Mr. Norris, most of us can’t obtain Olympian bodies, but what about thinking like a champion? Doesn’t that count for anything? – P. Thompson, London
You bet it does! Before Olympians mastered their bodies and sports, they mastered their minds. They’ve learned how to stay positive, discard distractions and focus on the present, especially in the midst of adverse conditions.
But they didn’t conquer their cognitive senses alone. Positive parents, coaches and teammates, most Olympians will tell you, helped them win the war of the mind, which is a moment-by-moment battle and a collective success.
Since 1985, Olympic competitors and teams have benefited from the rich resources of the United States Olympic Committee’s team of sports psychologists, which works “closely with athletes, teams and coaches to assist them with the mental and psychological preparation needed to perform at the elite level,” according to the USOC’s website (some Olympic competitors even are going high-tech by using USA Track & Field sports psychologist Dr. Steve Portenga’s new sport and performance psychology mobile app).
If Olympians need the help of mental health professionals, why should any of us avoid their input, coaching and benefits?
Though they might not all be psychologists, I believe we all need at least a small troop of cheerleaders who give us a mental edge to overcome the barriers and to stop the mental terrorists (obstructing thoughts) from paralyzing our progress and success, whether in our personal life or in our professional life (on that line, it is great to see the modern movement of mental and spiritual health professionals joining the ranks of various corporations and nonprofits across the nation).
Sports psychologists and other mental health professionals will tell you that there are three key actions that, when practiced repeatedly, create an Olympian mindset and also can help us overcome our own personal mental obstacles, whatever they might be.
The first is the belief in self, in success and in the person God made us.
We’re not accidents. We were made for a purpose and created for a calling.
Marvin Zauderer, who leads the Mental Training program at Whole Athlete performance center in Marin County, Calif., wrote: “Many years ago, psychologist Albert Bandura defined, studied, and expanded the concept of self-efficacy: the belief that you have the power to produce a desired effect. If, for a particular task, your self-efficacy is high, you’re more likely to engage in that task. You’re also more likely to work harder and be more persistent. And, you’re more likely to attribute failure to external factors (‘My training wasn’t tuned well for this race’) rather than low ability (‘I suck’). How can you increase self-efficacy and keep it high in your cycling? Effectively set, commit to, plan for, manage to, evaluate, and re-set your goals. … If you set and manage your goals well, you create the conditions to maintain a strong belief in yourself.”
The second action or practice is the willingness to face our fears – those barriers that try to prevent us from breaking through to the next level.
Fear of failure, injury or even success tries to rob almost all athletes and Olympians of their progress and win, but they simply don’t let it. They regard fear and risk as an opportunity for growth and the gateway to victory.
Dr. Shane Murphy, a sports psychologist and professor at Western Connecticut State University who also has worked with Olympians, told National Geographic News that the key is the way in which extreme athletes redefine risk according to their skills, experience and environment.
Murphy explained: “We look at a risky situation and know that if we were in (that situation) we would be out of control. But from the (athletes’) perspective, they have a lot of control, and there are a lot of things that they do to minimize risk.”
In short, where we see problems, Olympians see potential.
The third action or practice is changing the current of our nervous energy or worry from being a debilitating anxiety to being an overcoming optimism.
Dr. Robert Weinberg, an expert who teaches sports psychology at Miami University, was asked by Newsmax, “Can the athlete channel the pressure so that it has a positive effect, or will it be debilitative?”
Weinberg replied by saying, “Research shows that what you do with anxiety seems to be more important than how much anxiety you have.”
Just a few days ago, Dr. Mallika Marshall explained to New England Cable News that “in 2004, a sports psychiatrist studied the brain activity of 250 athletes. He found winning athletes were better at tuning out negative thoughts and were able to focus their attention on the job at hand.”
Murphy adds that they push hard to get in “the flow” or “the zone,” a state that allows their mind to be absorbed completely in the present moment – an ability that is not totally innate but largely learned and practiced.
When it comes to mastering the mind or body, practice really does make perfect. Progress and victory really are questions of mind over matter.
As a six-time world karate champion, I can reassure you: The battle for the brain is won one thought at a time.
It’s true for Olympians. It’s true for me. It’s true for you, too.
Write to Chuck Norris (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.