By Ty Hillman

Why don’t the best athletes always win? How can someone compete at the best of their ability all day and then fall apart moments before they clinch victory? Why do some people execute the fundamentals flawlessly when practicing but are unable to execute during the game or competition? These are questions that have fascinated me for several years as a competitor and a coach. I have studied continuously to gain a better understanding of all the circumstances affecting human performance and to answer the questions posed above.

There are numerous factors influencing a person’s performance, and I work with people every day to help them enhance important areas in their life. While there is no silver bullet to easily improve performance, there are definitely skills that, when learned and practiced repeatedly (conditioned), will certainly improve your mental game.

Upping your mental game is no different than developing any other skill, such as shooting free throws or hitting a golf ball. By deliberately practicing the fundamentals and repeating them over and over, the skill is developed and becomes second nature. In this three-article series, I will discuss some of the most important areas in which to focus to see the biggest change. When I’m working with a client, the first place we start is determining that person’s goals and beliefs.

Focused Goal Setting

I am sure you already know about goals, and you’re probably thinking this is just another lame article about something you already know. However, if you do not have a clear focus for your life and what you want to accomplish, then I challenge your belief that you really do know about the power of goal setting. If you have taken the time to think through and write your goals down, I applaud you.

Goals are important, because they direct your focus. We are bombarded by thousands of thoughts, hundreds of emails, messages, advertisements, and a million other things vying for our attention every day. There is a part of our brain called the reticular activating system (RAS), and its job is to help you tune out all the unimportant things around you at a given time so you can focus on the few things that are important. For example, take a minute to notice everything around you: the way your eyes feel reading these words, the weight of the magazine in your hand, the temperature outside, the smells in the air, an ache or pain in your body, if you are hungry or thirsty, and the sounds you can hear.preparetowinIf you believe you will never compete well under pressure, you will self-sabotage your goals. Photo by Kailey Sullins

Without the filter your RAS provides, you would notice everything simultaneously, and you would go nuts. Chances are, however, you were unaware of all these things until I just mentioned them. You were probably focused on reading these words and concentrating on their meaning, because your goal is to read this article, understand what you are reading, and learn something. Setting goals in your life tells your RAS what to look for so you can focus on accomplishing what you want.

For example, have you ever bought some tack and then noticed several other people have the same tack? Did all those people decide to buy the same tack set once they saw you sporting it on your magnificent steed? Maybe, but more than likely they already owned the tack, and you simply did not notice. This is because your RAS did not acknowledge that type of tack was important. Seeing that tack was just one of the millions of pieces of data your brain noticed and allowed to pass through the filter, because it was doing its job focusing on the things you told it to focus on. Once you decided you liked the tack and bought it, your RAS knew it was important and started screening it out when it was filtering data.

When you set goals and review them, you engage your RAS to focus on finding things, people, connections, skills, and opportunities relating to your goal. You will start to see opportunities that were already around you, but you just did not notice them because your RAS didn’t know they were important. By utilizing these opportunities, you are more likely to accomplish your desired outcome.

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