Why We Need a Proactive Approach to Mental Training
Do you hold onto the belief that mental training is only reserved for individuals experiencing mental health and performance problems? If you do, then you are definitely not alone. The vast majority of the population sees mental training as a way to heal or fix someone who is suffering from a mental block or negative thinking.
What if there was another way to view mental training? What if we could actually use mental training in a proactive manner to help improve our performance and position ourselves to be ready whenever a problem area arises.
Stigma Surrounding Mental Training
One of the main reasons our society does not view mental training and performance psychology in general as a proactive tool is due to stigma.
Much of this stigma stems from the culture deeply embedded in sports and business that to be great you must be mentally tough. Utilizing a psychologist or a mental performance coach must mean there is something wrong with us and shows weakness as a result.
This is one of the main reasons so many people do not seek help when it comes to their mental health. I came incredibly close to falling into this trap myself.
Up until I began working with a mental performance coach, I held to this very belief. In order to succeed I knew I had to be tough, which meant showing no signs of weakness. However, simply wanting to be mentally tough did not resolve any of my struggles. In fact, it made them worse.
I was dealing with such high levels of anxiety and fear and I believed there was something wrong with me as a result. I felt hesitant to reach out for help because I did not want to seem weak.
Even when I finally began working with a mental coach, I was still too embarrassed to tell my coaches and teammates.
Whenever we would have our weekly phone calls, I would hide in my car so that no one would know who I was talking to. On road trips, I would lie to my teammates whenever I would have to go call him.
All of this was derived from my perception that somehow there was something wrong with me for seeking mental training. My experience is not unique, there are plenty of young athletes and non-athletes who are forgoing working on their mental health out of fear of being ridiculed and thought of as weak.
How Stigma Holds Us Back
Stigma typically comes from our own perceptions as to how someone will respond to mental training. No one wants to be viewed as having something wrong with them, so naturally, we try to put on a cover.
This cover results in our negative thinking either becoming worse or developing in the first place.
From an athletic standpoint, the desire to be put in the starting lineup is at the forefront of most people’s goals. If you are already in a starting position, you do not want to be replaced.
So, we will try to do everything we can to appear as tough and ready for the job as possible. This means not seeking the aid of mental training. Doing so would show we have a weakness and lead to the possibility of being benched.
No coach wants to play someone they believe to be a liability.
However, by holding to this view and allowing stigma to control our decisions, we miss out on an incredible opportunity. The longer we dismiss mental training, the more we miss out on a possible edge over the competition.
Not only that, but when we are faced with adversity, anxiety, or depression we will not have the tools and techniques to protect ourselves.
We fear being ridiculed and judged for building our minds. Instead of seeing it as another facet of training, we think there must be something wrong with us.
Our culture has formed the opinion that minds are either strong or weak. If we need to improve our mental faculties, then we must have a weakness that makes us inadequate.
This is a limiting way of viewing mental training. It holds us back from developing all the areas of ourselves that will help us lead a fulfilling and successful life.
The weakness does not lie in seeking mental training, but rather in the absence of developing these skills.
"The longer we dismiss mental training, the more we miss out on a possible edge over the competition. Not only that, but when we are faced with adversity, anxiety, or depression we will not have the tools and techniques to protect ourselves."
What is a Proactive Approach to Mental Training?
The word proactive is defined as acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes. Opposed to the term reactive, which is defined as recurring as the result of something.
Currently, much of our culture operates under a reactive frame of mind when it comes to mental training. Currently it is used in response to experiencing hardships or problem areas. While psychological work is very beneficial utilized in this way, I believe it is also limiting.
If we only employ psychological training and interventions after the fact, we vastly limit the benefits it can have. Instead, I believe we should view the tools and techniques which are usually reserved for a reactionary response as proactive measures.
There are two ways we can think about mental training in this fashion: as a performance enhancer and as a means to prepare.
