“Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence” — Athletic Bookworm’s April Review & Favorite Concepts

by | Apr 30, 2018 | Mindset

We’ve touched on women’s athletics, re-wiring your diet, and now, we’re revisiting the mind part of the athletic equation in Mind Gym.  So, I just finished reading Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack, and while it wasn’t the world’s most impressive book on sports psych—it heavily relies on pretty pithy quotes and generic concepts—it did make for quick, fun reading that ultimately was inspiring and had some solid advice.

(For example, “Accept your present state. Create your desired state. Take action through goal setting.” See what I mean?)

So, it wasn’t nearly as scientific as Brave Athlete, the first of the Athletic Bookworm reads, but I did enjoy it, partially because I could sneak short chapters waiting in line or during quick breaks.

OK, some takeaways.

“Learn to use your mind or your mind will use you. Actions follow our thoughts and images. Don’t look where you don’t want to go.”

Applicable to mountain biking, 110%. In a broader sense, of course, it’s also true—hence all the vision boarding, five-year-planning, etc. that gets recommended on the daily. But to me, I like the more practical application for trail riding and running. Looking ahead, rather than looking at the tree/rock/root/log in your peripheral, or focusing on the obstacle versus the steps needed to get over the obstacle, is what gets me in trouble on the trail, so this was a good reminder.

“Pressure gets a bad name, but it can bring out the best in you.”

“Learn to view pressure as a challenge to meet rather than a threat of defeat,” Mack writes. For me, this comes in the form of start line terror, and The Brave Athlete talked a ton about this, viewing pressure in sport as good stress and reframing it as a positive. Because let’s be honest, it’s not like that much is on the line for me when I’m in a local triathlon…or any race, for that matter.

“Successful athletes are able to control their emotions and behavior.”

I’ve been working on a new book project, based on sponsorship and young athletes, and this has come up over and over again as I’ve been working my way through it. Mack writes, “They focus on what they can control and don’t allow things that are out of their control to affect them.” I see this so often in younger athletes (and, OK, I also have seen it post-race in older athletes who should know better). It’s so easy to let emotions get the better of us in the heat of the moment, but successful athletes, and ones who maintain good relationships and sponsorships, are the ones who can stay chill no matter what happens.

“Athletes have different emotional makeups.”

“Some are more high-strung than others,” Mack says. “To use the car analogy, one athlete might be a Porsche, another a pickup truck. Just as it’s important to know what to do when your vehicle’s oil or brake light comes on, it’s important to recognize your own early warning signals.” I LOVED this idea of learning your triggers/warning signs. It’s something I’m currently working on outside of sport—recognizing when I’m about to hit the red zone on my stress/anxiety levels and backing off and taking necessary chill-out steps to ensure that I don’t become a total basket-case (which still happens, trust me…).

“The more you hurry the later you get.”

“When you find yourself rushing you are no longer in the present. Pace instead of race,” says Mack. We’ve basically talked about this every yoga teacher training session—it’s all about being present. But more practically, I often find that when I feel too much pressure/stress building about getting everything I need to get done, done, that’s when I need to slow down and focus, versus speed through everything and try to rush stuff. So in regular life, I find taking a few breathes, looking at my to-do list, moving what can be moved, making a rational plan and then executing makes a lot more sense than a huge freakout and flurry of activity. And this is EXACTLY what I see played out in transition in a triathlon, for example. (I even wrote a post on Zen and the Art of Triathlon Transition a while ago!) The big mistake people make is rushing into transition, freaking out, and dropping stuff, falling over, forgetting stuff, breaking stuff, spilling stuff… All for the sake of 10 seconds, which they ultimately lose anyway. When I run in, it’s one of the few times I actually feel extremely calm and confident in a racing scenario, because I just—for lack of a better phrase—get into the flow state. I dig on organization and packing, so the orderly setup I have in transition and the steps I need to take make sense to me, I guess. But bottom line, sometimes you just need to SLOOOOOOOOW DOWN even when you want to speed up.

“Less can be more.”

“Sometimes the highest form of action is inaction. Athletes require rest and recovery time. Without it, they become stale, burned out, and more susceptible to injuries,” Mack says. Peter and I see this so often. I think what I’ve realized is that coaching (and being coached) is about taking things out more often than it’s about adding workouts in. We’re almost always doing more than we need to/should, and that’s why the injury rate for athletes, especially in something like running where there’s so much impact, is so high. (Also a big part of why I’m doing Yoga Teacher Training, so I can start teaching some athlete yoga classes to address those issues.)


OK, moral of the story… If you want a super easy read to flip through in days ahead of races or to get pumped to train, this is a great read. If you’re looking for something more in-depth as far as sports psych goes, skip this and try The Brave Athlete. I personally suggest getting both, to be honest!

Get it here: Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence



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