How do the Olympic athletes do it competing in the Games.

Behind these athletes’ physical feats is an arguably even more impressive mental prowess cultivated through years of training the mind to tune out distractions, reduce stress and anxiety and build the focus and stamina they need to achieve optimal performance. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that great athletes succeed because they know how to stay at the top of their game mentally.

Former Olympic gold medal-winning decathlon runner Bruce Jenner once said “You have to train your mind like you train your body.” He’s echoing an athletic maxim that’s practically a cliché: sports are 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.

“The physical aspect of the sport can only take you so far,” said Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Shannon Miller during an interview. “The mental aspect has to kick in, especially when you’re talking about the best of the best. In the Olympic games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.”

But you don’t have to be vying for a gold medal to benefit from training your brain. Here are ways that can help boost performance in any part of your life.

Visualize the outcome you want.

olympic gymnastics

Many athletes have used the technique of “mental imagery,” or visualization, to up their game and perform at their peak. Research on the brain patterns of weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted heavy weights were activated similarly when they simply imagined lifting, and some studies have suggested that mental practice can be almost as effective as physical training. One study, published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology in 1996, found that imagining weight lifting caused actual changes in muscle activity.

“Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory, So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices makes mental toughness and can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow.”

But visualizing is more than just thinking about an upcoming event. When athletes use visualization, they truly feel the event taking place in their mind’s eye.


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