Our mindset significantly influences our performance and controls everything we do. If we go into a game or practice with a negative attitude, there is a good chance we are setting ourselves up for failure. As a Sport Performance Consultant, I often tell my clients, “We see what we want to see.” If we develop a specific mindset or thought, we are going to look for evidence to support these thoughts. If we feel we aren’t a good enough player or performer, we will focus on every mistake we make to reinforce that belief. So how do we get out of our own way? Let’s look at three effective exercises designed to help minimize negative thoughts and set ourselves up for success.

A 5 minute visualization exercise is a simple technique we can use before and during our game or performance. Olympian, Missy Franklin won 4 Gold Medals at the London Olympics. Ms. Franklin has often spoke about visualization and how it has helped prepare her for success. “When I get there, I’ve already pictured what’s going to happen a million times, so I don’t actually have to think about it,” Many elite athletes have used this technique to mentally prepare themselves for their event.

So what is visualization? Visualization is a technique in which an athlete or performer create a positive mental image of a future event.

How do we use visualization? Before you play a game and even before your practice; arrive early and give yourself at least 5 minutes for this exercise. Find a quiet spot to sit, stand or even walk. Visualize yourself during your match and picture yourself performing details of your sport, successfully. If you are a baseball player, visualize yourself hitting well. If you are a swimmer, maybe visualize yourself setting the pace you strategized with your coach.

Does it work? Yes! A study conducted by Richard Suinn found that when athletes used imagination practice before their physical practice, the brain sent electrical signals that were similar to signals during the actual physical practice. He also discovered muscular reactions during the imagination practice similar to the actual practice. Another study conducted by the University of Chicago required subject to visualize shooting free throws in their head. After one month of mental practice, the participants improved their shooting by 23%.

Goal Setting 
Create goals for yourself and write them down! Goal setting is something we use in our everyday life, so why can’t we use them in our sport? Often our goals tend to be very broad and based on outcomes. “I want to win my game.” Goals based on outcomes is a common mistake made as it is impossible to win every time!

Each goal should be specific, measurable, controllable and realistic. If you are a soccer player, maybe your goals is to put 2 shots on the goal. If you are a baseball player, maybe you want to commit less errors than your previous ball game. When we set goals such as these, we increase our chances of winning.

It’s important to write them down. In 2007, a study conducted at Dominican University of California named the Gail Matthews Goals study found that people who wrote down their goals were more likely to follow through on these goals. When we write down our goals, we increase our effort, productivity, motivation, etc. We are telling our subconscious we mean business. So give it a shot! Create a goal and write it down. Then ask yourself.. is it specific? Measurable? Controllable? Realistic?

Learn to fail!
We all dislike failing, yet we do it anyway. Some of the most successful people in the world, failed before succeeding. Steve Jobs dropped out of college before starting Apple. Michale Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before going on to complete one of the greatest careers of all time. Both of these individuals failed, multiple times along the way. Both still found ways to become successful.

So what do you do when you fail? Do you become angry or frustrated? Do you watch tape and over critique yourself? Each time we fail, we should be learning something about ourselves and finding ways to be proactive. I mentioned earlier that goal setting is a great technique to improve our play. However, if we aren’t willing to accept our failure, we will struggle to set goals!

One of the skills I use with my athletes is acceptance. Acceptance is a key component to improving. We accept our mistakes, our failures and then learn from them!

How do we do this? The next time finish a game, find a quiet spot. Sit with your thoughts and create a list. Write down your successes and write down your failures. Then ask yourself, How do those make you feel? How can I do better tomorrow? Where can I improve?

Each of these exercises shares a fundamental principle: control. Control over our thoughts, control over our emotions, and control over our mental preparation and recovery. I encourage you to challenge yourself and create a foundation for success. There may be instances in the future where you fall short or encounter setbacks, but with these strategies, you can respond with control. We have the power to perceive failure either as a debilitating obstacle or as an opportunity for growth and improvement. The choice is ours, choose wisely.

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Goals research summary. (2007). https://www.dominican.edu/sites/default/files/2020-02/gailmatthews-harvard-goals-researchsummary.pdf
Horne, Moses, and Troy Horne. Mental Toughness for Young Athletes : Eight Proven 5-Minute Mind Exercises for Kids and Teens Who Play Competitive Sports! New York, New York, Buggily Group, Incorporated, 2021.