Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Developing Mental Toughness - Cricketers, Sportsmen and Competitors

We hear this often - 'they are not mentally tough'. Mental toughness is an area as nebulous an area as leadership. Few deal with this area of mental toughness clearly.

Mental toughness becomes all the more important to understand because most good coaches say that the mental component is upwards of 70% of the performance / result. I think if one is serious about competing at higher levels, at anything, one must give this mental toughness some serious thought.

Taking the mind to the gym
The two words 'Mental' and 'Toughness' indicate this much - that it is (1) about the 'mind' i.e. of all thoughts and their creations, of courage and clarity, and (2) about 'toughness' i.e. about muscle and resilience, strength built out of habit and discipline, of purpose and hard work.

The basic unit to be toughened - A thought
The best way to understand anything is to deconstruct the whole and bring it down to the basic unit. Here, it's the mind.
What is it about the mind that is uncontrollable?
Its thoughts. And the way these thoughts scare us, distract us, relax us, make us or break us. So we shall address this issue from the basic unit i.e. the thought. This is the core unit we need to work at.
A thought. And how to train it, control it and toughen it.

What are our thoughts about ? Why are they the way they are? Why do they control us? Is there a way we can control them? Are they really powerful? Can they create and can they destroy? How can I be on top of these thoughts? How can I master my mind?

Organisation of our thoughts
Much of mental toughness is about organization of thought. Organising thought provides clarity. Clarity gives courage, conviction and the power to act decisively. If our lives are going by in a disorganized manner it is because our thoughts are scattered and unorganised. The moment we organize our thoughts, we seem to know what to do. However most us prefer the disorganized route, giving more power to the external source, the divine if it may, instead of taking the trouble of sifting through  our thoughts and organizing them. 

This happens because of two things - one a fear that we may discover that we know nothing and secondly the responsibility of having to work to cover the gap i.e organise. It's easier to let the mind rule over us with its scattered thoughts and hope for the best.

You need to organize your thoughts and know what your mind most fears. You must pick up courage and clean up the mess so you can handle your thoughts better, your mind better. You must do what most others will not do.
Let us make a clear path. Let us gain clarity.

To me it is about these three areas - Understanding the context, Process orientation and Beliefs and Mindsets.
1) Understanding the Context and Making sense - Pegging the why, what and how
To begin ask these three questions -
1) Why we are doing what we are doing?
(The purpose, broken down into goals, aims, targets.)
Our aspirations, goals and targets, the reason why we are doing it. The context of our aspirations in the whole.

2) What is it that we are doing?
(The quantity and quality of work.)
The outcome of our work i.e. our current performance in context.

3) How can I do it well enough to achieve my why?
(The process, expertise, skill, factors that contribute to performance.)
The price we are willing to pay to bridge the gap between our aspirations and the present quality of our work i.e. process orientation, subject knowledge.

Some clarity on the above could give us a starting point to work at the mind.

If one acquires information about the above and organizes it - sets goals, plans and prepares - one can fare better. One has more knowledge to deal with uncertainty. After all, much of mental fragility is about uncertainty and our inability to handle it. If you have been there in your mind, you are in a better place. So let us start organising.

Goal Clarity
One must know what one wants. Goal clarity is important - be it performance related or achievement related or even the sheer joy of excelling.

Let us consider the base goal of wanting to achieve a certain level of representation (in cricket it could be playing for the country). Now that the end is clear, it is logical that we find the gap between where we are an where we want to go and find the best route to get there.

This goal must then be broken up into sub goals that are achievable. The best path must be known. The ingredients and first principles to get going on the path must be known as well so one can prepare accordingly for each milestone.

Most prepare for first level and then relax. But the second level requires harder and more purposeful preparation. This is why many players and executives fall off at first class level. They think their preparation for first class level was good enough.

If the goal is clear but performances do not justify selection or achievement, one must look to the preparation part.

1) Performance related thoughts
These are thoughts that need to be analysed.

What are you thinking before the performance?
What are you thinking during the performance?
What are you thinking after the performance?

The quality of thoughts at each stage will decide the quality of the performance.
Mental preparation before the game:
What are the thoughts before the game? Are they allowing you to prepare well, set targets, plan, strategise, clear uncertainty and approach the performance confidently. Or are you hoping. If enough thought has gone into the performance, and all areas that bother you have been covered and worked at, you are better prepared. If you are going in with 'hope' you are not. Ask yourself the following questions.

What are the doubts?What are the gray areas?
What are the areas you know?
Is there a goal? A target? Is it stretching my limits?
Is there a plan to achieve the target?
Is there an alternative plan if things do not go according to plan?
Am I in a good space after going through all the information in my mind/journal?
Have I visualized the perfect performance?
Have I seen images that make me confident of achieving what I want?

