By Kendra Leigh Marley
"You are searching for the magic key that will unlock the door to the source of power, and yet you have the key in your own hands, and you may make use of it the moment you learn to control your own thoughts."
Failure to meet goals is linked to inefficient goal setting process, unrealistic and unmet expectations, and also a lack of mental planning and preparation, including feeling unenergetic, lack of focus and concentration on the important stuff (this is mostly consistency and adherence to your plan), irrelevant and/or negative thoughts, and worrying about failure. One of the biggest differences in those that achieve their goals and those that are less successful, or do not achieve their goals at all, is the extent to which individuals adhere to a mental preparation plan compatible with their goals and goal-setting process, and how well developed their techniques for coping with distractions and obstacles are.
- The mind and body function together, and cannot be separated. -
The mind and body function together, and cannot be separated. Keep this in mind as you pursue your goals, since success doesn’t occur without first believing and thinking that you have the capability of accomplishing anything you set your mind to. As the saying goes, “Thoughts become things!” You have the power to manifest your own success by controlling your mindset, committing to yourself and your goals, and doing whatever it takes to overcome obstacles and achieve what you want to be, to do, and to have in your life.
- by maintaining daily focus on your goals, adhering to your plan and keeping actions consistent, and maintaining a positive mindset, you will reach your intended destination -
Goals and the goal-setting process should be realistic for maximum effectiveness, and so should your thoughts and beliefs. It is unlikely that you will have a 500-pound squat by tomorrow or six-pack abs by next Tuesday just because you’re thinking it. However, by maintaining daily focus on your goals, adhering to your plan and keeping actions consistent, and maintaining a positive mindset, you will reach your intended destination and be able to maintain your goals for the long haul.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
In Reboot Your Resolutions Part 1, I discussed goal setting principles and how to maximize your goal-setting practices to meet your potential and maintain balance in your life. This week, I’ll dig deeper into power of positive thinking and mental preparation to support your goals and set you up for success and achievement.
MENTAL PROFILE OF SUCCESS
The right mental climate helps to mobilize mental and physical actions that are essential to performing at one’s best, and it also increases the likelihood of continued consistency and adherence. People who are victorious in their goals have similar mental qualities and practices that support and drive them to succeed, and the most significant of these is mental toughness.
- People who are victorious in their goals have similar mental qualities and practices that support and drive them to succeed, and the most significant of these is mental toughness. -
Individuals who are mentally tough are able to maintain strong determination and total commitment to their goals! They possess an unshakable belief that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to and expect success, regardless of obstacles or setbacks. Mentally tough individuals are able to focus on and prioritize their personal goals high on their list of commitments and intended achievements, yet they are also able to switch their focus to other priorities, as necessary, to maintain balance in their lives, which then contributes to their success. Those who possess a high level of mental toughness also:
Feel in control of themselves and their environment. As long as you are doing everything you can to control your environment and yourself you will be successful. You cannot control the uncontrollable, so let them go!
View difficult situations and obstacles as exciting and challenging and cope well with stress and distractions.
Possess productive perfectionism. You can have high personal standards AND be flexible enough to learn from your mistakes. Obsessing about blunders, criticisms, expectations, and doubts will prevent forward progress.
Have a positive attitude and thoughts about goals and performance.
Make beneficial decisions, are proactive and take responsibility for their actions.
- "Mentally tough individuals are able to focus on and prioritize their personal goals high on their list of commitments and intended achievements, yet they are also able to switch their focus to other priorities, as necessary, to maintain balance in their lives" -
THINK LIKE AN ATHLETE
The following psychological attributes are common among successful goal achievers:
Invest time in proper goal setting and develop a plan of action to achieve them (refer to Part 1 for a refresh on this process).
Use imagery to improve your thoughts, feelings, movements, behaviors, and performance. This is especially helpful for fitness and sport goals that require specific movement and performance for optimal success, such as weight lifting, powerlifting, physique competition posing, and CrossFit, and all levels of individual and team sport athletes.
Regulate your thoughts, behavior and environment, and increase practice and effort as necessary.
Automate coping skills with practice. Learn from failures and use them as motivation toward future success. Practice relaxation and activation techniques to minimize stress and elevate awareness. It’s easy to get caught up in an all-or-nothing approach, so plan ahead for possible obstacles (e.g. going on vacation, unexpected family emergency, you get sick, etc.) and prepare for potential lapses or adjustments in goal-directed thoughts and behavior.
Employ thought and emotion control strategies. Integrating positive thinking and positive self-talk practices are great techniques to minimize unproductive thoughts and feelings.
Learn to control your attention and focus on what is important to you. Minimize distractions to maximize results. Develop refocusing skills and plans for times when you may become distracted and need a boost to jump back on the horse.
