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Anyone who has survived beyond his 10th birthday knows the road to success is usually a tortuous, obstacle-laden single track with plenty of opportunities for failure, not to put to fine a point on the journey. Beyond the manned and unmanned obstructions, often the most influential effect on your behavior is what happens in your head. Self-sabotage can undermine even the best talent, and containing that wild hair of doubt separates the boys from the legends.
Sports psychologist Jason Selk, M.Ed, owner of Enhanced Performance Inc., knows this all too well. He has worked with professional athletes in most major sports and his new book 10-Minute Toughness: The Mental-Training Program For Winning Before The Game Begins is the synthesis of his experience helping our greatest athletes overcome mental hurdles. Selk’s program for developing mental toughness is separated into three phases and requires just 10 minutes a day to master. The result, he believes, is individuals who are more focused and driven, and aren’t handicapped by self-doubt.
The first phase is called the Mental Workout. It’s a five-step process that Selk says is the crux of his entire routine. Master this phase and the others fall in step. Selk talked with M&F and explained in detail how to implement each step into a daily routine. Once committed to memory, Selk says phase one will take about three and half minutes to complete every day. The payoff will be a step toward understanding what it means to use your head to get ahead.
1. The Centering Breath
“This is just a biological way to control your heart rate. When an athlete experiences pressure, his heart rate elevates. The average golfer’s heart rate, for example, is between 70 and 75 beats per minute (bpm) when he’s practicing. In a competitive situation, that same golfer’s heart rate may be 85-plus bpm. Many athletes aren’t aware this is happening or more importantly how to control it. That’s where the centering breath comes in. Simply breathe in for six seconds, hold for two, then breathe out for seven. That’s the first exercise in the Mental Workout.
2. The Performance Statement
“I have athletes tell me their top three tasks in terms of competition. Let’s say it’s a pitcher. He might be asked to hit, field and pitch. Once I’ve identified the top three tasks, I want him to identify the No. 1 task. For a pitcher it’s obviously pitching, so I have him identify the top three things he needs to think about before he throws each pitch. It may be, What pitch am I going to pitch and where? Then he’s going to think, Weight back, arm on top. This way he knows no only where he’s trying to put the ball but also that he’s in a position to keep it down in the strike zone. The performance statement is important because that’s what we try to focus on. In the gym it can translate into targeting a specific bodypart, whether it’s your core, chest or biceps.”
3. The Personal Highlight Reel
“This is an advanced form of visualization of three one-minute clips. For the first one I have athletes come up with specific instances of past success, where they did a nice job of emphasizing the performance statement we talked about. For the next 60 seconds we focus on an elevated-pressure game, a playoff-caliber game. I ask them to picture themselves in 3-5 different highlights, pitching well by emphasizing the elements of their performance statement. Then the third part of the reel is a clip where they imagine the next day’s game or practice, again focusing on the performance statement.”
4. The Identity Statement
“This is centered on two elements: The athlete’s No. 1 strength and one of his ultimate goals. It might be something like, I’m a strong and confident pitcher and I’m a hall-of-fame-caliber player. It’s really something he has strength in and is trying to accomplish. It emphasizes developing the self-image.”
5. The Centering Breath
“I have them finish with another centering breath because as they go through the visualization, their heart rates may become elevated. So we want to control that heart rate again before we go out and take the field or enter the gym.”