive Psychology movement. In his book Learned Optimism (Affiliate link, also a great book!), Seligman says that optimistic people tend to view negative events exactly as described above – temporary, changeable and not personal. Pessimistic people tend to view the world in the opposite manner (permanent, not changeable, personal).

For example, lets say you sit for an exam and fail. The pessimistic person might think “I’m stupid [personal]… I will never pass this subject [permanent, not changeable].” I have been guilty myself of this type of thinking, and I think naturally my personality tends to be on the more pessimistic side. Although I’m trying to change 🙂 See, not permanent! 🙂

The optimistic person, faced with the same event, might think “The exam was very hard [not personal]… Next time with a bit more study I’m sure I’ll pass [temporary, changeable].”

As Seligman’s book title implies, people who tend to be more pessimistic naturally can LEARN to master their thoughts… The first step is of course to be aware of your thoughts and once you are aware you can point out to yourself when you are having this permanent / personal / non-changeable thoughts and replace them with more appropriate responses.

“Never beat yourself up after a loss – there’s always something positive to be gained, even from a negative situation.”

This ties in to an important lesson in entrepreneurship and life in general. Perfectionists, like myself, tend to look at outcomes as either success or failure. This is not the most productive thought process.

Here is the better model:

Look at everything as an experiment. When you perform an action there is an outcome. The outcome can be either desirable or not desirable (notice: not black and white in terms of success or failure). But the process doesn’t end there.

If the outcome is not desirable, then you need to learn from the action / outcome and perform a little course-correction on the next action. Then observe the outcome and again, either you reach a desirable outcome, or you learn from the experience and course-correct with the next action. This is the action / outcome feedback loop.

Everything gives you the opportunity to debrief, learn and improve. This can be in business, but also in life.

For example, lets say there is a girl you like and you ask her out. She says no. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Learn from the experience and try and improve, either with the same girl or the next. “You must look [at a loss] long enough to learn from it – but then you must let it go.”

“Champions focus on what they can control. They know that while they can’t always control what takes place during an event, they can always control how they respond to an event. Within every setback lies the hidden opportunity for a great comeback.”

“Mental control starts with a decision

I found this sentence resonated particularly strongly with me. I feel it is very simple, yet very powerful.

You need to decide NOW that you are going to take control of your mind and by doing so you are going to take control of your life.

You need to be aware of it and set it as a goal. It might not be easy, and probably won’t. But once you decide to work on it, you will practice and succeed. Once your unleash the power of your mind, the world better watch out!

Visualization

Visualization and mental rehearsal are key to athletic peak performance. There is a great anecdote about Pele, one of the Brazilian all-time soccer champs.

Before EVERY game, Pele had a visualization routine, whereby he would go into the locker room an hour before the game and he would find a quiet place to lie down and cover his eyes. He then would proceed to watch a mental movie, a film of himself playing soccer on the beach in Brazil as a kid, feeling the feel of the grains of sand on his feet, the rush of the game and the joy it brought him. He felt like he was there, vividly reliving his love of the sport as a kid.

The next step in his visualization, he would relive the greatest moments in competitive soccer. The feeling of scoring goal after goal. And then he would move on to visualize himself performing at his peak in the upcoming game. Dribbling around players, scoring goals, the feeling of triumph.

After his visualization, he would stretch and then when he finally jogged into the stadium he was relaxed and primed for victory. In his mind, victory was already a reality, he had already experienced it.

Why is this so important? Visualization creates confidence and confidence allows you to perform in your peak mental state, maximizing your chances for success.

I know from my own personal experience that visualization is IMMENSELY powerful.

How can you apply this to entrepreneurship? There are lots of ways, but for example imagine in your mind’s eye your life 5 years from now… Where will you live? What will the house look like? Who will be in the house? What will your day look like? When you’re imagining this use all your senses and emotions… How will you feel… What scents do you breath in? Your sense of touch… What do you hear? By using all your senses you will help your visualization feel all the more real.

You should ingrain this into your daily routine. EVEN if it’s only 5 minutes, or even 2 minutes. You may be surprised by the effects…

Especially when you’re starting out, and success seems so fickle and imaginary, SEEING yourself succeed in your minds eye can help make your success seem real and inevitable. And that can only increase your chance to bring your dreams to reality. “If you ever hope to achieve [your vision of the future], you need to see it and feel it, vividly, in your mind’s eye, and not just occasionally.”

