By Ashley Ripke, O2X Mental Performance Specialist
What enables you to dig deep when you are lacking energy or motivation? How can you trust in your training or skill set or challenge your counterproductive thoughts when they are hindering your ability to fluidly make or take action or build resilience? It’s your mental performance that gives that boost when needed.
When you are faced with occupational dangers, or even a perceived threat, your adrenaline is pumping, your heart begins to pound, and your mind is racing – it’s then that your physical and mental preparedness is activated. You effectively execute a course of action that was ingrained through training, as you naturally calm yourself, feeling your “instincts” kick in. Mental performance allows us to execute tasks optimally and without hesitation as we initiate techniques to be confident in our abilities, think effectively, regulate energy, grow in the face of adversity, and so much more!
Don’t leave your performance outcomes to chance. You can gain control and flip the switch on when you most need it. Here are mental performance techniques you can utilize in your daily performance routines:
6 Ways to Boost Mental Performance
1. Cognitive Efficiency
While you may be spinning your wheels trying to function or perform more optimally, the missing puzzle piece may lie within – your inner thoughts, that is. Our brains are constantly processing, filtering, and organizing the information we are absorbing. And while it’s easy to tell when an injured body part or sore muscle needs attention, it isn’t always clear when the brain needs attention. Our thoughts drive our actions and they can either work for or against us. Let’s delve into our mindset to remove self-imposed barricades that are holding us back from performing optimally.
Build awareness, and recognize signs that point to counterproductive thoughts:
- hard work with little/no progress
- internal resistance especially when working to accomplish a goal
- feeling “off”
- lacking motivation
- self-doubt or beliefs that are limiting
Exercise (try this!) Think “TEAR”. T-Thoughts, E-Emotions, A-Action, R-Results (Performance Outcome)
- Prime yourself with productive, deliberate, instructional, motivating thoughts that drive effective results/performance outcomes.
- Identify the type of action and emotions that would facilitate optimal performance.
- What is the thought (or image) that would drive you to feel and act in that manner?
*Use this to prime yourself for the type of performance outcomes you want by leveraging effective thoughts. Cue this thought or image as necessary to direct your focus and take control over guiding your personal contributions to performing optimally.
- Analyze your results/performance- breakdown various themes in your thoughts, emotions, actions that contributed to your performance in a counterproductive (change) or productive (continue) manner.
- Pay attention to the internal dialogue and be willing to challenge/restructure them to better facilitate the next performance.
2. Maintain Motivation
Motivation is what ignites the spark in our thoughts and actions. Needing a little more self-discipline, or are you feeling like you’re on the cusp of burnout? Leverage what you value most to fuel the spark into a flame. We often see what steps we need to take in order to accomplish a goal, but we often forget to identify the “why,” which holds more power. Doing so will make room for creative solutions along the way, allow us to persist despite encountering obstacles, or even begin to take the necessary steps for performance.
Exercise (try this!) Find Your Why
- List your values- what fuels your daily behaviors or actions? (i.e. self-discipline, commitment, family, loyalty, growth, competition, satisfaction)
- When struggling to engage or stay engaged in your performance, identify a value that you can connect with and what will drive you most.
- We naturally think in images- generate an image that will serve as a reminder of your “WHY” prior to or during various tasks.
3. Deliberate Training/Focus
Accomplishing goals is equally about what you DO to succeed and what you DON’T DO. We do not have an infinite amount of energy, attention, or resources; therefore we need to be strategic and train with deliberate focus and intent. Trying to do everything and anything comes at a cost, but not everything can be a priority. With the belief “the harder we work, the greater the outcome,” we neglect a deliberate plan, as our attention is either too broad or too narrow.
When training is NOT deliberate you may notice the following:
- you’re easily distracted
- less progress/less efficient
Exercise (try this!) Train With Purpose
Have a clear focus/visual on what you want to accomplish, or the progress you want to make. Notice distractions that divert/hijack your attention, as well as what motivates you. You may have to say “no” to yourself or others to maintain discipline or prioritize demands. Identify objectives, small actionable steps toward your short-term goal, and align your thoughts.
