The Mental Game: Train your Brain

Written By: Nicole Denes

The Mental Game: Training a Disciplined Brain

Welcome to the first article in our mental game series!  The goal of this series is to provide you with specific information on the mental game, along with easy tips and drills you can practice at home to develop the mental toughness and fortitude you need to be successful.

It’s important to understand that YOU have control over your brain, the center of everything we think, feel and do.  This means you have the ability to train it to think in ways that are helpful to you, control your emotions, and PERFORM on the field at your best.  Remember though, your brain is with you ALL THE TIME, not just when it’s game time. That means your brain is in training 24-7. The mentally tough athlete chooses to live a LIFESTYLE of personal accountability, discipline, and self-reflection.

Your Brain is Lazy

Ultimately, your brain is lazy.  It doesn’t want to work hard and it will do everything it can to keep you from feeling uncomfortable.  It is on a constant hunt for the quickest and easiest form of dopamine it can get. In the simplest explanation, dopamine is a chemical in your brain that makes you feel good! It is connected with pleasure, motivation, and reward.

There are hundreds of immediate dopamine sources around us on a regular basis.  The easiest forms of dopamine may feel good RIGHT NOW, but the effects are not long term.  The difficult paths to dopamine may take longer, it may be uncomfortable, but the reward is greater and the effects are much more impactful.

The Disciplined Brain

Below are some examples of choices you may come across as an athlete.  One option is the easier path that feels good right NOW. The other option takes work, effort, focus, and discipline; but leads to a bigger, longer-lasting reward.  

  • Keeping an easy pace on a timed mile vs. Pushing your pace to your limit
  • Watching Netflix vs. Getting your spin reps in
  • Ice cream, cookies, and sweets vs. Chicken, rice and broccoli
  • Sleeping in as long as possible before school vs. Getting up early, having a nutritious breakfast, and feeling fully awake and energized before school

Every time we make a disciplined choice, our brain learns to expect the disciplined choice a little better.  In other words, good habits are formed and the more disciplined an athlete you become. It’s important to know that training your brain is a process, just like training your body.  It’s not going to happen easily right away, it takes commitment and accountability to make the disciplined choice, day after day.

Train your Brain. Discipline.

Train at Home Challenge: Immediate Purposeful Rewards

Allowing yourself to experience small, immediate rewards (in moderation) is important to help maintain a balance in life.  Even the most disciplined athletes allow themselves a donut every now and then. The difference is, the disciplined athlete does it with PURPOSE.

Write down an immediate reward that tends to control you.  Maybe you always go for that soda when you know you should be drinking water, or maybe you allow yourself to be distracted by your phone while you are studying.  Whatever it is, write it down along with exactly when you will allow yourself to experience that reward and for how long. Be specific! Write down the date, time, and for how long.  When the time comes, set a timer and allow yourself to do NOTHING else but enjoy that moment. You will find that you will savor it more, and as a result, may not feel like you need or crave it as much throughout the week.

Good luck!

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