By: NATALIA PATTERSON
All athletes, at one point or another, struggle to perform at their best under the pressure of competition. Many begin to question why their mind goes blank in important situations, why their scores seem to be better in practice than in competitions, and why it is so hard to always perform at a consistent level. Some attribute these problems to not working hard enough. However, in the book “With Winning in Mind,” written by world rifle champion and Olympian Lanny Bassham, the author reveals that, with the proper training, preparation, and mental balance, top performances under pressure can actually be easy.
Not only does this book emphasize the importance of mental training, stating that success in sport is 90% mental, but it describes a system to help athletes perform their best under pressure. This system divides our mind into three sections: the “Conscious Mind,” “Subconscious Mind,” and “Self-Image.” The Conscious Mind is the part of the brain that controls all of our conscious thoughts, while the Subconscious Mind is the source of our trained skills that we can execute automatically. The Self-Image refers to an athlete’s confidence and attitudes towards their performance. When these three components are balanced and working together, only then can an athlete achieve their full potential. Throughout the book, Bassham offers techniques on how to keep each aspect in balance, and how to grow each one in a way that makes you a more well-rounded athlete.
Bassham explains how the Conscious Mind can be used to achieve a good result. First of all, the author stresses that the Conscious Mind can focus only on one thing at a time. This is the reason why many athletes fail under pressure: their minds are occupied with thinking about the outcome or the stakes of the competition, instead of concentrating on the process. In the book, the result of this is referred to as “over-trying.” When competitors are being extra-careful not to make a mistake, they are not as focused on their actions, and therefore getting a better result seems harder. When an athlete’s thoughts are oriented around the process, the action will likely seem easier and achieve a better result.
In any competition, if you do not have skills and training that is near the level of your opponents, you cannot win. A beginner isn’t likely to beat an Olympic-level athlete, no matter how focused they are. This is why the Subconscious Mind, which is responsible for the skills you can perform without having to think about them, is important. The book lists ways that you can improve your training regime to maximize your acquired subconscious skill. The author recommends training frequently, four to five days a week being the ideal amount. In addition, on the days when you feel you are doing well, practice more than usual. This ensures that your good performances are imprinted in your Subconscious Mind. Another way to improve subconscious skill is to record your successes in a journal. You can also record solutions to problems you have been having, but make sure not to write anything you did wrong in the journal, since you do not want your failures to become part of your subconscious skill.
No matter how much skill you have, it’s impossible to apply it without confidence that you can do the action well. The Self-Image, the third element of a successful performance, controls the amount of effort an athlete puts in. If you believe that a win is within your reach, then you will naturally put in more effort in order to maintain this self-image. Likewise, if you do not think that you have the ability to win, you will take actions to reinforce this self-image, and will not work as hard as possible. Your Self-Image can also dictate how well you execute more specific tasks. If your mistakes and failures while attempting a certain action become part of your identity, you are not likely to improve, whereas if you begin to think of the action as one of your strengths, your attitude will help you be more successful. Another way to control your Self-Image in your favor is to set a goal and visualize achieving it. When the goal becomes part of your Self-Image, you are more likely to work as hard as you can until you achieve it.
The mental system in “With Winning in Mind” can be the key to success for any athlete. In addition, this system can be applied to any aspect of life that requires performing under pressure. When your Conscious Mind, Subconscious Mind, and Self-Image are in harmony, you can push yourself to work hard and improve at anything. So, the next time you feel that your mindset is unbalanced and you are unsure of how to take control of it, it may be useful to remember the three elements of a good performance that Lanny Bassham describes in this book.