The Will to Win
Are mental workouts what you need to help you win?
Sports psychologists have been working with athletes for more than 30 years to give top competitors their winning edge. According to The Will to Win, Scientific American Mind April 2005, the key techniques are visualization, confidence and self-talk.
Purveyors of "The Secret", aka the Law of Positive Attraction suggest that we can draw into our life that upon which we place our dominant thoughts. See yourself winning, think only about successful execution, think about dominating the game, and ... well, it's not quite that easy. The question perhaps is how much of this can be used.
In my earlier posting, Performance Anxiety or Energy, I noted that John Eliot, Ph.D. in his book “Overachievement: The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More”, argues that top performers understand that they perform best under pressure. Rather than seeking to relax, they use the natural physical reaction before a performance to increase their focus and move into the process of performance.
Beyond finding the balance between strain and relaxation, many athletes employ visualization techniques. Repeated visualization can make the real motion easier to perform. Brain researchers have found the imagining a movement activates the same motor regions of the brain that light up during the actual movement. Repeated attention to this area of the brain is believed to increase the strength of the neural connections.
However, some studies, and the work of John Eliot, suggest practice is one thing, performance is another. Breaking the motion into pieces at the time of performance can hinder the results. "The alternative is to imagine the outcome" with great focus.
Brain research points to compelling evidence that visualization enhances physical performance, that neural connections are strengthened to repetition. Awareness is drawn to that which we most think about. So when we are positively focusing on the will to win, do we draw toward ourselves that which we most think about, or do we, perhaps, draw ourselves toward the goal?