Below are some of the mental skills practices that we regularly train for resilience and performance. They can be used in isolation or integrated as you hone the skills!
There is much research that supports the impact our breath has on our ability to perform. Practicing paced breathing regularly (per the guidance of a biofeedback expert such as Dr. Herzog) can help you not only develop a skilled response for lowering anxiety, but practicing it for 20 minutes 2 times a day can help to keep your overall baseline anxiety low. This practice has also been shown to help develop resiliency to stressors, and significantly limit the escalation of anxiety in situations that previously served as triggers.
Paced breathing is optimally trained after an assessment, but you can start training right away by using a Pacer such as Kardia or Awesome, with a 4 second inhale and a 6 second exhale. And, you can start pacing your breathing without a timer during controlled skills (like shooting free throws) as a proactive anxiety management technique that can also be used (after a little practice) in competition. After committing to a regular breathing practice, you’ll quickly discover benefits with performance and with life!
New Self-Talk Habits
You’ll never hear us suggest to control the thoughts you have, or to stop thinking about something… because that just doesn’t work, and tends to make things worse. (For example, try not to think of pink elephants, right now…). What does work, however, is developing adaptive self-talk habits that focus on developing new patterns of inner dialogue (how we speak to ourselves). When you are competing, or under pressure, and you find that your mind is full of chatter and distracting thoughts, using cue words can help to bring your mind back to the present moment.
Cues like “next shot” or “aim small” can bring your focus back to your next move, and can help quiet your mind’s chatter. If that doesn’t work, keep trying on new thoughts in these situations and find what works for YOU. Don’t try to “B.S.” yourself by saying “you can do this” if that feels like hogwash (but if it does resonate, great! Go with it.). Maybe a more neutral thought like “that sucks” if you miss a shot (instead of thinking “I suck” or “well there’s always another chance” if those thoughts are harmful to your performance). Other potentially helpful types of thoughts may be more body-focused, centered on the sensations of executing a skill (e.g., “tight, tight, release!”) or no words at all -just quiet awareness of how your body feels in that moment.
With thoughts and sensations, especially under pressure or in moments of feeling anxious, it can be helpful to notice feelings and thoughts – and then let them go. For instance, you could be about to start a 5k for a cross country meet… you nonjudgmentally tune into sensations of tension in your legs, back, or jaw. Or maybe you find yourself hyper-focusing on your breath. Noticing that tension, and noticing your breath, while allowing for a slower exhale—acknowledging these sensations without labeling them as “bad” or as “anxiety”— just making a point of noticing… and then letting them go… can allow your attention to shift back to your race strategy (or other productive thoughts that work for you!) and contribute to better performance once the race starts.
Paced breathing, new self-talk habits, and mindful awareness are some of the most effective skills we have found to help people to feel and perform their best and manage their stress. Reach out to schedule your first session and learn more!
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