Any athlete can recognize how it feels to be continually stuck in a bad habit. From bad technique to pre-practice or post-race habits, we all have little quirks that we assume to just be part of us. Even outside the field, we’ve all developed some bad habits that just aren’t serving us.
Maybe something already popped into mind?
We constantly wish we could change, but until you’re ready to make mental training a part of your normal routine, it will be just that: a wish. It’s not something you are forced to accept; you’re not stuck with the hand you’ve been dealt. But it’s not an easy shift to make.
Our habits affect everything from our mood in the morning (“I’m not a morning person”) to our training (“I don’t want to go to practice today—I’m tired!”). In our mental-training workshops for young athletes at The Atlas Ventures, Ariana Kukors (the cofounder and my best friend) and I call these subliminal messages “BBMs,” or bad brain messages. They are that voice inside your head that whispers self-destructive phrases, and until we notice and shine a spotlight on them, we tend to just believe everything they say to be our truth about who we are.
So how can we break these bad habits?
It doesn’t happen overnight. Mental training is as important as physical training is for athletes, and I’m constantly learning new ways to apply it to my life outside of sports. The hardest part is simply remembering to work it.
1. Notice your bad habit, your BBM. What is it? Hear that voice in your head that tells you, “You can’t” or “You’re not good enough.”
2. Acknowledge the message as just that—a BBM. I like to say, “It’s not me, it’s just my brain.” In working together, Ariana and I call each other out on our BBMs all the time. It’s become a fun game for us and a great way to keep each other on track. Mental training is always a little easier when you have someone supportive on your side.
3. Shift your focus to something positive or a strong goal.
These three steps only take about one second each! But it’s not enough to do this bad-habit-breaking process just once. When you build a bad habit, it’s based on years of repetition. Likewise, undoing the bad and building good habits takes time, persistence, and lots of practice. Sometimes, you have to do these three steps several times back-to- back before you can snap yourself out of the habit in that moment. Give yourself time to adjust and make those changes.
The most amazing thing about mental training is that there’s always more to learn about yourself. It never fails to surprise me just how powerful this crazy mind of ours really is.