It doesn't matter if you're a coach, athlete, CEO, manager, etc.; if you're in a business where results matter, then this post is for you.
I feel that one of the most misunderstood terms in the performance industry (doesn't matter if it's business or sports) is "mental preparation." Often I find that people associate it with a routine they follow the day of a performance, or the mindset they need to get in hours before their sales call, or the pregame speech they need to give their team minutes before "game time" ("game time" just being a general term to represent "performance time"). In reality, this isn't the case; in fact, being prepared mentally is just part of the equation. I think we need to stop putting such a big emphasis on the word, "mental", and start understanding that having consistently positive performances is a matter of being physically and mentally in check; it's a matter of understanding what goes into your preparations and looking at the big picture. To think that there are some individuals out there who can prepare for hours on end during the week, but "check out" minutes before a performance because their "routine wasn't perfect," is ludicrous; it needs to be addressed. I want to give you 4 tools, thinking, repetition, understanding, and execution (with the acronym being TRUE) that you can use to better mentally prepare yourself, or your team, and explain why self-esteem and self-reflection is the foundation to all positive performances.
It doesn't matter if you're a CEO or an athlete: your "mental preparations", start with a true self-esteem. Self-esteem is the term used to describe ones own confidence, or belief, in their abilities. It's understanding that you have the "tools," to take your performances to the next level and understanding that you possess the right skills to get to achieve a positive result. From my experience, this is where the majority get it wrong right off the batt; instead of focusing on truly enhancing their skills, or truly building their confidence, they are focusing on the "perfect pregame routine." They are more focused on what meal they're eating before a game, or the notes they start scribbling moments before entering a sales pitch, that they completely neglect the way they are preparing. They stop focusing on what they control and instead start to focus on irrelevant aspects that they do not control. Simply put: if you've truly taken the time to enhance your skills and abilities in your craft, and have truly put in the work with the right purpose and intensity, then it shouldn't matter what you eat, or who you speak with, before a performance. If you know you've done the right things to prepare yourself way before the actual performance, then it shouldn't matter. This is why "mental preparation, isn't just used before a game; enhancing your self-esteem should happen weeks before a performance. Focus on enhancing your self-esteem; build a true level of it and continuously focus on it.
Naturally, the next question asked would be how to enhance your self-esteem; again, I feel that we don't truly understand this. I also think that we're in an era of promoting false confidence; we'd much rather tell someone "good job," even when the job isn't done right. We'd rather pick the easy solution that will make people momentarily happy instead of doing what's a bit tougher and giving individuals honest feedback that benefit them in the long run, which is a major inhibitor of developing self-esteem. See, true self-esteem is developed through self-reflection and true feedback.
Self-reflection is having the ability to understand what you did well, what needs work, and what you need to do moving forward. I always ask my clients to keep a performance log; they're simple to use and very effective. It's as simple as keeping brief notes in a notebook and writing down what your focuses are for the day, be it in sports or business, and then acting on them. At the end of the day reflect on what you did well, what needs work, and what the plan is going forward. Write both down in your journal then repeat the next day. The pre-performance focuses allow you to actually have a purpose, while the post performance report allows you to reflect. Some days will be good, other days won't be; the key is to understand that self-esteem is enhanced in both scenarios. On good days self-esteem is enhanced because you see that you're "getting better," or having positive performances. On bad days self-esteem is enhanced because you understand what the issue was and can actually take the proper steps to move forward from it and fix it. Both are extremely simple things to do, but we don't do them enough (if at all).
True feedback (this one is for the leaders out there) is as simple as giving honest feedback to an individual, and further backing it up by examples. Often I find leaders just say "you did well," or "you didn't have a good one today," but forget the most important part of explaining "why" and "how". If you can't give real feedback with examples and solutions to your group, then you will not enhance their self-esteem. You have to give an explanation and you have to understand that if the individual is asking you to give them feedback, then it means they trust you. You have to understand that you're in charge of "giving them" their self-esteem; you have to be able to reflect with them if you want to see them consistently improving.