What’s your dream? Figure it out and then visualize it, every day!

“Interrupt negative self-talk and images the moment they arise… Replace them with positive self-talk and positive images.”

Gonzalez, the author, also tells the story of a jet fighter pilot who incorporated this into his visualization exercise. He would see himself performing confidently, automatically, quickly and would even notice in this visualization negative self-talk arising and instantly shutting them down and replacing with positive self-talk.

He recommends performing the visualization exercise after entering a state of relaxation / meditation. He mentions a particular technique, but any mindfulness meditation type technique will do. I’ll be writing some future posts about this (I try to meditate pretty much every day, even if its just for 10 minutes).

“Are you the kind who likes to play it safe and just do alright? Or are you the kind who’s willing to take a chance on possibly failing in order to accomplish something amazing? More than anything else, it’s a fear of failure that keeps people from achieving their full potential in sports, in life, in business – in everything.”

Wow, this really hit home! I think this is SUCH a key to succeeding in life…

Most people live within their little box, afraid to step outside. They have their mediocre career, mediocre spouse, mediocre everything. They are afraid to take the risk in order to achieve an OUTSTANDING life, an OUTSTANDING career, OUTSTANDING relationships.

This is something I really need to work on, especially in the relationship space!

Gonzalez says that fear of failure “is nothing more than a perceived psychological threat to your ego and self-esteem.” It’s a state of mind where a person is afraid of looking bad or else “such a perfectionist that he’s become overly self-critical.” This state hold you back and kills your chance of success. It cripples you.

So how do we get around this? You first have to turn failure on its head. Learn to accept that the only way to accomplish anything great it to risk failing at it first. Without occasional failures, you can’t learn and get better. On the path to greatness, failure is inevitable. When you learned to walk, you failed. You fell and fell and fell, but each time you got up. Sometimes you cried. Sometimes you didn’t. But eventually through enough attempts you learned to hold your balance. To waddle a few more meters. Imagine if as kids we had a crippling fear of failure?? We would all still be crawling around everywhere!!

As adults our ego kicks in. Our ego becomes something to protect, more important than our ability to grow and learn. So we end up protecting our ego, playing it safe and in the process, stunting our intellectual, emotional and entrepreneurial growth.

When an athlete “fails” he needs to use it as an opportunity for learning and growth. Debrief and analyze dispassionately so that next time you can perform better. Failure = valuable feedback.

failure

If we can really INTERNALIZE this, our lives will change dramatically for the better.


Back to the athletic analogy “fear can turn a competitor from someone trying to win, to someone trying not to lose.” Are you playing to win in life? Or are you playing just NOT TO LOSE??? Most people play not to lose, the time has come to play to WIN in life!

So how can we manage fear? “Fear happens inside your head, and thus it can be managed.” This is encouraging. A degree of fear is normal, but it is important to stop it from getting out of control and taking over. The way to control this fear is to come back into the present moment and the easiest way to do that is again routed in mindfulness, in focusing on the inflow and outflow of breath and to be aware of your thoughts. Then drown out the emotion with positive self-talk and images. See in your minds eye little wins you have had in the past. Tell yourself “I can do this.”

Many athletes apparently create their own affirmations (“I’m good, I’m fast, I’m strong, I dominate”). Use these affirmations in conjunction with focusing on the breath to bring you into the present and create a positive attitude. This is ESPECIALLY important when things are going bad. Shut down your internal critic and turn on the self-love.

Another important point is to not be outcome focused but rather to focus on action. Outcomes we generally can’t control. We can do everything in our power to PREPARE, but the outcome itself is not dependent solely on ourselves.

If you don’t meet a revenue goal, don’t beat yourself up. Be proud of the actions you took. Learn from mistakes and “failures”. I am naturally extremely outcome focused. For a long time I was quite miserable because I was so far away from the lofty revenue goals I set. But when I learned to appreciate the actions I took and the DOING, it started to free me up from this dependency on the RESULT. And it made me happier.

“Pinpoint your weakness and set out to work extra hard on them.”

Work out what your weak points are that are preventing you from achieving your goals and the life you want. Then you need the self discipline to work on these points. It won’t be easy, but champions are prepared to work hard in order to achieve their dreams.

Changing Mental State

There may be times when you need to quickly change your state from nervousness, fear and anxiety to a state of confidence and success.

