How to Build Mental Strength to Achieve Peak Performance
on August 8, 2019 • Grace
Getting to the top of the mountain; passing the finish line before everyone else; facing your challenges head on — these are all examples of achieving peak performance. But how do you get to that point?
We can all agree that it takes some level of physical strength to perform at our best. That’s why we go to the gym, or go for a run every day, and push ourselves further and further. We’re used to training our bodies weekly, or even daily, to achieve our goals. But what about our minds?
When you’re climbing a steep, rugged mountain, there’s more than just your legs propelling you upward. The same is true for passing the finish line during a race. Your mindset can make or break the outcome when you face a challenge, and achieving your peak performance takes serious mental strength.
If it’s your mind that pushes you that last mile, how do you build mental strength? Well, like physical strength, you build it with exercise and training. Here are my tried and true ways for How to Build Mental Strength to Achieve Peak Performance.
What is Mental Strength?
Before we had the term mental strength, we had the term grit. Grit is the combination of passion and resistance, the dedicated determination to reach a goal. It is also the trait that is most useful for achieving peak performance.
Grit, or mental strength, gives you the skills necessary to thrive under competitive pressure and adversity, such as crowd noise, poor weather conditions or high expectations. This type of adversity can cause some athletes to fumble or underperform, no matter how much physical strength they have.
In this way, a win, or a loss, can depend on the strength of your mind. I know what you’re thinking — isn’t your struggle, or success, a physical one when it comes to fitness and athletics? Sometimes you can give your all physically, but if your mind is holding you back then there’s no way you can cross that finish line first.
Mental strength keeps you moving forward. It helps you succeed by regulating your emotions and thoughts even when your body or the environment aren’t complying. So no, your struggle or success is not completely physical, even when it comes to a physical challenge. It takes a strong mind to achieve peak performance.
The first step to building a strong mind is reframing your negative thoughts into positive ones. According to a study by the Institute of Sport in England, you’ll perform better if you think, “I’m here to win,” rather than “I hope I don’t lose.”
Mental strength is all about focusing on solutions rather than problems. In any challenge, you need to be able to stay focused on the positive action steps that drive success, instead of getting bogged down in worries or doubts. Reframe challenges as opportunities for growth, not opportunities for failure.
If this seems easier said than done, remember that age-old saying: Fake it ‘til you make it. Confidence doesn’t appear out of thin air. Try creating it yourself.
Seek Out Discomfort
Even if you’re used to pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone physically, it’s a whole new ball game to do it mentally. Your mental strength is built, and tested, with new experiences — both positive and negative. This is because those unwanted, uncomfortable feelings will begin to feel less strange the more you feel and embrace them.
Settling into this discomfort will give you more control over your emotions, without being controlled by them. This is mental strength. The more you build this skill, the more you will be able to continue to challenge yourself even in situations that make you feel anxious and unsure.
Try training in uncomfortable (but not unsafe) conditions. This could include anything from training in bad weather to altering your usual workout schedule.
Visualise Your Situation
As Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn says, “By the time I get to the start gate, I’ve run that race 100 times already in my head, picturing how I’ll take the turns.” Visualising yourself going through the motions of a challenge will help you perform better — no matter your skill level or physical strength.
More than just going through the motions, visualise the possibilities. This will help you identify the actions that are within your control that are essential for achieving your performance goals.
According to sports psychologist, Katie Warriner, it can also be helpful to plan for negative scenarios. She suggests thinking about everything that could throw you off your game or distract you, including the negative thoughts or emotions that might get in your way. This will allow you to make a plan for this adversity beforehand so that you can focus on the job ahead during the big day.
You probably already have a daily or weekly physical exercise routine in order to reach a fitness goal or prepare for an upcoming challenge. This is because a physical strength routine helps you improve your performance consistency, right? The same goes for mental strength.
Like working out your biceps every day in order to achieve your peak upper body strength, you need to work out your mental muscles in order to build the peak mental strength that you desire. This will help you obtain necessary mental skills such as resilience, focus and willpower.
Maintain consistency when building mental strength by setting self-imposed deadlines for completing the above exercises. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality, these deadlines give your tasks more structure and make it harder for you to procrastinate or avoid them.