11 Tips for Building Your Mental Muscle

Whether you've got a big presentation coming up at work, you're about to compete in a mini marathon, or you're giving a toast at your best friend's wedding, you may feel you need every ounce of mental strength you can muster—and then some. How can you prepare yourself so that you're focused, sharp, and ready to deliver your best performance ever?

1. Get your sleep (and not just at night).

Take a nap if possible, says Marc Kern, PhD. "Even if it is just a 10-minute nap, when you wake up you will have more clarity and more mental stamina," he says. "It is so important to be well rested when you need mental stamina."

2. Practice mindfulness.

"This is really the new term for meditation," Kern says. "Carve out a time, or several times, each day for this." Mindfulness training can keep you sharp, Kern says. To try this technique out, sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and become aware of your body, breathing, and the tension your muscles are holding. As you sit, make a conscious effort to keep your mind from drifting off.  You may want to listen to very relaxing music.

3. Avoid loading up on carbs.

"These can make you tired," Kern says. "See how you feel after eating them. You need to become attuned to how foods can affect you."

4. Visualize that you are succeeding at whatever competition you are in.

Kelly Flynn, a Boston-based coach for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training (which prepares athletes to compete in endurance events and raise funds for the Society), advises you to take time and think about how you will stay focused, positive, and successful. "Imagine yourself running your race, think about how you don't stop as you go up the hills and as you approach the finish line," Flynn says. "In your head, you want a very clear mental picture of what you will look like as you cross the finish line."

5. Give yourself a mantra to use when you compete.

"It should be short and sweet, something that you can repeat over and over," Flynn advises. Maybe it's a phrase such as "I'm strong" or "Push through!"

6. Reach out.

Social support from friends and family is critical when you're trying to build mental stamina, says Scott Haltzman, MD, the Naples, FL. based Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and author of The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight Keys to Building a Lifetime of Connection and Contentment (Jossey-Bass, 2009). "Be part of some type of activity that includes other people and it will increase your sense of emotional balance," he says.

7. Attitude is important.

"Keep a positive mental attitude," Haltzman adds. "Focus on what you are good at, and look at your inabilities to succeed as opportunities to learn."

8. Make a conscious effort to get rid of distractions.

 "Give yourself five minutes at the end of the day for worry time," says Carole Lieberman, MS, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, CA. "If thoughts come to you during other times, tell yourself that you will worry about your problems during your five minutes."

9. Take vitamins.

"Vitamin B is especially important since it is good for the nervous system," Lieberman says.

10. "Over practice" discipline.

This is recommended by Jason Selk, EdD, former Director of Mental Training for the St. Louis Cardinals. Think of how baseball players swing with a weighted bat, so that in a game, batting feels easy-that's an example of over practice. "Improve your focus by choosing a small daily task that is critical to your larger goal achievement," Selk advises. Then, "Once a week, put in more time or effort than you usually do." For instance, if your goal is to walk a mile every day, once each week walk two miles.

11. At work, stop responding to "emergencies."

"If you spend 80 percent of your time at work answering others' questions, you won't have time to concentrate on your own tasks that require you to solve problems," Selk says. 

Jason Selk, EdD, reviewed this article.



Griffin, R. Morgan. "5 tips for building mental stamina." WebMD. Page accessed 13 Sept. 2013.