How Your Mental Mindset Affects Your Performance

Krista BugdenLifestyle, RecoveryLeave a Comment

Have you been feeling kind of off? Your head isn’t in the right place. And you’re noticing that it’s beginning to impact your training and performance. What’s going on?

Or perhaps you recently set a new PR today. You’re impressed with yourself and proud. But you’re wondering what changed – Why today? 

In this article, we dive into how your mental mindset impacts your performance, the difference between a fixed and growth mindset, as well as the detrimental impacts of stress on your training and how to prevent it.

In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take,” and actually physically trying and going after what you want comes down to your mental mindset. Let’s take a closer look!

What Mental Perceptions Are Reducing Your Gains?

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Nothing on earth can stop the man with the right mental attitude; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

Mental perception and attitude is everything – or at least, we can infer that a result begins with your mindset. For instance, if you don’t think you can do a pull-up, are you even going to try? Probably not. But if you shift your mindset and think, ‘I’m going to be able to do a pull-up. With time and practice, I’ll be able to do it,” chances are, you’re going to try. And you’ll probably work toward that goal and achieve it. 

When you look into sports psychology, there are various factors affecting an athlete’s mindset. The same is true for the average person training in the gym or training toward their goals, whatever those may be. Overall, various aspects come into play that affects how a person trains or performs and whether or not they achieve their goals.

Many studies have indicated the impact of mental toughness on performance. Mental toughness refers to a person’s confidence and resilience which indicates whether or not they will be successful in their training or sport. In order to improve your mental toughness, you can work on a variety of mental techniques. You can improve your confidence through your thoughts and actions. You can increase your mental resilience by partaking in self-care strategies, such as quality sleep, meditation, avoiding self-blame, practicing positive self-talk, and more. It goes to show that each athlete or trainee must take care of themselves mentally to achieve great things in the weight room, on the running track, or in their sport.

But let’s dive a little deeper. In the following sections, we’ll explore a fixed versus growth mindset, as well as how stress hinders your progress and impacts your performance.

Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset

Most successful individuals adapt to a growth mindset. They embrace challenges, refuse to give up – even in the face of failure, learn from critique, and uncover inspiration through others’ success. They don’t believe in limiting their world. In fact, they are constantly working to expand it. Consequently, this outlook drives the person to take action, put in the effort, and get to where they want to be.

A fixed mindset offers the opposite. A fixed mindset doesn’t believe that they can change. They give up easily. They think if they put the effort it will be all for nothing and they’re terrified of failure. They are threatened by others’ success and also don’t know how to properly handle negative feedback. In the end, this leads to the fixed mindset individual to give up on their goals and never achieve them.

Luckily, your mindset is something you can change. And once you change, you’ll start getting much closer to all your sports or training goals. As aforementioned, top performers have worked toward creating a growth mindset. 

Set Intentions

Whenever you do anything in your life, you should set an intention or goal. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s the purpose? This includes setting an intention before training, sports, or exercise. And this will help you build a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. It’s all about expanding your mind and altering your perceptions.

Think about how you want to feel about your training. What will help accomplish this? Is it reaching that new PR or trying to complete one more exercise? Set your intention toward how you want to feel after your workout, then go after that feeling. Examples of intentions include letting go of stress, feeling accomplished or productive, or improving your overall mood. 

Intention has everything to do with motivation, will-power, and your belief system. For example, if you go into your training intending to increase your squat weight and you accomplish it. You build a belief system and feedback loop that shows you the more you believe something, the more you are likely to accomplish it and vice versa. 

But ensure you know the difference between intention and expectation. You can intend something and it may not happen. The idea is that with time, it will eventually happen, as well as the fact that setting an intention will increase the likelihood that it will happen. Set your intention and embrace it! 

Visualization

Many pro athletes visualize where they want to be. In fact, visualization is a powerful mental tool that can help you overcome your inability to see yourself accomplishing your goals and it – too – can help you develop a growth mindset. Olympic athletes even use this tool. The idea is that the more you imagine yourself completing a task or goal, the more likely you will physically be able to complete that task or goal. 

When you visualize, you want to imagine every little aspect. Engage as many senses as possible. This helps you translate that visualization over into reality. You want to do this for a few minutes before diving into your training or sport. It can help set your training or game off on the right foot and prepare you to physically perform well.

However, there are other aspects of your mentality that may hinder your ability to visualize yourself achieving what you want and performing how you want – like stress.

