The Athlete’s Secret Garden – The inner mind of an athlete can be a weedy place!

We’ve all had good days and we’ve all put down hard days in life and in sport. The interesting thing about the mind is that unless we look after it by weeding out the negative and cultivate the positive, much like a garden that is untended, eventually weeds cover real potential. Life and sport challenge us to grow or envelop us in weeds. The path is not always clear and sometimes we need to push back the weeds and cultivate something special, deliberately.

In sport, so often we meet challenges within our own mind. Doubts, fears, beliefs holding us back preventing us from realising the fullness of our potential. Indeed, we will all experience these at different points in sport and it is how we face them that contributes to the type of person we become.

It is the small incremental habits that we cultivate deliberately that pave the way to overcoming some of the ingrained thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves and our performance. Those habitual tendencies that are deepest in our mind we automatically follow, sometimes without even questioning.

What kind of weeds grow in an athlete’s garden? Different ones depending on our experience and our focus. Maybe it’s the voice of a teacher or a parent or ourselves that power doubt, thoughts of giving up, lack of belief in your skills, abilities or yourself. Thoughts that are unhelpful, the self-sabotaging ones and seeing that by allowing them to fill the mind, much like weeds in a garden, they can begin to take over. Highlighting the importance and need for deliberate focus. If we don’t decide where we want our focus to go, often it will go with ease, automatically to all the reasons to not to. The universes way of testing whether we really want something, whether we really want to grow. 

What kinds of trees grow mighty and blossom in an athlete’s garden? Again, different depending on our experience and focus. Positive thoughts that champion you to do better and be more each time you practice. What we choose to focus on, ultimately becomes our reality. By stopping and looking at the habits of the mind, where it wanders to when it is under stress in sport, we start to notice those thoughts that do not support us and realise it is time to let them go.

There will always be a reason to stop; tiredness, the body hurts, thirst, the thoughts of ‘I can’t do it’, the other team is stronger than us, you name it the mind will come up with them but there is always a reason to keep going. To keep putting one foot in front of the other, to tell yourself you can and you will. The mind will incrementally, refocus on where you want it to go, it may take time, but life is long and more importantly, is the reason behind why you want to do it in the first place. What’s your reason for putting on those runners, togs or football boots?

Letting go of unhelpful thoughts can be difficult, we’ve grown accustomed to them. Many have been around for quite some time. Often though we have picked these thoughts up from someone else, maybe a coach, a parent or even our culture. They are just like a radio station that we tune into and allow play in our mind. To let them go, we first must acknowledge they are there, see if you can identify where the thought came from, question whether these thoughts are truly valid, explore the evidence and then imagine what you would be like if those thoughts floated away in a balloon, no longer to be a part of your experience. If this brings some ease, then simply and repeatedly, when it arises let it go, time and time again. Your thoughts are not truths, they are just rehashed experiences from the past. You do not have to believe them. They are preventing you from living fully in the present.

Practical exercises like this and others fill my new book ‘The Athlete’s Secret Garden – Tending the Mind for Peak Performance’, whether you are an aspiring athlete or not, there are tools and techniques in this book worth integrating into your life. They include performance psychology, coaching and mindfulness techniques. It is literally the book I wish I had all those years ago when I started training. These techniques have helped me build a business, face challenges in life and best of all enabled me to smile and find joy in the simplest of things.

The Athlete’s Secret Garden – Tending the Mind for Peak Performance by Sue Redmond, PhD is available at Amazon.co.uk on kindle or paperback.