We often hear that in sports or other performance-related activities, the mental game is as important as the physical game. Fair enough. But what exactly is the mental game?
Most people define the mental game using words like: having confidence, belief, a good attitude, or thinking the right thoughts. And this, alas, is where most people are missing the mark and why they don't grasp the psychological side of performance.
The truth is that confidence, belief, and attitude -- the type of thoughts that pop into our heads -- are not relevant for success. We can win no matter what we are thinking because thoughts, in principle, are powerless. That's why, if you're thinking negatively, trying to fix or control your thinking will always take you backward, while staying in the game (simply going about your business and leaving your errant thinking alone) will always provide hope.
Here's how your mind works (and, yes, it works like this for everyone): You live in the feeling of your thinking. An overabundance of thinking produces a lousy feeling in your gut -- e.g., a lack of confidence and a sensation of insecurity. The system, however, is designed to intuitively discard this log-jam of thought, leaving you with a clear head. And a clear head automatically defaults to confidence and security.
You might be wondering: If the problem is that easy to solve, why is the mental game even an issue? Or why do so many theories about the mental game exist today? The reason is that 99 percent of so called mental-game experts don't know it works that simply. They believe that when a performer is bogged down in thought the performer must do something -- utilize a strategy, technique, or tool -- in order to clear his or her head and then find belief. Yet doing something requires the performer to think, and an excess of thinking is what causes a low feeling state in the first place. In other words, mental fixes require doing; doing requires thought; thought is what creates struggle. We want less thought -- not more!
Remember, any performance expert who sells external methods to improve your mental game doesn't understand the mental game. When you struggle, your mind is perfectly designed to empty on its own. Case in point: Two favorite tools of many mental conditioning coaches are deep breathing and visualization. But both are natural functions. Deliberately forcing yourself to breathe or picture a performance outcome (visualization) requires a lot of thinking, and, again, thinking is the only thing that can get in the way of your mind's intuitive functioning (the innate ability to regulate to clarity) and your potential to achieve.
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