“Mind Gym” by Gary Mack is not a passive read. It is a short book and an easy read, but if you want to get the most you can out of the book, do the work.
This is why I have a pen and paper in the picture. Gary doesn’t just spout off a bunch of examples of athletes achieving greatness (though there is plenty of that), he asks hard questions. He asks you to really look at yourself, your mind frame, your beliefs. He wants you to identify how they may be holding you back, so you can unlock your potential.
The book is separated into four parts:
- Welcome to the Inner Game
- Living the Dream
- Mind-set for Success
- In the Zone
In the first section we learn that “studies have proven that mental training will not only enhance performance and improve productivity but also add to your enjoyment.” Who wouldn’t want more enjoyment? Of course I was thinking about my running when I was reading this book, but also memories of my not-so-great soccer career popped in. I wish I had read this book years ago.
One thing I had never thought about doing when it comes to running is mental rehearsal and imagery. I don’t think about what I look like when I run (often I don’t want to know what I look like). But for running, form is an important part of the sport. Poor form means poor performance and injury.
Another thing he asks is how your see yourself in your sport. “If you don’t feel good about yourself you tend not to perform well.” It is interesting because I have always thought of myself as an average runner, and whatever race I am in, I usually end up in the middle of the pack.
Here are some examples of self-defeating thoughts that hold people back: -Fear -Anger -Anxiety -Self-Consciousness -Perfectionism -Stubbornness -Lack of Motivation -Competitiveness -Distractions -Persistence
Fear of failure is probably what has held me back the most. Fear of looking bad. Fear of making mistakes. I would never call myself a perfectionist, but I do demand a certain level of performance from myself. Which I may not have realized has been really limiting me. After all, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, but struck out 1330 times. Would he have hit so many home runs if he had feared striking out?
Once you have identified what might be holding you back, it’s time ACT. Gary defines it like this:
A: Accept current state
C: Create desired state
T: Take steps to get you there
It is important to accept where you are to begin with. Then it’s time to visualize, or create in your mind, the desired state of where you’d like to be. This gives you a map to focus on the steps that will take you from where you are to where you want to be.
“I’m a firm believer in goal setting. Step by step. I can’t see any other way of accomplishing anything.”Michael Jordan
It isn’t going to happen overnight. “It takes ten years of practice to acquire the mastery of an expert.” When we allow our self-defeating thoughts to get in the way, we will likely become stagnant in our comfort zone, or give up altogether. “Oftentimes, beneath the desire to succeed and achieve excellence is an ultra-critical voice. This internal voice beats the person up mentally and emotionally.”
What Gary is trying to tell us is that failure can be a great tool. It is nothing more than feedback that helps us to improve our game. “If you don’t fail you probably aren’t challenging yourself enough.” Our desire to achieve needs to be stronger than our fear of failure.
Once we let go of the fears that are holding us back, we can be more present with ourselves. “To play an entire game in the moment is the ultimate in mental discipline.” This is tough, especially in sports where in each play there is great potential for success or mistake. If you’ve just made a mistake, worrying about it will usually only get you to repeat it.
When a game (sport, match, race) is not going well for us, we have a tendency to speed up. Get sloppy. Try to “get out of it” and fix it as quickly as we can. Usually this has the opposite effect. In these moments, Gary reminds us of the first rule of holes: “When you find yourself in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging.”
When we can let go of our mistakes along the way and achieve that coveted state of being “in the zone” – we are in the moment with ourselves and all of our hard work and training is coming together. We can only get to this state if we’ve put in the work and then we let go and trust in our abilities. “Train hard but then let the performance flow naturally.”
At the end of the day. Gary asks us how we want to be remembered. How do we each define success. He wants us to be able to look in the mirror and say that we did our best, despite the outcome on any given day. He tells us that we can’t win unless we believe ourselves to be winners, but he reminds us that winning is not everything and success should be viewed by how you conduct yourself through the wins and the losses.
“Inner excellence is a way of thinking and a way of acting. It is a quality of mind, a mentality that says no matter how difficult things become, you are responsible and accountable for your thoughts, feelings, and actions.”
The book was written about professional athletes, but the concepts and advice can apply to all areas of life. We need to give ourselves permission to be great. We need to put in the work and then let the chips fall where they may but always conduct ourselves with integrity and honor.
All quotes are directly from the book unless otherwise noted