I recently sat down with performance coach Jim Murphy to discuss how athletes use the mind to attain peak performance. Jim has a long and successful career (almost twenty years) training top professional and Olympian athletes to get the very best out of themselves. I respect Jim for his knowledge, his ‘track’ record, and his integrity as an individual. He is presently working on a book, which will be published in the fall, and he has agreed to do a monthly topic for us at that time to further elaborate on his techniques for maximum effectiveness. Some of them will surprise you.
We can learn valuable lessons from the world’s greatest athletes and apply these lessons in our own life with equal success. The physical practices will of course be different and sport appropriate, but the principles and practices of the mind are exactly the same for all top level achievers.
“Peak performance has a few common characteristics,” says Jim. “Passion. Enjoyment. Heightened awareness. Getting caught up in the moment-to-moment focus. Full engagement. All top athletes have commonalities when they perform at their best: a clear mind and unburdened heart, a positive focused energy, and powerful beliefs.”
“What you think is crucial. It is, in fact, the core of a champion—who they are, how they train and how they compete comes down to how they think. The thoughts you repeat over and over in your mind, whether these are positive or negative, will create your beliefs. So an athlete wanting to perform at his peak needs to develop powerful beliefs about himself. Every thought you have has energy, and, as an athlete, you know that focusing your energy is a top priority.”
I asked him to elaborate on what he meant by focusing energy, and his reply was fascinating: “The amateur athlete has three to four times the amount of thoughts as an elite athlete. The elite athlete works years to control his thoughts and feelings, developing a powerful focus—a presence. The amateur has his mind filled with thousands of random, useless, and worst of all negative thoughts. This cluttered mind I call ‘the monkey mind,’ and it is one of the biggest obstacles to peak performance.”
I couldn’t agree more. In my thirty years of teaching Mind Power there are common denominators that seem to distinguish those who are successful from those who fail. While the ways of using Mind Power are similar and available to all, the ability to implement them varies widely from person to person. Martial Arts Master George Leonard has a saying that summed this up perfectly: “The master of any activity is undoubtedly also a master of practice.” The master of practice! I love that phrase because it echoes what I teach my students over and over again. The power of daily practice.
I know well from teaching Mind Power for thirty years that most people work with Mind Power techniques for a few days or weeks and then fall into lazy habits. They dabble with it. Regular, consistent practice is the mark of a champion. You must first know what to do, but then equally important is that you must do it. Implement your knowledge with daily practice.
The power of practice is further summed up by Mark Spitz, winner of seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics. His quotation heads up the final chapter my book Mind Power Into the 21st Century. “We all love to win, but how many of us like to train?”
I shared Spitz and Leonard’s quotes with Jim. “Absolutely,” he replied, “you must practice internally and externally, but you must practice and practice regularly. One thing that helps with this is creating daily routines—routines in all areas of life, physical, nutritional, mental and spiritual. The best athletes have routines the night before a game, on game day, pre-game, during the game and after the game. Over time they’ve created a ‘recipe’ for success that enables them to perform their best, and they stick to the recipe. Negative thoughts have less room to take hold when athletes focus on their routines.”
Jim went on to also talk about self-image. “Peak performance comes in large part by having a self-image that is consistent with peak performance. Self-image is determined by your repeated thoughts and images. Every day you’re creating, reinforcing or expanding your self-image, whatever that is. Peak performers are constantly at work to expand their self-image to that of the next level, in every area of their lives. When you have powerful beliefs and regular routines, you play from your heart and you have a presence about you that comes from a positive focused energy. You’re then inviting the zone of peak performance. And not just peak performance, but more peak experiences in all areas of your life. Call it mental toughness, call it emotional toughness, call it full engagement—it’s all of those, but in the end it’s the journey of a great life.”
Jim and I have developed a very close relationship since we first met when he attended the four-week Mind Power training system. I have always been intrigued with the similarities between excellence on the sporting field and that in life. I hope this month’s topic has revealed to you some of these secrets. We too can, if we choose, become athletes—athletes of the mind, and in this regard through our daily habits we will become either amateur athletes or elite professionals. We can choose to train a little, a lot, or not at all; it is up to us. But make no mistake, your life will most certainly reflect the choices you make and implement on a daily basis. Become an athlete of the mind and train for peak performance, excellence and success.