While serving as the Director of Mental Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, Dr. Jason Selk helped the team win their first World Series in over 20 years, and in 2011 he assisted the Cardinals in the historic feat of winning their second World Championship in a six year period. Considered to be one of the nation’s premier performance coaches, Dr. Selk helps numerous well-known professional and Olympic athletes as well as Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 executives and organizations develop the mental toughness necessary for high-level success. Dr. Selk shares the secret to mental toughness that he shares with many of the world’s most accomplished athletes in this article for Inc.com:
When I first started to work with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team in early 2006, they hadn’t won a World Series in 24 years. It wasn’t for lack of trying, or because they didn’t have access to the most cutting-edge physical training programs and equipment.
The edge they needed was a mental one.
The team’s manager, Tony LaRussa, essentially gave me a 10-minute tryout in front of the team early in spring training. I had to show that I had something to offer. In that limited time frame, I introduced the team to the basics of what I call the Mental Workout. For world-class athletes, it’s a structured set of visualizations and breathing exercises designed to put them in the ideal mental state to compete.
When my time was up, pitcher Chris Carpenter–one of the team leaders, who had just won the Cy Young as the National League’s best pitcher a few months earlier–stood up and told his teammates they needed to listen, because the mental piece was crucial to get to the next level of success.
Seven months later, the Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series.
You might think you don’t have a lot in common with a room full of professional athletes, but the reality is that the human mind works in some very consistent ways.
Anybody can use an adapted version of the Mental Workout I taught to the Cardinals to build “mental muscle.” It takes 100 seconds to complete–which means that if you have time to brush your teeth, you have time to strengthen your mind.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start with a centering breath. Breathe in for six seconds. Hold that breath for two seconds, and then breathe out for seven seconds. Controlling your breathing this way is a stress reliever, and it reduces your state of arousal.
- Recite a personalized identity statement to yourself in five seconds. A good identity statement is one that emphasizes one of your positive qualities and pinpoints something you want to become, like “I am confident and passionate. I’m consistently excellent every day as a leader, executive, and mother,” or “I care more about my clients and I will outwork the competition. I am a million-dollar salesman.”
- Visualize your own personal highlight reel for 60 seconds–seeing in your mind three things you’ve done well in the past 24 hours and mentally rehearsing three important things you need to do today.
- Repeat your identity statement to yourself for five seconds.
- Finish with another centering breath cycle–breathing in for six seconds, holding for two and then exhaling for seven. Your mind is now ready to focus and perform.
Whenever I introduce the Mental Workout at seminars, I’ll see some skeptical looks. Some people think it’s hokey, or that it won’t make a real difference.
My response is always the same. You wouldn’t expect to increase your physical strength or endurance without going to the gym. Your mind isn’t any different. In the seminars I run with executive coach Tom Bartow, we’ve seen teams improve their results 40 percent year-over-year by using the Mental Workout and taking control of their schedule as I described in another column.
Try it for 30 days and see for yourself.