One important thing to note: the moment that you start comparing, versus reflecting, is the moment that you ruin an individuals self-esteem. Studies show that the number one way to reduce your self-esteem, or the self-esteem of others, is by comparing themselves to others around them. It pulls them away from their true focus and ruins their understanding of what they're doing well, or what they need to work on. They stop being unique and instead try to mimic the path that others have taken. DO NOT get yourself caught in this scenario; stay away from looking at "what others have," and instead focus on understanding how you can get better with what you have.
Now that the basics are understood, I can address TRUE mental preparation:
It's simple: are you focusing on the things that you control; are you thinking with a purpose? Or, are you focusing on everything that doesn't matter, like how you can impress your boss or coach, or getting the results? I find so many focus on things that are irrelevant to their craft; yes, results are important and so is validity within your team. However, you can't control either. You can only control your process, or your: preparation, attitude, and work ethic. It doesn't matter what you do in life, you must focus on what you control. For example, you can be doing all the right work, but it just might not be good enough for a certain individual. And that's okay, because for someone else it can be perfect - you just need to be patient until the opportunity presents itself. Think with a purpose; think about what you control.
Everyone needs a "system," or to focus on the 3-5 things that they do exceptionally well. A "jack of all traits, but master of none," is the truest saying when it comes to performances; the moment that you start to get away from what you do well is the moment you start to compromise your performances and self-esteem. Build yourself a system, then become exceptional at it. Think, the best of the best do all these magnificent things, however they're just basic skills done exceptionally well. When a basketball player performs a slam dunk it is just them being able to drive the net exceptionally well. Or, when a speaker can deliver an exceptional speech it is just them being able to speak exceptionally well. There's no "superpower," or "gene", instead it's the individual knowing that they're good, and that's something that only happens when you have dependable traits to focus on. So, pick 3-5 things that you're good at and become exceptional at them; put a high amount of repetition into them. Your self-esteem will be extremely high going into performances and understanding that you have the required skills to get the job done done.
Understanding your role is a major aspect when it comes to developing self-esteem. However, I find one of the biggest issues that an individual has is asking their leader what they need to do; they're scared to ask. Trust me, from being a former professional athlete, and current leader, your boss or coach will not care when you ask them what you need to do. In fact, they'll appreciate it. Think, when an individual isn't performing up to your expectations who would you have more patience with: the individual says they're okay when they're really not, or the individual who you knew you needed to help out and have patience with to develop them before they can achieve positive results? Simple, right? I think that this is one of the easiest ways to enhance your self-esteem, but it's not practiced regularly. I sometimes have to force clients to ask their coach or leader what their job is, however the moment they find out the performance anxieties go away. And all of a sudden their focus is clearer and their confidence is high because they understand what it is they need to do now, versus trying to guess at the "right things".
This is where the "pregame routine," can come into play. However, I wouldn't make it more than 10 minutes of your time; I understand it's important to focus before a game, or a big presentation. However, a lot get this part wrong because they take this time to try to "do everything right," versus knowing they did everything right and now they just need to review it. If you're going into a performance questioning what your role is, or if your skills are ready, or if the food you just ate is going to truly determine how you perform, then you've done something wrong. Yes, eating a good pregame meal can help you feel good, but chances are if you're eating well all week then that pregame meal is just something that helps you feel good in the moment. Same goes for your entire routine: if your week long routine of physically and mentally preparing for your performance is positive, then you don't need to place such a massive dependency on your pre-performance routine. I'd suggest 10 minutes to settle down your mind and review the work you did throughout the week. Then, let go and execute.
Self-esteem is the basis of being prepared for positive performances; if you focus on truly enhancing your self-esteem, then you will truly be mentally prepared. The moment that you start putting a ridiculously high focus on your pregame routine, is the moment that you set yourself up for problems. Prepare during the week by enhancing your self-esteem so that you don't walk into a performance feeling like you're not ready.