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Seeing is believing — and achieving. If what you wish to accomplish is too undefined or vague, it’s much less likely to happen. That’s why so many athletes rely on visualization during training and competition, and why so much research backs its efficacy: One oft-cited study from the University of Chicago asked participants to visualize shooting basketball free throws — the weight of the ball, how it arced through the air, the sound it made as it whooshed through the basket — and in just four weeks, their shooting improved by 23 percent.
“The times I won a competition, I was all in mentally and physically,” says Erin Stern, Division I track athlete and two-time Figure Olympia champion. “I visualized every detail of the competition — from the suit to how the stage felt under my feet to my posing to the weight of the medals hanging around my neck. Create the accomplishment in your head first, then make it tangible and it will come to fruition.”
Employ the following mental strategies to sharpen your winning edge.
1 | Turn Your Focus Inward
It’s easy to get distracted by what others are doing — especially with the incessant press of social media. Do your best to prevent that interruption of your purpose first thing in the morning. “For the first hour upon waking, do not allow the outside world in, and do not look at your phone,” advises Brooke Erickson, NASM-CPT, nutrition specialist and transformation coach. “During that hour, write down your goals for that day and focus on yourself and what energizes you. That way, you won’t get sidelined and will be able to connect with your inner compass.”
2 | Prepare for Your Purpose
When it comes to exercise, a job interview or hosting a holiday party, it’s not enough to just show up and hope for the best — you have to have a game plan in place in order to succeed. “Walking into the gym without a plan often results in endless meandering and ineffective lifting,” says Charlotte Oldbury, ACSM-CPT, NPC bikini competitor. Before you even get into your car, make sure everything you need to have for a successful training session is in place: Create a playlist, pack your gym bag, outline your workout strategy and even prep some meals to eat afterward. “Then all you have to do is follow the plan and continue with the decisions you’ve already made — simple,” Oldbury adds.
3 | Don’t Give In to Excuses
It’s easy to give in to your excuses. They are always right there, bubbling just beneath the surface, practically encouraging you to make the wrong choices. “There will be mornings when you don’t want to wake up at ridiculous-o’clock to train, or when you’re tired, or when you’ve had a long day and don’t want to cook a healthy meal,” says Nathalia Melo, Bikini Olympia champion and NFPT-certified trainer. “Keep reminding yourself of what you want most instead of focusing on what you want right now.” Hold yourself accountable for your actions, and instead of using your creativity to conjure up excuses, use it to execute the task.
4 | Maintain Your Motivation
Once you find your “why” — the driving force that aligns you with your greater purpose — it is much easier to stay motivated. “My older sister was the only healthy person in my family, and she taught me that it’s OK to be selfish and to want more,” says CrossFit competitor Lexi Berriman. “I’m not naturally athletic or coordinated, so I have to give 110 percent in every session. I’m motivated by learning new things in the gym and surround myself with athletes who are better than I am and who push me.” Keep your most motivating factors top of mind and remind yourself of them when you feel like throwing in the towel or doing a half-assed workout.