Get Your Head in the Game


Big events have a way of bringing an inordinate amount of energy into our lives. We imagine exactly what victory would feel like (our loved ones rushing the field to congratulate us, how we would look holding that championship trophy), but that energy can also manifest itself in the form of dread: What if I choke? Am I really prepared for this challenge?

And it’s exactly that mixed grab bag of emotions that have the power to either propel us toward victory or keep us stalled at the starting gate. We’ve turned to the experts to get their take on ways to help you clear out the mental clutter and emotionally prepare yourself for the next big challenge. Whether it’s the big fight, a new workout or even a new weight-loss challenge, right here is where you’ll find the best ways to get your head in the game and claim victory.

Get Centered
Whether you get there mentally or physically, many professional athletes take time out before a big challenge to step away from the chaos and find a little bit of peace. “Before a fight I would go…to the beach early in the morning and just stand at the water looking at the sun and soak it in,” said MMA World Champ Bas Rutten. “A good trick is to do a very heavy running drill on the treadmill early in the morning to clear your mind. And right after, go to the beach,” or find a calming place if you don’t live near the beach. Rutten uses this serenity to get centered before a fight and during a match if things aren’t going in his favor. “The most important thing in fighting is staying calm,” Rutten added.

Physical Preparation
Knowing that your body is capable of taking on the task at hand makes it easier to confront any physical challenge. And the only way to get to that place is to push yourself harder than the other guy. “When I am working with athletes and they tell me that they can’t go anymore, I simply tell them that somewhere there is a person who is going to push through this, and someday they are going to face off against [him],” said Brian Durbin, owner of Fitness Together in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. “I ask them if they are prepared to lose [against that person.]”

But even if your challenge isn’t a prizefighter match, but say, a grueling new workout, physical preparation is still a key factor in approaching the task. While you might not be able to complete the workout perfectly the first time, your body is strong enough to begin the task and it will eventually see you through to the completion of the challenge. “Knowing you are physically ready for the challenge catapults your self confidence,” Durbin said. “And pays huge dividends.”

If you ask any victorious athlete what he was thinking about during the most intense moments of the championship game, you probably won’t hear answers like, “the terrible weather we’ve been having,” or “I was just focusing on the pain in my right knee.” First-class athletes make a habit of staying laser-focused on the goal until the task is complete. Steve Siebold, former professional athlete and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class refers to this as “compartmentalizing emotions.” It ensures that no outside distractions wiggle their way into the athlete’s purview. “If I’m working with a PGA Tour pro, for example, I want to make sure that he’s focused on one thing and one thing only – winning that tournament,” said Siebold. “Any slight deviation in the performer’s mindset can make the difference between a win and a loss.”

Once you have the tools that are required to approach a new task, the only thing standing between yourself and victory is your personal level of skill and talent. But we all know that the strongest, fittest athletes are no match for an opponent who wants to win more than you do. It’s that drive, determination and mental acuity that will keep you coming back to face the challenge when things go wrong (and they always will). And the ones who “show up,” both mentally and physically, are the ones who succeed every single time.

By Dana Robinson