The mind: your ally in surpassing yourself

Playback time: 8 minutes
15/05/2024

It all happens here... In your head!

Do you work out for hours in the gym? Do you do a lot of physical exercise?

That's good, but it's not the most important thing.

Whether they're top athletes, trainers or coaches, they all know...

And everyone will tell you: your Mental is crucial!

So it's worth a little tune-up, isn't it?

Mental and physical: an equal pair

The impact of the physical on the mental

The effect of sport and physical activity on mental health is well known. Its benefits are proven and regularly commented on in specialist articles (including our own).

As a reminder:

- Creation of new neurons (neurogenesis).

- Improved connections between different brain regions (Brain connectivity).

- Formation of new blood vessels (Angiogenesis).

- Improved brain function (better concentration, stress reduction, better cognitive functions, reduced risk of anxiety or depression), etc.

Source: Cerveau et Psycho Issue 86

But the opposite effect is just as true: the mind has an impact on your health and well-being .

The impact of the mind on the body

Stress can affect our health and physical performance, but so can joy and serenity.

The subject is not new: it has been studied and commented on by various academic specialists.

At the University of Chicago in the 1950s, Dr. Biasiotto sought to demonstrate this.

He divided a basketball team into 3 groups:  

- The first group had to practice free-throw shooting every day for an hour.

- The second group simply had to visualize themselves throwing.

- The third group had to do nothing.

After 30 days, the 3 groups were tested in free throw.

Results :  

- The third group: no improvement. Hardly surprising!

- First group: 24% improvement. Training has paid off.

- The second group: up 23%. Interesting!

Is visualization as effective as regular training? The study remains controversial, but the idea has gained ground.

The effect of the mind on the body has been the subject of much research.

New disciplines are emerging:  

Sport psychology

Yes, there is a branch of psychology devoted to sport.

The goal?

On the flip side, understanding the impact of the mind on the practice of sport, and on the reverse, the impact of the practice of sport on the mind. She studies our behaviours, thoughts and emotions during physical and sporting activities. And vice versa.

Surprising? Well, not really.

As far as "sports science" is concerned, there are two families:

- Biological sciences.

- Human sciences.

The contribution of the biological sciences was obvious very early on, when it came to commenting on and understanding our sporting and physical performances. The human sciences had to wait longer. Indeed, it wasn't until the early 1980s that sport psychology was finally recognized in France.

In 1897, Norman Triplett scientifically demonstrated the existence of a "mental" factor in sporting performance. Drawing inspiration from group cycling, he observed and proved that the effect of competition improved individual performance.

More recently (2001), a study by Weinberg and Williams concluded that 85% of athletes who received mental preparation saw their performance improve!

This diverse research has led to the development of techniques and methods such as relaxation, visualization and emotion regulation.

From now on, the idea of "strengthening one's mental strength", of "mentally preparing oneself" among top-level athletes, is becoming the norm.

What's it all about?

Mental strength: the pillar of health and well-being

What are we talking about?

Definition:

"Mental toughness is a developed collection of experiences inherent in values, attitudes, emotions and cognitions (specific to each sport) that influence the way an individual approaches, responds to and evaluates negative and positive situations (pressure, challenge and adversity situations) in order to consistently achieve their goals."

More simply, Professor Peter Clough defines Mental Strength as a quality "that partly determines how we cope with challenges, stress and pressure". It is directly linked to our performance, behavior, well-being and aspirations.

This concept, first used in sports psychology, has now been taken completely out of its original context.

The best-known model is the one developed by Peter Clough : the 4C model.

-Commitment

Set clear goals and stick to them despite the obstacles.

- Challenge

Get out of your comfort zone, always learn from your failures.

- Control

Regulate or control your emotions, be in control, adapt to stress.

- Confidence

Believe in yourself and your ability to succeed, and assert yourself in front of others.

Based on this model, and on subsequent research, the idea of mental preparation for athletes was born.

How can you boost your mental strength?

" The fight is won or lost long before I step into the ring, the real fight is in the gym and on the road when I go running." Muhammad Ali (boxing champion)

As shown above, the aim is to enable you to better manage your emotions and stress, and give you greater confidence in your abilities.

 "One of the keys to success is self-confidence. One of the keys to self-confidence is preparation. " Arthur ASHE (American professional tennis player in the 1970s). You have to be able to counteract the blocking effects of stress.

Of course, it's impossible to eliminate stress, so you have to learn to manage it.

Here, emotional control comes into play.

Some are based on a benchmark sports psychology questionnaire: theOMSAT-4 (Ottawa Mental Skills Assessment Tool), created by Dr. John Salmela.

It assesses 12 mental skills, divided into three main categories:

Some well-known mental preparation techniques :

- Visualization

The aim is to encourage the creation of mental images of success.

We imagine and visualize our goal, our successful performance (we visualize our movements, the technique used, the finish line crossed, etc.). We use all our senses in this visualization (sight, sound, smell, visual, etc.).

Why?

It seems that the brain doesn't know the difference between a real and an imagined action. So you can boost your self-confidence by training your mind to visualize success.

This positive visualization is often accompanied by a state of relaxation. Being relaxed makes you more responsive. Certain athletes were renowned for their legendary relaxation (Usain Bolt, Mohamed Ali, etc.).

- Concentration

Concentration is the key to lasting success.

An effective tool: mindfulness meditation .

It keeps you focused on the "here and now". The mind becomes accustomed to not allowing itself to be distracted, or to letting parasitic thoughts pass without developing them. Meditation plunges us into an altered state of consciousness. It involves both mental and muscular relaxation.

Breathing techniques can also be used.

Breathing helps you reduce stress and maintain concentration.

Abdominal breathing is an example: inhale rapidly through the nose, then exhale slowly through the mouth. The relaxation effect is quite rapid.

Rhythmic breathing is another: you coordinate your breathing with your movements. The effect can be energizing, with rapid inhalation and exhalation during exertion, followed by slower breathing when you stop.

- Motivation

How do you stay motivated from start to finish? Sometimes you feel like giving up. Sometimes concentration just isn't enough.

You also need goals and motivation that will enable your mind to take over from your body's fatigue. The "eye of the tiger" that will enable you to go all the way and surpass yourself.

The SMART method is often used by coaches.

Give yourself specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) goals. Regular rewards and encouragement can also help maintain motivation throughout the process.

Avoid negative thoughts and always be ready to celebrate your victories, your progress (no matter how small!).

As you can see, Mental Strength is not a simple formality that can be worked on with good intentions.

It's a job in its own right!

There's nothing to stop you starting out on your own, of course, but having a coach or trainer to accompany you will always be more effective.  

Just as you need to build up your body, you need to build up your mind. And that's all I wish for you.

Because as the saying goes mens sana in corpore sanoa healthy mind in a healthy body (Juvenal)!

After reading this article, you can add: a strong mind for a strong body.

And if you haven't yet had a chance to watch and listen to mental coach Yannick Ringot's video tips on our app, run along!

By Edmond Kean

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