People think genius is genetic, but it’s not. It takes time and repetition to master a skill. Practice a habit for 66 days and it can become hard wired. Athletes are often the best visual example of genius. Their ability to perform a physical skill has been honed from decades of practice. When it comes to competition, they know that their mental focus or attention is the reason for victory or loss.
What about everyday people who aren’t competing for the world championship, yet want to deepen their mental focus? The first step is to fuel your brain, specifically the frontal lobe where discipline and willpower reside. And the frontal lobe is stimulated with sleep, exercise, and meditation. And since we’ve been told time and time again that meditation and mindfulness can help you become more disciplined and reduce stress, here are some athletes who might finally make you believe it/want to do it yourself.
Anne Abernathy: 6-time Olympian in Luge and Currently Training for the 2016 Olympics in Archery
“In sport it’s important to not only stay relaxed, but also keep your energy at a high level. It can be done by repeating self-affirming messages such as: “I’ve trained hard, I deserve to be here.” At the same time, shrug your shoulders, then take a deep belly breath and let it out slowly focusing on relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles as you slowly exhale. The rest of the body will automatically follow suit and relax. Complete this routine before an intense activity, or when you’re visualizing kicking butt in the task ahead.
This last step is the most important part, yet everyone always seems to forget it. You have to let go. I try and follow the same three steps: 1. Do self-affirming message, 2. Shrug, take a deep breath, relax shoulders, and 3. Let go.”
Elena Hight: Two-time Olympian and 4-time Winter X Games Medalist in Snowboarding
“Training and competition can be super high stress environments, which is exactly the time when it’s most important to be able to be calm and composed. I’ve found that starting my day off with a meditation and a morning yoga routine always puts me in the best mindset to tackle the day. During events or training sessions that elevate stress, I always take five minutes and sit in nature. If I’m at the top of a halfpipe and the tension is thick or I get nervous, this means stepping into the trees where no one can see me and away from the high energy of the event. There is nothing better than stillness to calm you down.”
Elana Meyers Taylor: Two-time Olympic Medalist in Bobsledding
“Before a competition I need to be calm and relaxed to drive my sled well. What works best for me is praying—nothing is more calming then realizing that the world is bigger than just this race and praying helps me put everything into perspective. Also, constantly reminding myself that I have done everything possible to prepare for that moment gives me the assurance that I can relax and let my hard work shine through to my performance.”
Dawn Riley: America’s Cup and Around the World Sailboat Racer
“Sailing is both physical as well as mental. Stress makes you stupid and you can’t afford that so I have a few things I do and coach. Be prepared—I always have my chap stick, electrical tape, and knife. And if I’m nervous I just touch them in sequence and that’s a signal to myself: ‘I’ve got this. Let’s go.’
I also use a breathing technique a coach taught me when I threw discus in high school. Deep breath, chest out, shoulders back, hold it; exhale keeping chest and shoulders puffed out; relax all. Do that a few times before a regatta or a speech and it helps a lot.”
Thanks to Yolanda Jackson and Marketing Female Athletes for her support in securing the athlete stories.