Keeping First Things First

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by Gregg Swanson

The Score matters. The score of the baseball game, football game or Lacrosse match determines whether you win or lose. Likewise, in other sports: the score, time, finishing place and/or various personal athletic performance statistics matter. After all, the reasons many of us take part in sports is to compete and to win…and have fun of course.

While the score or finishing performance matrix is important, a focus on these during the event can often distract you from the task at hand. An over focus on the outcome can lead to all sorts of mental distractions that are most likely tied to things you can’t control.

Thoughts come up like, “If I strike this guy out, the next batter hit a double in the first inning and I can’t let that happen again.” Or “I can’t let this guy run by me, we only have a one touchdown lead and we might lose the game.” And “If I make this putt how will my rankings be affected?” The alternative to all this monkey chatter is to focus on first things first…what is controllable; that is, what needs to be done right here…right now, to make this moment a success.

What Do You Really Control?

First, let’s look at with what you don’t control. As a pitcher, such as you don’t control the batter. As am offensive linemen you don’t control the receiver. As a golfer you don’t control the weather. Also, you don’t control the last play or even the one next. And even more importantly, you don’t have direct control over whether you win or lose the game. So why waste your mental energy and focus on such things?

What you do control is what you can do in this moment, i.e. The pitch you are throwing right now, the ball you are catching, the shot you are shooting. One pitch at a time, one ball at a time, and one block at a time…all you have control over is right now…and then what you do with it.

Directing your energy to this one catch, this one at bat, this one play, is the concept of “first things first” or “one at a time” and applies whether you are the batter, receiver or goalie. And actually this principle applies to all athletic endeavors. First thing first, one strike at a time in MMA, one rep at a time in Olympic lifting, one lap at time in auto racing, effectively places mental energy on to the controllable aspects of your athletic performance and provides you with more focus.

And in my humble opinion there was no one better doing this than Mike Singletary during his career with the Chicago Bears. Mike always was focused on the here and now.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m sure you agree that it makes sense to focus on first things first or one thing at a time; this places your mental energy in the here and now.

But the question is…how?

It can be quite challenging to actually do this during the heat of battle as situations and experiences take your focus away from the present into the unknown of the future. Here are a few suggestions that will help you keep your focus on “first things first” and one thing at a time.

As in your physical training, your mental training requires practice, practice and more practice.

Know Yourself – Become aware of those situations that are most mentally challenging for you. Perhaps you might pay particular attention to your thoughts during practice and make some notes about them in your journal. Be vigilant in these situations and use your mental strength to purposely direct your attention to first things first before you have wandered off.

Use Cues or Anchors – Identify cue words or specific behaviors (anchors) that can help bring your focus to right now. It can be as simple as saying to yourself “all I control is right now” Or use the W.I.N formula – What’s Important Now? Try a slap on the thigh as a single to bring your mind back to focus to the here and now.

Catch Yourself – You’re going to slip; you’re going to mentally drift away to a past play or upcoming opponent. The key is not to get trapped in distracting thoughts and instead bring your focus to what’s important now

Make a Commitment – Commit to this mental strength approach of “first things first” and one at a time. Recognize that while at first it might be difficult to carry out, with practice and persistence, it will become a natural way for you to approach your athletic performance.

To enhance your sports performance, you need to focus on your thoughts on the right now. It’s a wasted of mental energy to focus on what already happen or what might happen. Instead, direct your focus to what is happening right now…first things first…one play at a time…one catch at a time…one thought at a time.

Gregg Swanson is owner of Warrior Mind Coach and specializes in the development of mental strength to reach your human potential and achieve peak performance. You pick-up his free e-book “The Keys To Mental Strength Coaching” HERE.

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