Most of us would say being an elite athlete requires physical talent, drive and disciplined…right? But what about the famous artist, the corporate executive, the Special Forces soldier? These people have achieved ‘elite’ status in their chosen field as well. What is it that causes people in general to achieve their dreams? Do those at the top possess something special that others of us simply don’t understand? Does ‘elite’ success depend on skill, desire, luck, or talent? These are the questions I ask myself as I observe people in the gym working to achieve their goals.

I recently read two very different but interesting pieces on performance, specifically elite performance. The first was a New York Times article that discussed various mental approaches to pain. The second was a book called Mind Gym, by Gary Mack and David Casstevens. I’ve divided this into two articles, the first based on mental tactics for goal achievement and the second based on the mental approach one takes to achieve elite level performance.

One main question I often wonder about is whether the reason elite athletes (or anyone who achieves impressive goals for that matter) are elite because they have special abilities others don’t have (mental & physical) or if their achievements are a result of the depth of their desire. After reading the first few chapters in Mind Gym, I became even more convinced that the true ability of the elite athlete or high achiever is in their mental approach to the game (of life).

I personally feel elite athletes and achievers are the ones who don’t mind feeling like they are the best within themselves. They’ve given themselves permission to mentally dominate their own playing field and to really believe they can do it. And while their physical playing field may be a court, field, or stadium, its true location is within their own mind, where they visualize continuously until they win.

What I mean is, they don’t envision themselves on some crazy spaceship headed to war which somehow allows them to become king and conqueror of planet Zadar (that was supposed to be funny). They take the environment around them as real, they observe it in themselves as real, and then they dominate it within themselves..as real. THEN they go act it out.

The book Mind Gym, Alex Rodriguez who is one of the greatest players ever in the game of baseball started out in little league wanting to be a major league baseball player. For a brief period, his dream switched to professional basketball…and then back to baseball…why? In his words…’not to many Dominicans playing in the NBA’. With the goal of baseball player he had before him something he could believe in, and he envisioned, from every angle including fans, manager, teammates and himself, that he was the best, and guess what…it worked.

High achievers can teach us the mental approach that allowed them to soar! Elite athletes have phenomenal capabilities that most of us wish for, but more than that, they have something to teach us about achieving our own goals.

What does this have to do with your fitness goals?
For the purpose of this blog elite physical performance should be defined by the individual according to his or her own abilities.

Ask yourself, what is it that you think you can achieve.

We need to be real with ourselves (probably not gonna be heading to outer space anytime soon) and select goals that are specific to us as individuals. We all face different challenges, have different gifts, and come from different life experiences. Our life experience is our ‘playing field’ in a sense. And we must teach ourselves to dominate that, whatever it may be. Weight loss, athletic performance, injury recovery, power lifting, MMA fighting, whatever!

Set some goals using the SMART goals technique, then ask yourself if you actually believe you can achieve this goal. Can you envision it the same way Alex Rodriguez envisions himself as the number 1 player in the game? Based on what I learned from the book Mind Gym, if you cannot see it in your mind, it’s going to be difficult and maybe even impossible to achieve. Use your mind to your advantage, speak to yourself in positive ways and envision yourself as a success. These are the tactics of the elite performers and role models of pop culture today. Take their advice and play your game to win.

Remember the words of Yogi Berra: “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”