In the light of the Olympics, The Health Junction has been reading about sports psychology and I find it interesting that some of the key strategies used by elite athletes can be applied to obtaining health, balance, and wellness for us regular folk.
What makes Olympic athletes so special, in my opinion, is their approach to training, nutrition, and mental focus.
It’s easy to see how consistent and tactical training combined with a well thought out nutritional plan help develop top performers. But, what often differentiates an excellent athlete from an olympic athlete is the way they balance the external environment with their own thoughts. Here are some mental techniques used by athletes that we can also apply to our own fitness, health, and life goals:
Set Goals: in watching the Olympics, you may have noticed many athletes who don’t make the podium are still pleased with the results. Having a realistic idea of where we are, and where we want to go helps us accomplish an individual personal best. Process goals are interesting – it involves focusing on one or two things to work on during a performance. For example, accurate passing in hockey, executing a strong flip turn in swimming, or keeping breathing in check during a run. Using the SMART acronym can assist in developing a tangible goal:
S – Specific. Ensure that the goal is clear and concise.
M – Measurable. How will you measure your goal? Will it be to shave some time off a swim? Score more goals in hockey? Reduce cramping during a run?
A – Attainable. It needs to be realistic. When I did my first longer distance triathlon this past summer I didn’t try to “beat” any time or come in first. My “A” was to finish the race.
R – Relevant. Try to choose a lifestyle or fitness goal that will get you where you want to be. Focus your efforts on your area of expertise or interest.
T – Time. Set a deadline. It will make it easier to plan and schedule the tasks needed to achieve your goal.
Visualize: several studies have found the more advanced an athlete, the more they tend to visualize an event prior to competition. While visualization doesn’t tend to improve motor or technical aspects of performance, it helps athletes mentally prepare. This can be applied to giving a presentation, planning a healthy meal, or committing to a workout.
Get Tough & Stay Calm: athletes are mentally tough; they can handle both physical strain and mental stress very well. Mental Toughness is quite broadly defined, but The Journal of Applied Sports Psychology has summarized some key attributes as a belief in ones capabilities through self-confidence, an ability to handle anxiety and pressure, and an all around sharp focus.
Get Confident: Perhaps the most important on the aforementioned list is the development of self-confidence – studies have shown that the more one believes in their own ability, the better they perform. Sports Psychology has posted some interesting tips on developing self-confidence in their blog The Power of Prime:
- having a positive attitude
- refraining from negative self-talk
- excepting failure is normal from time to time
- prepare, prepare, prepare
- embrace challenges as an opportunity for skill advancement
So, let the Olympics inspire you to set your own health goals – visualize your success, get strong, stay calm, and improve your confidence!
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