What do you think the 2012 London Olympics will be remembered for? For me, it will be the talk by commentators, athletes, and coaches regarding the importance of gaining a ‘mental edge.’ Mental preparation can often make the difference between victory and heartbreaking disappointment.
Gaining a ‘mental edge’ includes a greater awareness of the mind-body connection, or how thoughts can impact our health and performance. This awareness might start with a prayerful or meditative practice of emphasizing hopeful, calm, confident thoughts while also avoiding fearful, anxious ones. For years, researchers have been attributing better health outcomes to this practice.
Many also believe it includes a spiritual dimension, something I found to be true when I was in high school. At 17, I had been taking a karate class and my instructor invited me to compete in a regional tournament. I remember being worried that I would lose quickly and be embarrassed by my performance. Competing in sports was new to me and my expectations were so low that I didn’t even tell my family about the event.
However, I had been learning about myself from a spiritual perspective and this helped me to alter my self-image into something more than an undersized, novice participant. As I began to acknowledge my spiritual nature, I felt my confidence increase, my worries lessen, and my expectations improve. I reasoned that this was an opportunity to demonstrate what I had learned about my spiritual nature and my relationship with the Divine.
I gained more confidence from the biblical story of David and Goliath and the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. I realized that being self-conscious was not helping me or representative of my spiritual self. I began to conclude that my worries were ridiculous, especially when I considered the challenges faced by my relatives who had served in actual combat!
As my anxiety gave way, I became more grateful for the invitation and this further motivated me to compete.
When the day arrived for the competition, I found that quiet moments of reflection were incorporated into the matches. When a match was tied, and the next point decided the outcome, participants were directed to their respective corners to face away from each other and kneel in silent contemplation. I used these moments to calm my thoughts and listen for divine guidance.
As the day went on I found my name progressing on the scoreboard. In my final match, despite being kicked completely off the mat, I proved that my mental preparation gave me the advantage. My teammates celebrated when I won the tournament gold medal for my division.
Shortly afterwards, I left for college and my karate training ended. Yet, what I learned about being mentally prepared has stayed with me, especially the need to make it a daily practice. It’s like the maintenance of my pruning shears: when I don’t keep them regularly sharpened, they become less effective.
Experienced athletes have always understood the mental aspect of competition and the importance of overcoming fear and anxiety. Consider U.S. swimmer Dana Vollmer. Despite being diagnosed with a cardiac disorder, she pushed all fear out of her thought and kept swimming (her mother kept a defibrillator always close at hand). Today, there is no trace of the physical problem and she’s coming home with an Olympic gold medal.
I think we all have our ‘Olympic’ moments or opportunities. Whether we’re competing in the Olympics, a once-in-a-lifetime karate tournament, or on our own journey to better health, nurturing the right mental attitude about ourselves is always a good idea.