What is mental readiness?

Knowing what you need to think and getting good at thinking it – is a pretty simple definition of mental readiness for preparing and performing and depending on who you’re talking to it’s the most important single performance factor or just one of the most important.

Also depending on who you’re talking to it’s the most neglected, most undervalued, least talked about, and least worked on, certainly in relation to its acknowledged importance. Get it right and the impact can be enormous and get it wrong and the impact can be twice as bad as that.

And failing to work on it is missing a great opportunity to improve performance.

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The mental part of the performance pie affects all the others and is affected by all the others. The mental part affects how talent and technical abilities are used and developed – it affects tactics, attitudes to risk and decision making. It affects decisions about rest and recovery and what to eat, or not to eat, and what exercise to do. It also affects relationships with others and the propensity to seek and welcome emotional support and feedback, and it affects the impact of the environment upon performance and what things in the environment are sought to be controlled. And in reverse all those other factors can affect the mental performance readiness.

A simple example is how physical state (feeling physically rested, fit and ready) will impact on confidence and feelings of mental readiness. Tactical, technical, emotional and contextual readiness will also impact on levels of confidence and mental readiness to perform. In essence this part of performance is inextricably entwined with all the others and therefore worthy of more than cursory consideration. So mental readiness is knowing with as much confidence as possible that the mind is prepared to meet the challenges faced.

Developing mental performance readiness

If you think attitude and mindset is a choice then that’s a great start (of course if you don’t then there’s some irony in that thought). Choosing your attitude and mindset for the task in hand can be really helpful. Professional golfers walk the course before a round and will go through the various options for each hole. This might include choosing their mental approach for that hole in advance before they get there with the pressures that their ‘live’ round brings. The frequently quoted ‘positive mental attitude’ might be the most productive one to adopt but the conditions might determine that a resolute attitude is needed more than a positive one, or a persistent one or conservative one or whatever. So the optimum mindset will depend on the context, the strategy, and the level of physical and tactical preparation.

The mind is a muscle and like any muscle can be trained and improved upon. The mental component is another element of performance with scope for focusing the desire to improve and there are tools and activities that can be used and practiced to be both better prepared and more consistent in this area of performance.

Building confidence is a frequent part and aim of getting mentally ready. Many performers do a great destructive job of unconsciously reducing their confidence by focusing on unhelpful thoughts and things. More helpful thoughts to have when getting mentally ready often involve focusing on strengths that can be used to make a performance better. Focusing on strengths and weaknesses might both spur a performer to work hard on technical skills to get ready but when it comes to actual performance delivery an ability to go with what you’ve got and play to strengths will build both confidence and mental readiness.

If mental readiness is valued it will be given equal importance alongside technical and tactical readiness.

Mental preparedness – how mentally ready?

Given the definition of performance – doing the things you need to do to get the results you want – there becomes a point where mental requirement switches from mental preparation, in the run up to a performance, to a delivery mentality when performance is actually underway and something is ‘being done’. Much of this latter element is about the level and direction of focus, which could mean concentrating very hard on some specific things or deliberately relaxing and keeping out of your own way so that your mind is allowing you to simply perform in the optimum way for your knowledge and skills to flourish (if your interested there’s a widely recognised though less often achieved mental state that elite performers describe where they’re in a purple patch of form and everything is going SO well that it all seems effortless and they’re not concentrating on anything).

Making the most of mental readiness

The mental requirements of getting prepared to perform and actually performing are two separate things. Many elite athletes are expert at making the switch because the dividing lines between the two are so clear. In the corporate world such a distinction is less obvious, unless perhaps there’s a particularly important meeting or presentation coming up. Tactically identifying critical performance moments, which could be events, or meetings or days or trips gives the opportunity to practice mental preparedness. These critical moments are probably easy to identify and already apparent, because they’re the times or events when excitement or anxiety are at their highest. Some thought and planning into a preparation and performance mindset then becomes common sense. This also means that at the point of delivery negative self-talk such as ‘I wish I’d done more’ or ‘I don’t feel very confident’ can be replaced with the much more helpful ‘let’s see how good a performance I can deliver with all the resources I have available to me right now’

Exploiting this part of the performance pie means that effective mental preparation translates consistently into performance: there is no underperformance for mental reasons, such as anxiety or emotions overtaking decision making process. Instead the mental component is on song and allowing the technical and tactical parts to perform to their maximum potential.

Summary

The mind is capable of being a great performance asset as well as having the potential to be a performer’s greatest enemy. Making the choice to make it the former of these two things is a first step for many, followed by understanding what high performance thinking means for a particular challenge and then getting good at practicing and using high performance thinking.