The key to understanding how your mindset can affect your fitness performance is to learn the definitions of two crucial types of mindset and how they contrast: the fixed mindset vs. the growth mindset. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that their abilities or characteristics are out of their control. For example, if they’re not great at a particular sport, such as netball, they might believe that this can’t change and that they’re unable to become good at netball. In contrast, a person with a growth mindset would believe that this can change and that they are able to improve at netball if they put in the work.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple, and having a growth mindset alone certainly won’t be enough to improve your athletic ability. Due to a number of factors, including our unique body types, sizes and genetics, some people will be more suited to certain sports and this may be an advantage to them. However, this doesn’t mean that someone with a physique that’s not so well suited to one particular sport can’t be good at it; they simply have to take control and perhaps put in more work in than someone who’s genetically better adapted. This person will be able to maximise their performance within the sport by focusing on what they can control, for example training with a coach, learning correct technique, whilst also maintaining good nutrition and recovery methods.
Although the mind alone isn’t capable of making you a great athlete, its role in improving your athletic ability (or ability at anything in general) is greatly underestimated. Do you know how much more likely you are to lift a heavy weight or run a certain distance if you believe you are capable of doing it? The sheer number of studies into mindset led by researchers such as Carol Dweck, can tell you that it’s a lot.
There’s a reason why coaches for top athletes focus on the role of psychology and use powerful visualisation techniques such as visualising winning their event and imagining how they’ll feel at the time [check out our awesome Mental Wealth Ambassador & Sports Mind Coach Natalie for more on this]. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, that focus on breathing, can also be combined with visualisation to help athletes to manage their nerves and perform effectively during competition.
A poor coach won’t consider training the mind, and yet, focusing solely on your physical game won’t guarantee success. You could be the fittest, strongest, most powerful athlete in your sport, but if you can’t cope with nerves, you lack confidence or start doubting your ability, that win will not be yours.
A good coach or sports psychologist will work with you to increase your mental resilience and attitude. Tia-Claire Toomey is a good example to use here (Crossfit fans will know who she is) - Tia was certainly capable of winning the Crossfit games in 2016, but all of the camera interviews with her revealed she was extremely insecure about her ability to win and she constantly came across as behaving negatively towards herself. She admitted that she needed to work on her attitude and came back in 2017, her mental game fully in place, to win the Games, before returning and doing the same this year.
Becoming stronger mentally follows a similar process to any other kind of training; it takes time and needs regular practice - your brain needs training just like any other muscle does. Gaining confidence and mental resilience isn’t a skill that just happens overnight, performing certain tasks every day would be ideal and becoming more aware of any negative thoughts will mean you can dispel and replace them with positive ones instantly.
If you’re serious about being an athlete or even at achieving your goals at the gym, then addressing your mindset is crucial. Once you have this, as well as a strong physical game, they will both begin to benefit each other and you’ll have the well-rounded approach to training that’ll help give you the results you’re after.