- Plan for it (how will you stay focused/manage distractions).
- Take a tactical pause (practice self-regulation by checking in periodically… an hour training session may require 2 check-ins or every 10 minutes).
- Reset/re-route thoughts or actions (how will you deal with roadblocks and continue toward training goals).
When your external protective barriers have been stripped and your core is exposed, it is the inner strength that you’ve built that will power you through. We can all build upon our resilience, because life is always a journey with room for growth. Cultivate a mindset of growth despite what may be (actually or seemingly) holding you back.
Exercise (try this!) Good In The Day
You can develop an optimistic perspective by looking for the good in the day and reflecting on this within your lives/performances.
- Identify (write this down and/or share with someone) one good thing that happened to you today.
- Reflect why this good thing happened, what did you or someone else do to contribute to this good thing, and what (if anything) can you do to enable more of this good thing to occur?
*This can be the silver lining in a bad event or even something small that you appreciate.
5. Memory and Recall
We need memory to help store pertinent information and as an effective retrieval process to access that information we know, as needed. Memory can deteriorate with the lack of use, challenge, or with various environmental exposures (i.e. blast over pressure). Stress can also impact memory, as retrieval can be slowed. And just like other facets of mental performance, you have the capability to improve this facet.
-Engage in what you are learning or trying to remember, focus.
-Ask questions about the material to think in greater depth about the content.
-Relate new information to what is already familiar to the brain.
-Utilize mnemonics and visualization/imagery.
-Rehearse and practice retrieving information.
6. Energy Management
Allostatic load is the accumulation of chronic stress as our system deviates from its balanced state. When environmental challenges exceed our ability to cope, then allostatic overload occurs. Stress inoculation allows us to lower our activation levels and manage our flight/fight responses by training to endure the types of stress that may be introduced within the occupational demands. This deliberate type of training prepares tactical athletes to effectively initiate their trained responses and take necessary action. Although we can predict some stress, there are other (acute) stressors that can accumulate over time and not only negatively impact performance but also overall health. To lower activation/stress in the moment (performance) or for recovery purposes, try engaging in diaphragmatic (low, slow) breathing. This exercise will help lower energy activation and/or stress.
Exercise (try this!): Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach as you observe your breath. As you breathe in a low and slow manner, you should notice the hand on your stomach gradually moving up and down.
- Uncrossing your arms and legs, either sitting comfortably or laying down, breathe in through your nose slowly, pause, and then exhale slowly. As you inhale, notice your stomach rise as though a balloon is being filled. As you exhale, that balloon deflates with the air that is expelled.
- While you breathe, keep your mind focused on the physical sensation or simply count your breaths (try inhaling for a count of five, naturally pause, exhale for a count of seven).
*Begin this practice for one minute without interruptions. You may need to lessen your count and with each practice, work your way to slow down and expand your breath control. To enhance this exercise, attach a word/phrase/image as you inhale and/or exhale to allow you to ease the tension/stress. Something to try is inhale blue (calming), exhale red (tension/stress). Another mental anchor can be an image that enables the feeling of gratitude and/or appreciation.
Benefits: Maintain composure; Increase in memory and recall; Greater precision, accuracy, and motor control; Enhanced focus and concentration; Speeds healing; Produces energy; Reduces insomnia.
Similar to the maintenance required for physical strength and endurance, mental strength must also be trained deliberately rather than leaving it up to chance. Mental techniques should be integrated within the technical, physical, and tactical capacity of training in or to optimally wire the brain and body to perform optimally and without hesitation. Whether you are at the gym, performing in a training evolution, overviewing SOPs, etc…. Let your mind lead your body to process information quickly and accurately, as you speed your response time, implement performance routines, and recover effectively in order to be fueled for the next performance.