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Brad Domke has also made illuminating mistakes. Photo: Photo: James Strickland

Brad Domke has also made illuminating mistakes. Photo: Photo: James Strickland


The Inertia

Mental strength is a measure of an individual’s resilience and confidence. It can determine success in sports, education, and the workplace. In fact, for athletes to succeed, they need both mental and physical strength. The framework used to improve these two is identical: practicing good habits and giving up bad habits.

The secret to performing better in sports lies in both our mental and physical capacity. But with that said, we tend to place a belief in physical preparation taking precedence in an athlete’s success. The reality is that physical training probably counts for no more than 30% of your performance at most. The rest lies in mental preparation.

So, how do we develop mental strength for surfers?

Experienced surfers spend time developing their mindset. Just like any other athlete, surfers who want to perform better dedicate a significant amount of time on gaining focus, resilience, and managing their fears. Just like developing any muscle, a surfer needs to dedicate hours to this, requiring dedication and consistency.

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Here are my six steps to developing mental strength:

1. Awareness
First of all, you need to be able to measure your current level of performance and point to the level you want to reach.
Ask yourself the following two questions:
. What would need to happen in order for me to reach the next level?
 and What stops me from reaching the next level? 
 This is the first step in identifying where you need to go mentally.

For example, reaching the next level could mean surfing larger waves. Well, what stops you from achieving it is controlling your fear and training harder.

2. Goal Setting
Decide when you would like to start surfing those bigger waves and commit to it. As a coach, I use NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) goal setting techniques to teach my clients how to set goals that engage both the conscious and the unconscious mind in making their goals more achievable. Break down your objectives into milestones and focus on one step at the time.

3. Mental Practice
Also called visualization, when done correctly this technique can be very potent. When you train your mind to do something over and over, you are preparing yourself to take action. It then becomes easier for you to succeed at what you are planning to achieve. New neuropathways are created while visualising your movements and surf trajectory. This is referred to as Neuroplasticity.

When practicing visualization, the frontal lobe of your brain which is in charge of taking action becomes more sensitive to making quick decisions and running complex cognitive behaviour, instead of freezing in front of the signals sent by the amygdala, which is the section of the brain that is responsible for detecting fear.

4. Self-Talk
You need to hijack your self-talk autopilot. The average person talks to themselves 300 to 1,000 words per minute. You need to be aware of what you are saying to yourself while confronting tough situations. When you give up, it’s most likely when your internal dialogue is telling you that it isn’t worth it or that something is too challenging or out of reach. Now imagine if you can say to yourself something that is the polar opposite. What actions will you take then?

Emotions drive all human behaviors and beliefs drive every emotion. So if you control what you think you could generate new emotions, which would create different actions and impact your results. Consciously repeat sentences and mantras that are empowering and that will help you override your negative self-talk.

5. Breathe
Your breathing is crucial to your survival in moments of legitimate fear or panic. Whether you are a surfer or a runner, you need to stay focused and breathe consciously and consistently. Learn pranayama breathing techniques to calm your mind and hold your breath longer.

6. Be Present
Fear only exists in the future. By being present, you control fear. One great way to train yourself to be in the present is to use meditation and mindfulness techniques. Try to focus on each one of your senses for 10 minutes. Shift your awareness from kinaesthetic senses to auditory, visual, and olfactive senses. You can use mobile apps like Headspace to guide you through these processes. In coaching, I use NLP techniques to overcome anxiety and fear.

How you do anything is how you do everything. Like life, sometimes the surf is up, sometimes it’s down. You need to see each obstacle as a way to improve.


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