By Cindra Kamphoff
Your mind is a powerful thing. It may be even more powerful than you recognize. Your thoughts impact everything you do and say to others.
They impact how much you enjoy what you are doing. They impact whether or not you stick with your goals. Ultimately, your thoughts impact your ability to reach your potential.
The key when you are performing in any way — athletically, artistically or professionally — is to use your mind to your advantage. But how, exactly, do you do that?
The first step in using your mind to be your best is awareness. Awareness means quietly listening and being mindful of the voice inside your head.
It means being cognizant of your thoughts and your self-talk — and being able to recognize how those thoughts impact your behavior and your body. You must be aware of your thoughts and the effect they have on you to control your mind.
For example: If a young quarterback doubts his ability and is nervous about making a mistake in the days leading up to a big football game, consider how those thoughts might impact his body. My guess is that they make him tense, his muscles tight, and his palms sweaty — which make it difficult to pass a football effectively. If he was aware of the impact his thoughts have on his body and his performance, then he could control his best asset — his mind.
Once you are aware, you can take control. Control means two things.
The first part of control is changing the thoughts that are not helpful. Ask yourself if this thought is helping you or not, and let that question drive the dialogue in your mind. If the thought is not helping you be the best you can be, then you have the power to change it.
Certainly, it is not an easy task to change your self-talk and your thoughts. Controlling your mind takes time and practice. But you have to start somewhere.
For example, changing a statement like, “Today is going to be a hard practice” to “Today I will work hard to be the best athlete or person I can be” completely reframes the situation.
A second part of control that can be helpful to performers of all sorts is planning what you want to say to yourself while you perform. We shouldn’t just leave our thoughts to chance.
To nail the performance, thinking about what you want to say helps control your thoughts. Negative thoughts get in the way and can lead to anxiety, mistakes and losses. They can sabotage your performance.
Planning what you want to say to yourself when performing can include coming up with a few short, instructional phrases, or mantras, that you want to have in your head. It can also take the form of a longer competition plan, where you provide many examples of thoughts that will help you.
For example, before running in the Omaha Marathon a few weeks ago, I wrote out a mental competition plan that included several statements I wanted to use. One of those statements, or mantras, was, “I am fit, happy, and in control.” I needed to remind myself that I was physically prepared and fit enough to run a personal best in the race.
“I needed to enjoy the race and be appreciative that I was there. I needed to remain in control of my thoughts and my pace. This mantra kept my thoughts on purpose and with intention.
Being aware of your thoughts and controlling your mind can help in any performance — and in life in general. It may be a volleyball game this coming weekend, in the Mankato Marathon at the end of October, in your next job interview, or the next time you give a public speech. Controlling your mind can help improve the quality of your life and your enjoyment.
Take control of your mind and use your mind to your advantage. If you do this, the impact is incredible.
You will be performing on purpose and with intention. And you will see an impact on the ultimate outcome. For me, controlling my mind led to a victory and a major personal best time in a marathon.
More importantly, however, controlling my mind resulted in an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
© Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Minnesota State University. She also operates Your Runner’s Edge, where she consults with performers to help them transform their performance and their lives. Her column will appear in The Free Press periodically. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org