One of the best ways we can begin to implement mental training in a proactive way is with the intent of enhancing our performance. Typically, this will be thought of in an athletic sense, but it encompasses so much more.
Whether we are an athlete, student, or professional, training on some level will have taken place, especially if we aim at achieving greatness. However, this rarely involves mental training.
Athletics pushes physical development to an extreme. No matter your sport, if you have the desire to succeed there are countless hours put into improving and fine-tuning mechanics.
If you are a professional, there is no doubt you’ve spent numerous hours studying, learning, and developing the skills needed to succeed in your profession.
However, developing mental skills is often an afterthought. This is quite interesting, especially when you realize that once a certain level of skill is reached, something else is needed to separate the good from the great.
What usually distinguishes individuals who excel and those that remain average is psychological. Once talent level begins to even out, something must come into play that pushes someone a bit higher.
Who wouldn’t want another angle that could give them an edge over their competitors? While everyone else is stuck focusing solely on their physical skills, you could get a leg up by incorporating mental training.
Here are some of the most popular tools that can be used to enhance performance from a mental standpoint:
- Imagery: Also known as visualization, this is a process where we imagine ourselves performing an action successfully. For example, a baseball player may perform mental imagery to see himself hitting. Not knowing the difference between something real and imagined, our brains perceive visualization as equal to reality. Studies have shown that the neural representation of imagery reflects that of actually performing the action.
- Self-Talk: Athlete or non-athlete, talking down to yourself is going to have a negative impact on how you perform. Through mental training, you can build a more positive internal dialogue. This will result in an increase in confidence and lead to an improvement in performance.
- Mindfulness: Having the ability to focus on a specific task greatly improves our odds of success. Mindfulness is focus training. Through the act of concentrating our attention on the current moment, we build the brainpower to focus whenever it is necessary.
- Goal Setting: Understanding how to properly and effectively set goals will help put us on the right path to success. This goes for large goals and the smaller ones that are needed along the way.
- Time Management: Do you control your time or does your time control you? While we cannot do anything about the amount of time given to us in a day, we can do something about how we choose to use it. Part of mental training involves learning how to view time as a resource and use it more efficiently to our advantage.
Another way mental training can be used in a proactive manner is to prepare ourselves for life’s situations. It’s well known that life is full of ups and downs, with each one of us facing our own set of failures along the way.
With this information known, why wait until a negative experience happens until you begin learning the skills to make it through? By utilizing mental training beforehand, we can build strength of mind. Putting us in the optimal position to be able to handle whatever life throws our way.
From an athletic standpoint, we know the higher up we go in skill level, the more pressure there will be. With this added pressure comes the possibility for anxiety, fear of failure, and all sorts of other negative thought patterns.
What we can do is begin to build up our minds along the way. Rather than use psychological tools to treat symptoms, we can use them to prevent and better manage them in the first place.
Thinking about the list of tools listed above, we can look at a similar list of benefits that will be gained from proactively making these tools and techniques a part of our routine.
Here’s what we can expect from using mental training to help us prepare:
- Improved Focus: Through mental training, we can drastically improve our focus and attention skills. This will help us hold concentration, even when there are numerous distractions around.
- Improved Confidence: Self-talk, visualization, and goal setting all have the effect of improving our confidence. No matter what you do, better confidence will lead to higher levels of success.
- Lower Levels of Anxiety: Continual practice in training our minds will lead to lower levels of anxiety. That way, you will both decrease the current sports anxiety you have and be less susceptible to it in the future.
- Greater Ability to Handle Failure: As a natural part of any journey towards a goal, failure must be handled in a healthy and beneficial way. By training our minds, we will have the skills needed to look at failure objectively and take from it information that will help us succeed in the future.
- Better Time Management Skills: Managing our time effectively and efficiently is vital to our success. With mental training, we learn how to better regulate our time and leverage the time we have to most positively benefit our lives.
- A More Positive Mindset: Overall, our mindsets will become more positive through mental training. Our perceptions of ourselves will be better and our internal dialogue will become uplifting and encouraging as opposed to negative.
