My first half-marathon was a flat course in Boston on an unusual 80 degree Saturday morning. Most runners will tell you that a flat course is good for setting new PRs and a solid choice for first time runners. My only goal was to finish the race without dying. Thankfully, I finished the race in one piece, but it was a major struggle. Between the heat, the lack of water stations and my inexperience, I practically crawled through the finish line. Then, I had to limp another 2 miles home with a busted knee and hip that hated me for days. Back then, fitness was nothing but a physical game. If I ran consistently day in and day out, programmed rest days strategically, and avoided injury then BOOM! I could PR. My training was mediocre at best and it certainly lacked any focus on mental training. It just never occurred to me that I needed to sharpen my mental game too. We can argue about which program is better until we’re blue in the face. However, without honing our mental fitness, athletic performance goes out the window the moment that life happens.
Consider a few possibilities: You get a new puppy or a new job – both positive life changes that require a significant amount of mental and physical energy to manage. Or, a nagging injury resurfaces to take you off program for a few weeks. Life comes at us fast, which is why mental fitness is equally as important as physical fitness in order to perform at our best every day.
So without further ado, here are the top 5 habits that will enhance your physical and mental game:
1. Practice meditation: Meditation is not just for yogis. Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs practice this daily to relieve stress and expand their awareness of what is truly important. In the Good Life Project podcast, host Jonathan Fields commented on how meditation transformed his self awareness in business and in life by helping him to focus on what really matters and eliminate the chaotic thoughts that blocked his creativity. Athletes also use meditation and visualization techniques to improve performance off the track or field, and to keep them focused on the bigger picture (say, a gold medal or the Olympics). A daily meditation practice is a simple tool with tremendous benefits. Simply follow along with a guided meditation (online or through an app) each morning. Or, sit back and focus on your breathe for 3-5 minutes each morning when you wake up.
2. Maximize the first hour of the day: Mentally fit people wake up early and use the first couple of hours to churn out some of their best work, such as writing, working on a new product, building a website or practicing free throws. When I’m at my best, I’m up before 5am, exercise and meditate before heading out to work. Even if you’re not a morning person, practice waking up 10 minutes early each day and doing something physical or creative. Then each week, wake up an extra 5 minutes earlier. During this time, avoid checking email, social networks, or skimming your phone for the latest updates. These activities act as mental clutter and provide zero value to your day or to your performance. If it’s not contributing to your well-being, save it for later in the day.
3. Spend 10 minutes a day on personal development: In the book The Slight Edge, the author highlights how small, daily actions can contribute to a more successful life in the long-run. Mentally fit people make time to develop themselves, be it financially, physically, mentally, or emotionally. What you do in those 10 minutes (i.e. listen to an educational podcast, read 10 pages of a book, or foam roll) is more important than the duration. Just be sure those 10 minutes are yours to learn, grow or develop in some way. Reading 10 pages of a book on nutrition may seem like nothing, but in a year you may find you are eating better than ever, and it only took 10 minutes a day. I like to listen to a podcast while I’m out walking the dog and end the day with reading. It keeps me focused on learning and growing without sacrificing too much in exchange.
4. Move and nourish your body: Successful people use exercise and nutrition to keep them sharp throughout the day. Movement and good food keep us productive, energized and focused during tough workouts or during a challenging project. Tom Brady is a great example of someone that uses exercise and nutrition strategically. His diet, workouts and recovery plans are mapped out in advance to keep him in top form. Bill Gates jogs every day while watching courses from the Teaching Company (see #3) and Anna Wintour plays a round of tennis every morning before getting Vogue-worthy. Schedule in your workouts, even if it’s a leisure walk during lunchtime and build from there. As for food, plan your meals ahead of time so you always have something healthy to grab and go.
5. Reflect at the end of the day: One of my favorite evening rituals is to read, meditate and write before going to bed. During my writing flow I force myself to answer a few questions:
- Which daily success habits did I cultivate today?
- What specific actions did I take today in order to accomplish [enter long-term goal here]?
- At what point did I feel my thoughts and actions aligned with my goal/purpose? When did I feel out of alignment?
These questions never take up too much effort to answer, but it does give me a chance to review where things went well and what needs improvement. Mentally fit people reflect on their actions and accomplishments regularly to determine whether or not to stay the course or pivot. When I have a bad day, this 5-minute ritual gives me clarity about why my day sucked and how the next day can improve. As athletes, we can get trapped in the daily mundane habits of training. Taking a step back to reflect why a training day was shitty and how to make it better the next time gives us perspective.
Now it’s your turn. What daily success habit do you rely on to stay mentally fit? Share your comments below!