Increase automaticity. Create habits by learning, repeating and practicing so that thoughts and behaviors become automatic responses or reactions.
TRAIN YOUR BRAIN LIKE AN ATHLETE
Implementing mental training into your goal-achievement plan can enhance your ability to successfully change your behavior and improve your well-being. Try out any of the following mental performance enhancement practices, techniques and activities to get your mind right and boost your goal-achievement success.
Boost Your Confidence
Reframe your thoughts and behaviors.
Creating alternative perspectives help to minimize irrelevant and negative self-talk and transform weaknesses and difficulties into strengths and opportunities just by thinking about them from a positive point of view. An important element of reframing is that it gives acknowledgement to what you are experiencing and encourages confronting issues and obstacles head-on and using them to your advantage.
TRY IT: When you notice a negative thought flow in, follow up immediately with the same thought reframed in a positive manner. For example, “The scale isn’t changing and I’m not making any progress. I’m a failure.” could transform into “I’m practicing better habits, feeling stronger and my clothes are fitting better. I feel successful when I am improving my daily health practices” Likewise, instead of dwelling on problems that prevent you from going to the gym four times per week or the struggle of preparing your daily intake of vegetables, use these situations to aid your accomplishment by creating and maintaining a positive attitude around them. Focus on the possibilities of achieving your goals and the opportunity present in each time you get to practice thoughts and behaviors that support and lead to goal achievement.
BENEFITS: Reframing helps change debilitating thoughts and beliefs that interfere with goal performance, and argue with your negative internal voice to provide evidence necessary to permanently alter attitudes and beliefs.
Create and utilize affirmations.
Affirmation statements or slogans reflect positive attitudes and thoughts about oneself, about what you want, phrased as if you already accomplished it. The most effective affirmations are believable, achievable, and vivid, and can be supported with a self-esteem list and a success list. A self-esteem list should contain all of the positive attributes, assets, qualities and strengths that you possess and a success list should include all of your successes thus far. All statements should be positive, action-oriented and worded in the present tense, avoiding perfectionist statements, such as “I always…” or “I never…”
TRY IT: Write at least three affirmation statements that reflect what you would like to be true about yourself, but currently are not (i.e. “I eat for fat-loss success every day by planning and prepping my meals,” or “I am able to deadlift 350 pounds for reps with ease in my next CrossFit competition.”). Create your self-esteem and success lists, then plan and implement a strategy to help your affirmations become true. For example, write affirmations out 10-20 times on a card or piece of paper to be carried with you and pulled out when you need a reminder or post them up in a place where you will see your affirmations and lists regularly to recall your intentions, and emphasize how capable and deserving you are of success. Once you integrate one affirmation into your mind so that it is completely believed and thought automatically, pick another affirmation to focus on.
BENEFITS: Affirmations increase feelings of confidence, efficacy and self-control by helping change self-doubt into self-belief.
Keep a goal journal or spreadsheet.
Write down your goals, the actions steps you are taking to accomplish them, note your progress, both positive and negative, and your the thoughts and emotions you have around each. Reflect on your successes and misses to maintain perspective and awareness of your practices, habits, thoughts and feelings. You can also share this with your coach to provide a foundation for better understanding of how you operate and insight into what behaviors or practices could be integrated to best facilitate consistency and adherence to your goals.
Reflect on your successful and unsuccessful moments.
Think about a time when you were at your best, your fittest, your healthiest, your strongest, etc and when you achieved your goals. Make a list of what you were doing, how you were feeling, things you were thinking and how your body felt. Then think about a time when you were not at your best/fittest/healthiest/strongest/etc and did not accomplish your goals. Write down what you were doing, feeling and thinking and how your body felt at that time. Compare the two lists and create a profile of the characteristics of your ideal goal-oriented performance mindset using items you identified that helped you reach your most successful moments.
BENEFITS: These activities increase awareness of what works for you and what has or does not, to focus on your strengths and use those to your advantage to achieve your goals.
Maximize Your Movement Efficiency
Start with mental movement practice.
If you are working on improving your lifting form, strength, and/or efficacy, try starting your lifting set with a short imagery practice before you get under the bar. Let’s use the bench press for example. Picture yourself getting set up and performing that perfect bench press over and over again in your mind. Imagine every feeling and movement of your muscles and body as you position yourself on the bench, lift and lower the barbell, and as you breathe in and out in sync with the movement. Imagine that you are building a badass powerhouse as you perform your bench press flawlessly and focus on the movement precision. Then, focus on combining what you feel, see and hear during the movement as you perform the bench press over and over. Try to imagine the total experience of using all your senses in balance.
