Olympics & Mental Strength

Watching athletes (professionals or elite) compete on the biggest stage in the world, the Olympics, is chock-full of great examples of mental strength and mental weakness. The power or use of positive psychology became evident in the athletes who had the had the most fun and were the most relaxed, did the best!!!! When an athlete has neglected to be mentally prepared enough, it becomes obvious in tension, poor performance or worse. It turns out, that positive self-talk, planned optimism, and visualization or mental rehearsal all help create a positive attitude that enhance mental toughness and resilience in athletes. In many events at the Olympics, we saw multiple examples of athletes at the London 2012 experience a major mistake and then come back with an excellent performance or recovery. Some did not. What makes the difference? The ability of an elite athlete to focus on strengths, let go of the past or compartmentalize their disappointment, mentally rehearse being successful are keys to overcoming doubt, fear and loss of confidence. We saw one woman gymnast, top in the world make several mistakes and fell into despair after having a terrible floor routine. When asked later how she came back to win in the team competition, she said that she had to go into a "bubble" to refocus completely. This is a great example of how athletes teach themselves to get into a flow state.
The biggest source of stress to an athlete is their personal expectations or the expectations of others. The objective in these situations is to control emotions and find the focus needed to let their physical skills come into the fore despite olympic sized distractions and pressure.
When you are facing your own personal disappointments, expectations, perfection or out of control emotions, it may be time to find or create your own bubble to contain those fears. Generate positive imagery, rehearse positive and affirming self-talk to encourage you to focus on strengths, abilities and a strategy that helps you achieve your goals. 
When fear arises, athletes create "mantras" or positive self-talk statements to combat stress, performance anxiety or fear. Mantra examples:

  • I can do it
  • Relax
  • Trust yourself
  • Take a breath
  • I have what it takes
  • Think positively
  • I can meet this challenge
Remember, champions are made in practice!!! Take time to practice positive self-talk and use a mantra that increases your confidence and inner calm.