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The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic Athletes


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H E A L T H Y L I V I N G 02/11/2014 08:40 am ET | Updated Feb 14, 2014


The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic


Athletes
By Carolyn Gregoire

With the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics well underway, millions of


spectators are marveling at the physical skill and talent of the athletes
competing in the Games.

But behind these athletes physical feats is an arguably even more


impressive mental prowess cultivated through years of training the
mind to tune out distractions, reduce stress and anxiety and build the
focus and stamina they need to achieve optimal performance. In fact,
its not a stretch to say that great athletes succeed because they know
how to stay at the top of their game mentally.

Former Olympic gold medal-winning decathlon runner Bruce Jenner


once said, You have to train your mind like you train your body. Hes SUBSCRIBE TO & FOLLOW
echoing an athletic maxim thats practically a clich: sports are 90
LIFESTYLE
Were basically your best friend with
percent mental and 10 percent physical. better taste. Learn more

The physical aspect of the sport can only take you so far, said Newsletter
Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Shannon Miller during an address@email.com
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interview with the Dana Foundation. The mental aspect has to kick in,
especially when youre talking about the best of the best. In the
Olympic games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone 802 K 337 K
does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver
medalists is simply the mental game. 474 K Podcast

But you dont have to be vying for a gold medal to benefit from
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training your brain. Here are five mind hacks from Olympic athletes
that can help boost performance in any part of your life.

Visualize the outcome you want.


The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic Athletes

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Many athletes have used the technique of mental imagery, or


visualization, to up their game and perform at their peak. Research on
the brain patterns of weightlifters found that the patterns activated
when a weightlifter lifted heavy weights were activated similarly when
they simply imagined lifting, Psychology Today reported, and some
studies have suggested that mental practice can be almost as
effective as physical training. One study, published in the Journal of
Sport & Exercise Psychology in 1996, found that imagining weight
lifting caused actual changes in muscle activity.

Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor


control, attention, perception, planning, and memory, researcher
Angie LeVan wrote in Psychology Today. So the brain is getting
trained for actual performance during visualization. Its been found
that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence
and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for
success, and increase states of flow.

But visualizing is more than just thinking about an upcoming event.


When athletes use visualization, they truly feel the event taking place
in their minds eye.

During visualization, she incorporates all of her senses into the


experience, sports psychologist Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter wrote in a
blog on The Huffington Post about a speed skater she works with.
She feels her forefoot pushing off the track, she hears her skating
splits, and she sees herself surging ahead of the competition. She
experiences all of the elements of her race in explicit detail before
executing her performance.

Meditate daily.
The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic Athletes

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Snowboarder Jamie Anderson won gold in slopestyles at Sochi this
weekend, the third medal to be won by an American so far at the
Games. Her secret to success? Knowing how to stay chilled out, even
in the middle of the biggest competition of her life.

Last night, I was so nervous, Anderson told the Washington Post. I


couldnt even eat. I was trying to calm down. Put on some meditation
music, burn some sage. Got the candles going. Just trying to do a little
bit of yoga... It was all about good vibration. Thankfully, I slept really
good. I did some mantras. It worked out for me.

The Washington Post noted that this tactic represents a major shift
from Olympians of the past, who tended to rely on tough, Type A
coaches and disciplinarian tactics.

From the Winter Olympics to the NBA, more and more professional
athletes including Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, LeBron James and
Olympic gold medal-winning volleyball players Misty May-Trainor and
Kerry Walsh have turned to the benefits of meditation to help their
performances. The practice can help improve an athletes mental
game by reducing stress, increasing focus and attention span, and
boosting emotional well-being.

Evict the obnoxious roommate in your head.


Do your thoughts tend to lift you up or are you constantly tearing
The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic Athletes
yourself with down with an inner monologue of fear, self-doubt and
feelings of unworthiness? Great athletes, through all the challenges
they face, are able to exert a great deal of control over the way they
talk to themselves, and theyve managed to evict the obnoxious
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roommate living in their heads that tells them they cant do it.

Instructional and motivation self-talk in particular gives athletes a leg

up on the competition, according to sports psychologist Antonis
Hatzigeorgiadis. A meta-analysis of sports psychological studies by

Hatzigeorgiadis and colleagues published in Perspectives on

Psychological Science found that instructional self-talk (Keep your leg
straight, Use your core strength here) helped athletes to improve

specific techniques or skills, while motivational self-talk (You know
you can do this!) helped them to succeed in strength and endurance-
based tasks.

The mind guides action, Hatzigeorgiadis said in a press release. If


we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our
behavior.

Set smarter goals.

All Olympic athletes have a clear goal in front of them, and they dream
big after all, they were once young athletes who could only dream
of competing against the best in their field. Speed skater Dan Jansen,
who won Olympic gold in 1994, said, The higher you set your goals,
the more youre going to work.

Try this tip that Olympic swimmer and three-time medal winner Dr.
Gary Hall Sr. shared with Jim Afremow, author of The Champions
Mind:

The two most important parts of setting goals are that you write
them down and that you put them someplace where you can
see them every day. I usually recommend the bathroom mirror
or refrigerator door, two places I know you will always look.
When I was 16 years old, training for my first Olympic games, my
coach wrote all of my goal times down on the top of the
kickboard I was using every day in practice. I couldnt escape
them, but the result, after executing the plan, was that I made
Thethe
Brain-Training
Olympic team.
Secrets Of Olympic Athletes

So find your personal kickboard whether its a Post-it next to your


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computer monitor or a reminder alert on your iPhone and make
sure that your goals stay at the forefront of your mind. And when it

comes to crafting the goals themselves, the more specific and

actionable they are, the better. According to Power of Habit author
Charles Duhigg, people often structure their goals incorrectly when

creating New Years resolutions.

Very often they write out a list of goals, rather than writing a list of
actions theyre going to take and thinking hard about how to structure

those behaviors so that they become habits, Duhigg told the
Huffington Post.

Go with the flow.

Getting into a flow mindset (often described as being in the zone)


can help athletes to consistently achieve optimal performance. Flow is
defined as a mental state in which the individual transcends conscious
thought and achieves a heightened state of effortless and unwavering
concentration, calm and confidence. This flow state keeps pressures
and distractions, both internal and external, from creeping into their
minds and potentially harming their performance.

Athletes who can achieve, maintain and regain [flow] are mentally
tough, write Damon Burton and Thomas D. Raedeke in Sports
Psychology for Coaches, noting that this state is critical for achieving
personal excellence.

A flow state isnt just helpful for athletes surgeons performing


challenging, state-of-the-art procedures report experiencing intense
flow comparable to pro athletes. But flow states can also occur when
were writing, dancing, cooking or even reading a book. It helps us to
become deeply involved with anything were doing, and according to
psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Finding Flow, argues
that its the secret to a joyful life.

It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for
excellence in life, Csikszentmihalyi writes in Psychology Today. We
can be happy experiencing the passive pleasure of a rested body,
warm sunshine, or the contentment of a serene relationship, but this
The Brain-Training Secrets Of Olympic Athletes
kind of happiness is dependent on favorable external circumstances.
The happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it leads to
increasing complexity and growth in consciousness.

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Click here for a coachs tips for achieving a flow state.

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