How Stress Affects the Body

It may prove difficult to change your mindset when you’re completely stressed out. Arguably, some stress is a good thing. Stress can drive you to excel and accomplish your training goals. But it can also hinder them. In the chronic sense, stress can lead to health problems. Ultimately, this can significantly impact your training performance. On the other hand, acute stress can also pose problems. 

A 2019 study showed acute stress to negatively impact a swimmer’s race time. Another study also found acute stress to drastically decrease a runner’s performance. 

So, what’s going on?

Stress is defined as an emotional or mental state that causes bodily and mental tension. And it’s completely normal. Pre-training or pre-race jitters are expected. But bad stress associated with a bad mental state can physically and mentally hinder your progress and performance.

When you become stressed out, the body releases cortisol. This is considered the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Your body goes on high alert. Cortisol causes your heart rate to speed up, your blood pressure to rise, your breathing rate to quicken, your senses to become sharper, and your muscles to tighten.

Cortisol further has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. This means it can halt important cognitive functions – some which may be useful in sports or athletic situations. For instance, your decision-making and attention abilities decrease.

In particular, the symptom of increased muscle tightness can severely impact your training performance. If your muscles are tensed up, the body won’t move efficiently and effectively. It also increases your risk of injury. For example, muscle tightness could impact your flexibility and mobility. If you’re trying to perform a squat, this may not be possible if your hamstrings or quadriceps are tightening up. If you’re aiming to throw your best pitch at today’s game, stress could impact the range of motion at your shoulder and torso. In turn, this could lower the force and power behind your pitch. It could also lead to a shoulder injury. You may end up with a strained muscle. In turn, this sets your progress and goals back, as well as could put you on the bench in the middle of the game.

When you’re stressed, you may also sway toward a more fixed mindset due to low self-esteem or self-worth. You may believe that you can’t possibly reach your squat goal of double your body weight, so you don’t even try squatting today. You put it off this training day and the next. You end up setting yourself back rather than progressing toward where you want to be.

But that’s not all.

In a 2014 study, researchers found stress can actually lead to negative metabolic effects on muscle as well. In other words, spikes in the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline, may lead to a decline in muscle mass. For most, this is the opposite of what they are aiming for through training. 

Further, researchers have suggested that long-term stress can slowly alter your body composition over time. It can lead to increased weight gain and increased fat mass. Again, this is the opposite of what most individuals are striving to achieve.

On top of this, chronic stress suppresses the hormones and chemical reactions required for muscle growth. High amounts of stress can decrease anabolic hormones, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor. When you’re training, such as lifting weights, the goal is usually to increase these hormones to further gains. But stress does the opposite.

So, How Can You Decrease Stress in Your Life?

You want to make gains. You don’t want your performance to suffer. This means you need to decrease the stress in your life. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Try Breathing Techniques → Ever meditated? Why not try it out? Meditation, with focus on the breath, can help you get your stress under control once and for all. There are also various other breathing techniques you can try, such as the Wim Hoff method. For a quick go-to, try this: Inhale for a count of 4. Fully fill your chest and belly with air. Hold for a count of 4, then exhale for a count of 4, releasing all the air in your body. Repeat this 5-10 times. 
  • Improve Your Sleep → Focus on getting quality sleep. Are you going to bed too late? Are there distractions preventing you from getting a good night’s rest? Fix them!
  • Check Your Diet → Are you eating right? Stress can result from the foods you eat as well. Limit pre-packaged and processed foods. Aim to eat homemade and whole foods more.
  • Write it Out → Sometimes, we all need a way to vent. Write down what is stressing you out. Or talk to a friend about it. 
  • Organize Your Time → Not having enough time is a common stressor. Keep a calendar and set alarms where necessary. Plan out your week ahead of time. This can help keep your stress at bay.

Performance is a Mental and Physical Game

Undeniably, your mental mindset impacts your performance. Your own thoughts have the ability to limit what you can and can’t do. Research and science is making this more apparent than ever before. 

Actively find ways to limit the stress in your life. Look for tactics and techniques to look after your mental health care, just as much as you look after yourself physically. It’s not only the body that needs exercise – the mind does too. And each side affects the other. When you improve your mindset and mentality, you improve your progress and performance. Remember this and you’ll start reaching your goals in no time. 

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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden worked as a Rehab Exercise Expert at a physiotherapist clinic in Ottawa, Canada for 4 years. She has an Honours Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She uses her extensive knowledge in this area to educate others through well-researched, scientific, and informative articles. Her passions include helping others and inspiring each person she meets to get the most out of their life.

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