Getting your mind on track to win
Visualization – The Eye of a Tiger
In the late 1980’s an area of the prefrontal cortex macaque monkeys was discovered that has been named the “mirror neuron” system.
This group of neurons fire when you watch an action in another primate, when you visualize it in your mind’s eye and then when you actually do it. They are hypothesized to be the site responsible for imitation, learning and empathy and when defective as a possible site leading to autism.
That may mean that when an athlete visualizes a ski trail, the flight of a ball, jumping over a hurdle, etc. that this part of the brain actually believes they have done it. That may explain why so many athletes use visualization in their training.
Mental Toughness – The Heart of a Tiger
One of Tiger Wood’s earliest coaches used a 3 R method for helping him stay centered and focused after hitting a bad shot: React, Refocus, Reengage.
React – It feels lousy and upsetting to make a mistake anytime, anywhere for almost anybody. Reacting means naming what you feel and then feeling it, without acting on it. Matthew Lieberman at UCLA has shown that attaching the correct emotional word to a feeling and saying to yourself or better someone else (like a coach), “I feel x” reduces amygdale activation (emotionality) in the middle brain by a significant percentage.
Refocus – After you have acknowledged and accepted it, breathe slowly and deeply several times and let it go. This “exhaling” will free up mind space and enable you to refocus on what you need to do.
Reengage – After you have had a chance to refocus and possibly tap again into your mirror neuron system described above, reengage and then “execute.” That is the word Tiger uses in the moment before he hits a shot.