It is common knowledge that athletes need to have a level of physical flexibility to be able to perform at their best, which involves optimising the prevention and management of injuries. Most of us have stretched before training, gym, or competition and understand the importance of having durable, flexible muscles that can withstand the stress we are about to put them under. If our muscles are too tight, there is less flex and less capability for us to move freely.
We are often told from a mental skill training perspective, “train your mind like any other muscle”. Therefore, the question is, should we be stretching our mental muscle and having greater flexibility ‘up top’? My answer to this question is, absolutely! We can adopt a similar approach to that applied to our physical flexibility.
As humans, we are presented with a wide range of experiences in life. From finding love, to losing people we care about. From the joy of winning, to the heartbreak of losing. From feeling confident before a performance to feeling nervous or anxious about performing in an unknown environment. Like the muscles in our body, we need to have the flexibility ‘up top’ to be able to manage all kinds of common and normal human experiences.
Those that have read my blogs before, or have worked with me, know I tend to preach that we need to be able to perform no matter what’s going on internally. We need to have the flexibility to be able to manage all kinds of crazy, hurtful, and uncomfortable internal experiences to be able to consistently perform at our best. Just like we need our hamstring to withstand a great deal of different physical situations. We need to show a willingness to experience all types of internal and external situations.
Flexing our psychological muscle is not just about the willingness to experience all types of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. That is just one part. The key is how we respond. If we are flexible enough to have all types of internal experiences, we then have the freedom to commit to key actions that help us do what matters at that moment. If we are not willing, our internal experiences take over and control us. They dictate our next move. Whereas, from a place of willingness, we can then commit to improving the situation or performing actions that help us perform at our best. Having the flexibility to experience all types of thoughts, feelings, and emotions enables the ability to commit to doing what matters to perform at our best.
For example, at times during a game, event, or a meet, you might need to adapt your plan. You need to be willing to experience the discomfort of knowing your plan is not working, and commit to adapting that plan in the moment.
Flexibility = Willingness + Commitment
With our hamstring, if we have the flexibility within the muscle, we are free to move, run, jump, to the best of our ability. If we have mental flexibility, we are free to perform at our best, consistently, no matter what is thrown our way.
As humans, we are so amazingly adaptable. Start to flex. You’ll be surprised at the outcome.
Kai Morris | Psychologist BSocSc Psych Hons MPsych (Sport & Exercise)
Get in contact with Kai – firstname.lastname@example.org. Kai is based in Queensland and provides face-to-face consults at Queensland Sports Medicine Centre and Allsports Physiotherapy as well as virtual sport and performance psychology services to athletes nationwide.