Grit And The Student-Athlete's Mind🧠
Building resilience to thrive and triumph playing both games
This week I’m breaking down how to actually get gritty with your thoughts and how to apply it to your finite game and the infinite game of life.
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The response from last week's edition has been surprising, to say the least!
Yall really are a gritty bunch!
That’s good to know seeing that it’s the common denominator to why some people can’t seem to have long-term success and why peak performers do!
Out of the 6 types of grit, people really latched on to “The Grit To Control Your Thoughts”.
And for good reason, because it’s a noisy and distracting world we live in today. And for student-athletes, it’s amplified 10 fold!
I provided the three skills of self-talk, gratitude, and mindfulness that help us build up the grit to control our thoughts. But today I’ll provide practical ways to practice these skills and how to apply them to both our finite games and the infinite game of life.
But first, let’s have a quick recap on grit from a peak performance stance and dive deeper into the nitty gritty of thought control.
The Grit To Control Your Thoughts 💭
Here’s last week’s edition to have a full recap on grit:
But to quickly go over the basics:
Grit is motivation writ large—not just the energy it takes to push through a difficult task but the energy needed to push through years of difficult tasks. Without the ability to tough out the hard times, you’ll rarely get anywhere worth going.
When psychologists describe grit, they often lean on Angela Duckworth’s definition of the trait: “the intersection of passion and perseverance.”
When neuroscientists talk about grit, their discussion focuses on the prefrontal cortex or the part of the brain that sits right behind the forehead. The prefrontal cortex controls most of our higher cognitive functions, including both “goal-directed behavior” and “self-regulation.
The 6 types of grit are a couple of ways to optimize our “goal-directed behavior” and “self-regulation”
When it comes to having the grit to control our thoughts, it’s as important as you already know being a student-athlete. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “The game is 10% skill and 90% mental.”—or some iteration of that.
Well, high-performance psychologist Michael Gervais says:
“At the elite level, talent and ability are mostly equal. The difference is in the head. High performance is 90 mental. And most of the mental edge comes from being able to control your thoughts.”
Excellence requires repetition. Even if you’ve got passion and purpose perfectly aligned and completely love what you do, what you do is often reduced to a daily checklist. This means a portion of peak performance is always sculpted out of boredom, routine, and petty frustration.
This is why thought control matters.
Without the grit to control your thoughts, the boredom and frustration that come with every routine will quickly spiral downward.
Science has begun paying attention to this problem. Over the past few decades, mental hygiene has become a hot topic and a three-pronged approach has been discovered: self-talk, gratitude, and mindfulness.
Let’s tackle one at a time and then see how they apply to both games.
Here’s another quote by Michael Gervais: “There are only two kinds of thoughts, those that constrict us or those that expand us.”
Constricting thoughts are along the lines of: “This sucks. I can’t handle this. Why is my life so unfair?” They shrink your options and abilities.
Positive thoughts move in the other direction” “I choose to be here. I’ve got this. I can definitely rise to this occasion.”
For this to really work, you’ll need to implement “the positivity ratio”. University of North Carolina’s Barbara Fredrickson discovered the fact it takes three positive thoughts to counter a single negative thought. She wrote, "Three-to-one is the ratio we’ve found to be the tipping point beyond which the full impact of positive emotions becomes unleashed.”
One thing to know: positive self-talk has to be grounded in reality. When we try to bolster ourselves with false claims, the brain is not fooled. We’re excellent at detecting the mismatch between self-fact and self-fiction. This is why affirmations tend to backfire. If you’re telling yourself you’re a millionaire but you actually work at McDonald’s, the brain knows. The gap between the affirmation’s fantasy and our actual reality is too big—and the result is demotivating.
The best way to talk yourself up is to remind yourself of stuff you know is true—times when you’ve faced similar challenges and succeeded. Actual information triumphs over New Age aspiration every time.
Our senses gather 11 million bits of information every second. This is way too much for the brain to handle. So much of what the brain does is sif and sort, trying to tease apart the critical from the casual.
And since the first order business for any organism is survival, the first filter most of that information encounters is the amygdala, our threat detector.
Unfortunately, to keep us safe, the amygdala is strongly biased toward negative information. And negative thinking leads to heightened stress.
This crushes optimism and squelches creativity. When tuned toward the negative, we miss the novel. Novelty is the foundation for pattern recognition and, by extension, the basis of creativity. No creativity, no innovation; no innovation, no achieving the impossible.
A daily gratitude practice alters the brain’s negative bias. It changes the amygdala’s filter, essentially training it to take in more positive information.
There are two ways to approach a gratitude practice.
Option one: Write down ten things you’re grateful for, and each time you write an item down, really take the time to feel the gratitude. You’re trying to recall the somatic address of emotion, discovering where it lives in your body (your gut, your head, your heart) and exactly how it feels.
Option two: Write down three things you’re grateful for and expand one into a paragraph of description. While writing the paragraph, once again, be sure to focus on the somatic address of our gratitude.
In research done by the Flow Research Collective, there’s a direct link between a daily gratitude practice and a high-flow lifestyle.
Why? It appears that the optimism and confidence produced by gratitude lower anxiety, which makes us less fearful of stretching to the edge of our abilities and more able to target the challenge-skill sweet spor, flows most important trigger.
This skill is the most straightforward of the three.
Mindfulness is as advertised: the act of paying attention to one’s mind.
This isn’t a spiritual practice; it’s a cognitive tool.
There’s a little gap, no more than a millisecond, between the moment a thought arises and the moment our brain attaches an emotion to that thought.
once that feeling is attached, especially if it’s negative, there’s usually too much energy in the system to shut it down. But if you can get into the gap between thought and emotion, you can replace a bad thought with a better one, neutralizing the stress response in the short term and reprogramming the brain in the long term.
By observing your thoughts as they arise, you’ll start to notice this gap between thought and feeling, and soon discover the simple act of noticing gives you freedom. Once there’s space to move, there’s the freedom to choose, and you can become active rather than reactive.
Once again, you have two options.
Option one: single-point mindfulness. This is where you put all of your attention on one thing: your breath, a candle flame, a repeated word or phrase, the sound of wind in the distance, take your pick.
Option two: an open-senses meditation. Here, simply pay attention to everything flooding into your brain. Watch the show, don’t engage.
Both approaches retrain the brain, teaching it a simple lesson: we are most effective at dealing with life’s challenges when we’re aware, observant, nonreactive, and nonjudgemental.
Of course, these skills apply to both the finite game of your specific sport and the infinite game of life.
Self-talk will come into play before a crucial game, a crucial interview, or a crucial sales presentation.
Gratitude can be applied before a long day of practice, classes, and away game travel. but it also applies to starting a new job in a new city or opening a new location with a business.
Mindfulness helps life overall. After a tough loss, after a tough performance review, after a member of your staff quits, after a member of your family passes.
Our thoughts are literally the foundation of our reality and how we perceive the world.
The more skilled you get at controlling them, the better life will be.
Far from easy…
…but it’s that simple.
Hope this added the fuel to ferociously launch your week! ♾️🔥🚀
See you next Monday! 😎
And when it comes to the infinite game of life…
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