These are just a few of the many positive effects we can expect from mental training. Developing these attributes will greatly help us whenever adversity or setbacks come our way.
So hopefully by now, you understand the importance of looking at mental training as a proactive tool. At this point, I would like to show you a great way you can begin to use mental training in your life.
"From an athletic standpoint, we know the higher up we go in skill level, the more pressure there will be. With this added pressure comes the possibility for anxiety, fear of failure, and all sorts of other negative thought patterns."
How to Have a Proactive Approach
Utilizing mental training in a proactive way is as easy as beginning to perform some of the tools listed above in your daily life. The process does not need to be complicated; you simply must begin to work on building your mental strength.
However, there are ways we can approach mental training that will help us get the most out of the process. So, I would like to show you three ways that will help to ensure mental training produces the most benefits in your life.
Identify Weak Points
While you can jump right into any mental training tool and see positive effects take place in your life, if you want to be more deliberate in your growth then you should focus first on your weak points.
You want to identify what areas of your mindset need the most work.
Do you struggle with negative self-talk? Do you have trouble focusing? What about your confidence level? Is it not where you would like it to be?
After identifying your weak points, you can handpick the types of mental training tools that will be of the greatest help.
For me, I have to be careful about my thoughts running wild and negative self-talk taking place. That is why I have implemented a meditation practice and self-talk into my daily routine.
So really think about where your weaknesses lie in terms of your mindset and mental attitude. You want to be sure you’re addressing the areas that have the greatest chance of leading to trouble down the road.
Build on Your Strengths
We aren’t going to just focus on our weaknesses and forget about our strengths. The strong points of our mindsets must be continually built upon and developed.
It’s important to remember that we can always improve.
Just because we have good focus, or time management skills, for example, does not mean we shouldn’t work to make them better.
Progress is continual, especially in terms of our mental strengths.
Once you have identified what your weaknesses are, do the same for your strengths. While you may not spend as much time or attention on your strengths, you want to be sure you’re still addressing them.
Otherwise, they have the potential to become a weakness if left unattended.
Make it Habitual
Lastly, we want to make mental training a habitual process for ourselves. This is done best by turning the tools and techniques into a daily routine.
Think about it the same way as exercise. You wouldn’t go to the gym once a month or even once a week and expect to gain much muscle. Similarly, you are not going to make much improvement with your mental training if it is done sporadically.
Treat working on your mindset the same as you would performing work or training your physical skills. Create a plan of action for yourself that can be implemented on a daily basis.
What this does is take a large amount of guesswork away. When you decide on an area of your mindset you would like to improve upon, then come up with the best tools and techniques to accomplish that.
Now all you have to do is choose what time of day you’ll do the activities and stick with them. After a while, this is going to become so habitual for you that you’ll be working on your mental skills every day without a second thought.
I’ve found the mornings to be the best time to incorporate mental training. I get myself up an hour earlier than I used to and perform the techniques that I believe will help me strengthen my mind and put me in the best position for future success.
So, once you’ve decided on the tools and techniques you will use, begin to perform them on a daily basis, making them habitual for you. After a while, you’ll see the resounding impact that mental training can have on your life.
Using mental training in a proactive way will help you to enhance performance as well as prepare for any adversity that you may face in the years to come.
By shifting our mindset from reactive to proactive, we can take away much of the stigma that surrounds mental training. It will no longer be a solution used for someone who has something wrong with them, but instead a tool used to enhance and benefit our lives.
Pick out your weak points, build on your strengths, and make mental training a part of your daily routine. Your future self will thank you and the benefits discussed in this article will only be the beginning of what you experience.
How do you currently view mental training? Do you feel the stigma that surrounds it or do you think of it as a proactive tool for success? I would love to hear your point of view on mental training so please leave a comment below.
I hope that this article was helpful, and you can begin to use mental training as a means to enhance your life.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all you do.
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