By Ross Enamait – Published in 2005
How do we gain confidence and develop mental toughness?
This is a common question, asked by many aspiring athletes. While searching the Internet, I typed the phrase “mind power” in the Google search engine. I received several thousand hits with this phrase. Many of the links were to expensive information products dedicated to the subject. For a few hundred bucks, some guru will tell you how to develop a strong mind, which will then supposedly improve athletic performance.
One thing that I’ve learned in my life is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Training the mind does not require an investment in an expensive course, nor does it require a degree in psychology or neuroscience.
Although I am all for strategies such as pre-competition visualization and positive affirmations, there is one commonly overlooked way to develop an indomitable mindset.
If you train the body, the mind will follow. By pushing yourself in the gym, your mind is forced to come along for the ride. If your mind is weak, you will quit as soon as fatigue mounts. Fighters are trained to work through fatigue. The ability to display skill in a fatigued state is a unique skill in itself.
Such abilities are developed through intense physical training. If you want a strong, confident mind, you must develop this mindset in the gym.
Consider the words below from Bernard Hopkins, one of the greatest middleweight boxers of all time. These words came in a pre-fight interview earlier in his career. Bernard said the following:
“I’m always going to come in (to the fight) overconfident and I have a reason to. I always come in overconfident because I train so hard that I leave no room for doubt in my mind. I never go in there to lose. The word is not even in my dictionary. I train confident, and I train to think overconfidently. If I didn’t, I’d be a fool.”
By pushing through strenuous workouts, you will improve physically. As your strength and conditioning improve, you will gain confidence in your abilities. This process does not happen overnight. It takes time, dedication, perseverance, and diligence.
There is no room for doubt in an athlete’s mind. You must gain confidence in yourself. As you push through difficult challenges and routines, your mind will become increasingly resilient.
It is easy to quit when the going gets tough. A strong mind will enable you to endure the fatigue that inevitably mounts. As Vince Lombardi once said:
“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”
Tour De France bicycling king Lance Armstrong perhaps said it best with the following words:
“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?”
Obviously, you need a strong mind to live with such conviction, but you also need a strong body. Quitting offers an easy way out. Everyone has a breaking point. By continually raising the bar in the gym, you can avoid reaching this point during competition. Train your body to go the distance, and the mind will be prepared for the journey.
Don’t just coast through your workouts at the gym. Crank up the intensity and gain confidence in your training. Don’t enter your competition wishing that you had one more week to train. Plan ahead of time, put in the work, and develop a strong body and mind.
To drive home this point, let’s look at one brief conditioning workout. Set a timer and challenge yourself to perform 100 burpees as fast as possible. Can you perform 100 burpees in 10 minutes? What about 9, 8, 7, 6, or 5 minutes? How fast can you go?
As you work through this brief challenge, your mind will start whispering in one ear, convincing you to stop or take an extended rest. It will become difficult to maintain a fast pace as fatigue starts to rear its ugly head.
Upon completing the routine, the mind may add another piece of advice, something such as “Let’s never work through that routine again.”
When working through a difficult challenge, it is useful to ignore the mind. Don’t let the mind convince you to quit. Stay focused on the task at hand. Make the decision to complete the challenge in its entirety before you begin. You may even find it useful to post motivating words on the walls of your gym. It is always useful to glance up to a motivational phrase from a dominant athlete such as Lance Armstrong. A quick glimpse may provide that extra spark that you need to keep working.
Before closing this section, I’d like to provide one last quote. These words come from former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. He once said:
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Many readers may consider these words harsh. After all, we live in a world where the easy road is most often traveled. You must remember however that the fight game is harsh. Combat sports are not for everyone. Anyone who suggests otherwise is talking out of his ass. If you wish to partake in such an event, you must take the training seriously.
Prepare the body and mind, or be prepared to fail.