TRY IT: Use this technique for 30-60 seconds prior to your first set of each exercise and at least 10-15 seconds prior to each subsequent set.
BENEFITS: Using vivid imagery increases your awareness, mind-muscle connection, movement intention, and performance capability.
Correct your inefficiencies and mistakes.
TRY IT: Use this technique for 30-60 seconds after the error was made. Continue to use and adjust your imagery as necessary to correct your movement inefficiencies and move toward perfect form and execution.
BENEFITS: Using imagery to correct inefficiencies and mistakes increases your ability to understand your current capabilities and control your movement, in both action and reaction.
Manage Your Stress
Try rhythmic breathing exercises.
Inhale for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, and pause for a count of 5 before repeating. Alter the rhythm of breathing by changing the count.
TRY IT: Use this technique when you become aware of any negative feelings, emotions and potential behaviors. Complete a rhythmic breathing cycle for at least 60 seconds to cool down and clear your head.
BENEFITS: Properly breathing increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and carries more energy to the muscles. Plus learning to take deep, slow, complete breaths from the belly is naturally relaxing and facilitates a relaxation response to make way for effective thought, behavior and movement processes.
Use the progressive relaxation technique.
Progressive relaxation (PR) involves contracting a specific muscle group for 5-7 seconds, then relaxing, and moving on to the next muscle group. Start with your toes, then feet, then calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes and so on, working your way up the body.
TRY IT: Start with 25-30 minutes of daily practice during an uninterrupted free moment of your day. Before bedtime is a great option! Once PR is mastered, shorter practice sessions will achieve a state of complete relaxation, and variations to accomplish complete or momentary relaxation can be introduced.
BENEFITS: The contraction phase of PR teaches awareness and sensitivity to what muscular tension feels like. The relaxation phase teaches awareness of what the absence of tension feels like. Together, this process can be developed to help recognize the surfacing of unwanted tension and stress, and create an immediate relaxation response.
Turn failure into success.
It is easy to lose focus on your goals after making a mistake because all-or-nothing, right?! Like I stated in Part 1, it is totally acceptable to make mistakes and stay on track to achieving your goals. So, rather than dwelling on your errors, judging yourself, or blaming other people, things or situations, refocus your thought process and imagine success.
TRY IT: As soon as possible, right after you screw up or fail, reframe your mindset to ask questions and learn from your mistakes. For example, “What was the problem and how do I fix it?” “How could different choices/thoughts/behaviors have affected the same situation?” “What mental or physical skills do I need to acquire to be successful?” Once you answer these questions you can mentally rehearse how the situation would go with the changes you have made to your approach and performing your task perfectly.
BENEFITS: Maintains concentration, encourages success and develops coping mechanisms to more efficiently manage failures and mistakes.
Mindfulness is a form of focus training which teaches you to hold your attention on a predetermined task, and bring your attention back if it wanders.
TRY IT: Sit quietly and close your eyes, see how long you can focus on a single thought. Then integrate the practice into activities important for goal achievement. For example, if your goal is fat-loss and you are a fast eater and tend to overeat, you may focus on being mindful of how you eat by tasting each bite of food, putting down your fork between bites and paying attention to when you feel 80% full.
BENEFITS: Develops better control of attention and concentration to keep you focused on your goals.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of mental techniques and activities, but enough to get you started. Every person is different and will benefit from different practices and exercises to enhance their mental performance and support their goal achievement. Success in accomplishing your goals is a product of the body AND the mind, both of which can be controlled. Which is why, with the right goal setting approach and physical and mental training, you can learn to think and act in a way that supports success and allows you to maintain consistency and adherence to your plan. Learning to control yourself, instead of letting others, your environment or your situation control you, develops personal responsibility for your mindset, and building healthy habits and physical behaviors that eventually lead accomplishing your goals. They key to continued success is in your head, you only need to learn to control it. Go get ‘em, Tiger!
Kendra Leigh Marley, CPT, CES, PES, FNS, PN1
IPE Women’s Physique Pro
M.S. Sport Psychology Grad Student
B.A. Exercise Science & Studio Art
Resources & Further Reading
Crust, L. & Clough, P. J. (2011) Developing Mental Toughness: From Research to Practice, Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 2:1, 21-32, DOI: 10.1080/21520704.2011.563436
Lesyk, J. J. (n.d.). The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes. Retrieved from https://www.sportpsych.org/nine-mental-skills-overview
USTA Player Development (n.d.) Mental Skills for Achieving Optimal Performance. Retrieved from http://www.playerdevelopment.usta.com/About-USTA/Player-Development/mental_skills_for_achieving_optimum_performance/
Williams, J. M. & Krane, V. (Ed.). (2015). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (7th ed.).