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Mental conditioning: Is your brain in the game?

Image Source: Robert Caplin

Not playing up to your ability? Choking under the pressure? Maybe your brain isn't in the game.

Whether you're preparing for a marathon or simply hoping to improve your weekly golf or soccer game, mental conditioning may be just what you need to enhance your performance. Consider the benefits — improved concentration and focus, controlled emotions, confidence in the face of challenge.

Now how do you get there?

Try these techniques
Mental conditioning is often based on four core techniques: relaxation, imagery, goal setting and positive thinking.

Relaxation
Simple relaxation techniques can help you relieve anxiety and tension to improve concentration and focus. Take a few deep breaths before your game or performance to prepare for what you're about to do. Smile when your nerves start to fray. Slow down. Stay calm. Enjoy yourself. Remember your love of the game. Focus on what's happening now, rather than possible upsets or mistakes.

Imagery
Imagery can be a powerful tool for increasing confidence. Picture yourself doing your sport or activity — dressed as you would be, hearing what you might hear and smelling what you might smell. Feel your muscles. Sense your emotions. Imagine yourself playing with confidence and skill. Let distracting thoughts or feelings float away. If you see yourself doing something incorrectly, switch gears. Replay the image in your mind exactly as you hope it would happen.

The confidence you gain from these mental practices or rehearsals can help you stay on top of your game when it really counts.

Goal setting
Setting goals can increase your motivation, provide you with a sense of challenge and help you determine what you can and can't control — leading to greater confidence. Combine long-term and short-term goals related to your personal best or the actions you must take to meet your objectives. Keep the goals realistic and manageable.

For example, if you'd like to complete a marathon, start with a series of shorter races. If you'd like to shave one stroke off your golf game every week, commit to more time on the putting green or driving range. If you tend to get angry or upset on the playing field, maybe your goal is to simply let go and have fun.

Positive thinking
Negative thoughts can get in the way of concentration and confidence. Mantras such as "Don't miss this shot" or "Don't strike out" may only cause you to do the exact thing you were trying to avoid. Instead, remind yourself that you can do it. Repeat positive phrases to yourself as you play. If you make an error, consider it a simple reminder that your focus is off. Concentrate on what you're doing right and the changes you can make to improve your performance.

Positive thinking can lead to confidence, focus and inner calm - qualities that help you get the most out of your game.

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