By taking control of your thoughts, you can take control of the emotions and feelings that create your state.

Gonzalez teaches that there are three elements to quickly bringing about a change of state.

First is self-talk. Ask yourself what would be the self-talk of a champion before a competition?
(Business analogy: let’s say you are before an important meeting, you might think to yourself, “If Donald Trump was going into this meeting, what would he be telling himself in his mind?”)

Pretend that you are the champion (or business mogul). Be an actor. Imagine hearing their self-talk.

Second, is the the way you carry your body. How would a champions body and posture be like as he is preparing for battle (OR: how would Donald hold himself before the big meeting?).

Move your body around. Adjust your posture as you continue the self talk of the champion.

The third element is breathing. How would the champion (or Donald) be breathing now? Maintain the self talk and posture as you focus on breathing like a champion would breath.

This can take only a few minutes but apparently can result in a quick change of state, from a state of fear to a winning mindset.

“Be totally in the Present… that is the key.”

Play in the present moment, where mind and body are one. This creates a quiet mind during competition, in the present performance is flawless and automatic.

“A true champion… learns how to feel no pressure, because pressure is created by anxiety, and anxiety can only exist if one allows one’s thoughts to wander away from the Present to some uncertainty in the future or to some remembered failure of the past…”

Man, oh man! This is such an important point. It is damned hard… But as you practice mindfulness, and the power of focusing on the Present, on being present, you start realizing how many damned thoughts you have racing around your head (or at least I do!). These thoughts often aren’t helpful, but when you learn to be fully in the Present (isn’t it interesting that Present also means gift?), you learn to NOTICE these thoughts but not be carried away by them. An analogy I like is that you are observing your thoughts like someone sitting at a bus stop on a quiet country road. As a car (a thought) passes by, you notice it, but you don’t get on it. Ah, there goes a thought! And then go back to observing the traffic.

Mindfulness and being in the present is not about suppressing thoughts, but rather about gently noting them, and then returning to the here and now. Focusing on your breathing is a technique that can help center you in the present. I also like to note “I’m sitting”…”I’m walking…” and also I find that focusing on the soles of my feet help, notice the textures I am feeling there.

Using mindfulness, when you are in the fully present state, you can turn the mundane into the interesting and enjoyable. If when I’m in the shower I focus on the feeling of the water on my back and running down my body, instead of the usual thoughts racing about my head about the night before or the day ahead, it turns the shower into a whole different experience. When I’m drinking, if I focus on the feeling of the cold water running down my gullet and then the coolness pooling in my stomach, it turns drinking into an activity full of wonder instead of the usual gulping rush…

It’s a challenge to master, but that’s where I want to get to. Remember, if you control your mind, you control your life! Mindfulness is an important step in the right direction because it brings with it AWARENESS, which is the first step to a quiet mind living in the present.

“The past is gone… the future lies ahead… So in reality, today is all we have. And today is here.”

So, if I have to summarize what I learned from the book in a few dot points, here goes:

1) Make a decision to control your mind, so you can control your life.
2) Failure = Valuable Feedback. Learn from it and improve.
3) Visualize your ideal life, every day!
4) Practice mindfulness meditation and focus on mindfulness throughout the day. Live life in the present.
5) Play to win in life! Don’t play not to lose.
6) Figure out your weaknesses that are preventing you from achieving peak performance in life and work on them!
7) Switch into an empowering mental status by focusing on how a Champion thinks, stands and breaths. Have some positive affirmations ready.

 

Perhaps it sounds easy, but each of these take a lot of work!

I hope you enjoyed this summary, but if not that’s cool since it’s mainly for myself 🙂
If you have friends who you think might benefit from this, hit up one of the sharing buttons.

Leave any comments / thoughts below… any other books you recommend?

 

Author: David Janner

David Janner is a former M.D. and the Editor-in-Chief of MAKE APP Magazine. His passion is app development and app marketing. You should follow him on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ in order to get the most important industry related news, hot off the press. If you would like to arrange a 15 minute app marketing session to discuss your App Store Optimization strategy, contact him here.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Mental Training: The intersection between Sports Psychology & Entrepreneurship”

      1. Hey Dan!
        Wow, thanks so much you kind comment, I’m honoured that you read my post!
        Your book really resonated with me, especially the core concept of making a decision to control your mind so that you can then take control of your life!
        Thanks so much for writing it and putting it out into the world!

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