The thinking before the game is to do with preparing the mind using many techniques - visualization, meditation, hypnosis, goal setting. All of these prepare the mind to be at ease, to be comfortable in the head that tomorrow's monster is not totally beyond our reach. The quality of thinking, of preparation, of discussion and analysis, will reduce the anxiety to a bearable level. Speakers read their speeches over and over again, singers and dancers, performers do the same. Many successful people do this and are better off for it. They rehearse, they visualise, they see it happening before it actually does.

Mental state during the game:
The thinking during the game requires one to execute all that one has planned for. Typically one tries to plan for almost everything, the last detail, for the unexpected. Nothing should take one by surprise. In such cases the mind needs discipline and a commitment to a goal. There should be no weak moment, no compromise. However tired, however fatigued, how much ever in pain, the mind should stick to the job. This aspect of no escape must be drilled into the mind while performing. This is a state of high awareness. Most of what happens on the ground is about carrying out what the mind prepared for yesterday and the years and months before that. But to bring it down to one unit - your thoughts need to deal only with the present. Do not carry the burden of the past or the future. Keep it light, deal with the present.

What is my basic plan?
How can I stick to the plan?
How do I keep away distractions?
What are the markers or milestones that show I am on the path?
How can I self-correct when I am deviating from the plan?
What is plan B if plan A is not working?

Hang in there.

Mental analysis after the game:
The thinking after the performance has to be one of analysis. The greatest performers do not make the same mistakes twice. So do not ignore the mistakes. Make note, correct them, and decide not to commit them again. If you do not have the ability to self-correct ask someone who can. Having learned the lessons, move on. Do not let a failure bother you and drag your performance down. It is over. Now is the time to make amends. Similarly do not let a good day make you casual. Your bad streak can start with one careless performance. Try and extend your good performances all the time.

How was my performance?
What did I do right?
What did I do wrong?
What are the areas to improve?
How do I not repeat the mistakes?
Do I know enough to self-correct?
Do I need external help in any area?

The above thoughts organize the mind and push it into a better space.

2) Process - Orientation or Subject / Skill / Preparation related thoughts
How to improve my performances depends on my knowledge of the game and the process.

Do I know my game well enough to self-correct?
Do I know the process of delivering high performances?
Have I addressed the issues where I am strong and the ones where I am weak?

Firstly have I analysed my game. Do I feel confident that I know my game and can deliver in any conditions. If I do not how can I develop expertise to deliver in any condition? The 10000 hour rule. The practice of the basics again and again.

The first principles are clear. The basics must be fundamentally strong. for sportsmen or cricketers the basics of batting, bowling and fielding must be clear in their minds. How do I defend securely without a fault? How do I attack without making a mistake? How do I time the ball? Is the grip right? The stance?Am I timing the ball right? Do I feel in control?

A young executive can analyse his subject knowledge, his skills at presenting his knowledge. If one feels confident enough then good, go ahead and deliver. If you are not sure, go back to the drawing board right now and get it all right.

Typically, your performances tell you your story. If you are not able to perform consistently, there is something wrong with skill, physical fitness or in the last section, mental strength. Analyse your performances and see where your mistake lies. Tighten that area. Poor shot selection, poor execution, fatigue, mental indiscipline.
Get the basics right. A minimum delivery must be guaranteed on a normal day.

Thoughts regarding the process are to be this way. If I am doing well, do I know why? If am am doing badly do I know why? If my performances are slipping, I need to understand quickly that something is lacking in my preparation. its either the skill, physical or mental part. if you can correct it do it. Ideally get an expert who can set the process right.
The expert makes sense because they can spot flaws. Else you will be practising flawed techniques. Then how much ever hard you work, you will actually regress. Not progress.

The effort should show in constant growth.

The process then is this -
1) Analyse your performances
2) Aim for a particular level of performance
3) Prepare
4) Perform
5) If on track push for next higher limit with higher preparation
6) If not on track, seek correction quickly.
7) Get expert help, figure out process, and work on it
8) Go back to perform
9) If on track, good
10) If not on track, your process is wrong - check on skill, physical and mental areas for lack of correct preparation
11) Over a period, your graph should show consistent growth

At level one, those who put more effort will rise higher. 
At level 2 those who put better quality of work will rise higher. 
This is a mental thing again - to organize and focus on all small details.

One must be able to figure out the way forward - work, purposeful work, identifying expert help, pushing oneself to deliver high performances consistently. It will require one to go into places that one has not yet gone, to develop skills that are required at the next level, to be fully prepared is by chance the job lands with you.

Successful people know that performances clearly reflect preparation. All preparation therefore is done with the idea of what's required to be ahead of the game for the next level. You don't go there and try to adjust - you already learn to cope at far higher standards before you get there. You must be dying to get into that hot situation, to deliver - because you're fully prepared. When you prepare that way its not about whether you will get there, but when.

