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Mental Skills Can Help Improve Our Performance

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The brain is a special organ that operates with great complexity. When harnessed, this beautiful organ plays to a rhythm that is finely tuned and focused. But when the brain is disturbed it can cause panic, apprehension and fear that follows from a lack of control. 

A range of common mental skills can improve performance such as goal setting, positive self-talk and imagery. There is also deep breathing, listening to music and meditation. To improve performance levels, one should practise skills either as a “package” (like goal setting and imagery) or “individually” (such as positive self-talk).

In practising these skills, either as a package or individually one will be able to improve their performance levels. Of course, we differ in our needs so a period of trial and error is required to assess the most effective tool.

While these skills may take one away from their comfort zones, the opportunity to practise in order to try something new is important

The importance of setting a goal

Goal setting helps increase direction and focus. There is ample research regarding goal setting within the areas of education, sports, and business. Goal setting is used within education to set goals and future aspirational targets. Coaches in sports set continuous goals for performers both individually and within teams. In the field of business, goals are set to manage sales targets.

Outcome, performance and process are three types of goals that work effectively in conjunction. By following a traditional SMART identity one can set purposeful and effective goals. The S refers to specific, M is measurable, A is achievable, R is realistic and T is timed. Given that goal setting can lead to increased levels of motivation, it is a useful and effective skill.

Engage in self-talk

Positive self-talk is the mechanism which can enable one to develop helpful thoughts and support one to control emotion, behaviour and thinking patterns. Elite sports performers have advocated the use of positive self-talk because it provides them with opportunities to reach targets and performance outcomes. A mental aspect of mental processes is that humans tend to focus on the negatives and fail to celebrate the positives.

The use of positive self-talk can help change focus. In using positive self-talk, one is required to change their pattern of thinking which would then establish opportunities for one to refocus.

This in return would enable people to be more positive in behaviour and thought. For example, in sports one can use positive self-talk by using terms from, “I am not going to achieve” to “I will achieve this,” while this seems rather easy and basic, it is actually very important.

The role of imagery

Imagery is an important skill and can relate to what we see and how to act. Elite sports performers have successfully used imagery to perfect skill and technique in sports. For example, imagery can be used in executing a penalty in football or a drop kick in rugby. The more one practices the better and more effective one becomes. Imagery, like all other skills, needs to be practised continuously and consistently for it to work and take effect. Within the use of business and sales targets, one can use imagery effectively. 

Deep practice is a simple exercise that can be performed to suit the needs of the individual. Take a slow breath through the nose for 3–5 seconds and let go through the mouth for 6–8 seconds.

The breath itself must be slow as this will enable the body and mind to relax. This practice must be performed 3-5 times to take effect and would be reasonable to perform it a few times in the day.

The more practice you perform, the easier it becomes as it is a performed habit.

Music and meditation

Listening to music is effective because it helps the mind balance and calms the physiological aspects of the body. The music one should listen to is one that they are comfortable with and not something unfamiliar. In attempting to be calm it would be useful to have a selection of music that you enjoy and enables you to be optimistic. Different music will vary with rhythm and the one you can select could be dependent on the rhythm required for the task ahead.

Finally, meditation is a choice strategy that depends on the individual. For example, meditation is based on different aspects of religion, movement, and breathing. Thus, religious meditation follows one to believe in prayer and accept how things turn out.

Final thoughts

Professional practice and general lifestyle matters are of importance within society. While we are all charged with development and progress in life circles, maintaining well-being and mental health are crucial. The use of psychological strategies identified above should help one to at least control their well-being which leads to positive feelings, happiness and optimism.


Gobinder Gill teaches psychology and research methods.

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