Typically preparation for the next level requires putting oneself through tougher rigors. The mind has gone there, the body has gone there, so its not really an unknown animal. You are mentally tougher because you know you can push yourself for hours and hours - you have done it and you can do it again.

This sort of preparation is again the result of organized thought. Of purposeful thought. Of slowly expanding your mind and thought to the level where it knows you have prepared well and enough. That nothing has been left to chance.

3) Beliefs, Attitudes and Mindsets
Once goals are clear, the time must be filled with work. Purposeful work. Purposeful work is guided by your attitude or the mindset. Do I want to constantly learn and better myself and as such treat this process as a journey? Or do I want to be like a know-all, stop learning and stagnate my own growth because I think I am too good to learn as all the others are? The fear of failure or of perceived success can be handled by the first mindset - the growth mindset - which is about learning, not about failing or succeeding.

With the growth mindset, commitment comes into the picture. Make up your mind to achieve what you want despite all obstacles. Get into the top 30% of players - the undroppables through sheer weight of your performances. Work on skill, performances, physical fitness and mental strength.

Why We Fall Off Discipline? - Commitment
Goals that are outside our mind's belief are ignored by it. It finds ways to put all kinds of barriers towards any effort towards it. Here is where one may find help in that good ally - commitment. If we can tell our mind that no matter what it says, we are working on this aspect for the rest of our lives, the mind will then see no escape and give up. It may not still believe, but it will not get in the way anymore, if you are committed to your work ethic.
This commitment and discipline is a good part of the work done.

Handling Limiting Beliefs
However, all is not over yet. Despite clarity, despite work, commitment and discipline, one encounters many hard luck stories. This is the realm of beliefs, our core negative beliefs, which reject all our efforts, our aspirations and trashes them. You are not good enough they say and we cannot seem to do anything but prove them right.

One must be aware that mental part involves subconscious stuff like beliefs which can be limiting. If one believes that one does not fit in at higher level it will become true. One can sabotage oneself with one's beliefs. If you have done everything right and are not able to break in, look at your beliefs.

The good news is that there are many ways o deal with these limiting beliefs - affirmations (words), visualisations (images), hypnotherapy (sub conscious messages) - which clear the mind of limiting beliefs and create space for new creations. This is an extremely important aspect and many players, executives do not understand where they have gone wrong - because they have done everything right so far. It is the realm of beliefs and one must consult an expert here - psychoanalysts, hypnotherapists, mental conditioning coaches etc

One must constantly be aware that the quality of thoughts is important. It is important to organize thoughts and then merely follow the same. It requires the mind to follow the pattern and not get tense or worried. If one does follow that process you do not even need to think - positive or negative. Stay neutral, stay in the moment. hold your trust moment to moment. That's all. Negative thoughts can collapse the issue. Just stay.

The mind sees fear when it thinks is cannot handle things. this is when one needs to talk to the mind and tell it that you can find a way out. that you can handle it. Don't let the mind run away with that thought.
The mind also looks to escape all the time. clarity, detail, work require courage, honesty, commitment and responsibility. If the mind is provided no escape and forced to look at what you want, it will give up. You are really the boss so you can control the mind by your thinking. But it needs practice. This is what discipline is about - if you have to do something, you have to. Don't compromise, don't lower standards. Push harder and start and finish the job.

Take responsibility. Don't blame, don't give excuses. You're fully responsible for what happens. Commit yourself. however long, however hard. Know the process. Equip the mind. Give it ways and tools to handle tough situations. Empower it with knowledge.

When you're fully prepared, push all your limits, look to convert all hardships into opportunities to show your preparation, be keen to take on bigger and tougher rivals to prove your worth. You will join an elite band of people who know what work ethic means, who know how to train like a champion and work harder than everyone else, who know how to deliver every time in every condition. Its not luck. Its totally preparation.

A quick look at your chosen area of work (I have chosen cricket here
1) Your Goals – year wise
Achievement goals
Performance goals

2) Your abilities - current (scale of 10)
3) Self analysis
Areas to improve
How to improve performances?
4) Preparation - Attitudinal aspects
Knowledge of process – knowing to self-correct, knowing what to practice at, putting in the hours
Willingness to learn – early detection, seeing performances as the indicator
Performance analysis – identify strengths and weaknesses, going to better
Expert guidance – identify coaches and expert help
Mental state – staying in the present, keeping out negatives, focus on the present
Mental preparation – pre-season, pre-match, during season, during match
Visualization – at practice, before games
Training the mind – pushing limits, not taking excuses, handling tough situations, taking responsibility
Identifying negative thought patterns – staying in neutral

1 comment:

jhon said...

I am impressed. I don't think Ive met anyone who knows as much about this subject as you do. You are truly well informed and very intelligent.