Defeat limiting beliefs and compete with confidence (3 smart strategies for athletes)

by Brian Cain, MPM

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In 1954, Roger Bannister shocked the world when he ran the first ever 4-minute mile.  

The world of track and field believed breaking the 4-minute mark was an insurmountable human barrier. An impassable obstacle that could not be breached—a physically impossible feat. 

But Bannister persisted. And eventually, he broke the world-record and made the impossible, possible. 

The craziest part? Shortly after Bannister shattered the myth of the 4-minute mile, other runners around the world began breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. 

Just the week after his historic performance, Bannister and two other runners ran a sub-four-minute mile. 

Did these athletes just suddenly become physically superior enough to accomplish this feat? No, they just finally BELIEVED it was possible—and their physical performance followed!

The power of the mind is as miraculous as it is incomprehensible. Studies have continued for years, and we are still miles away from truly understanding the full capabilities of the human brain. 

Now, you may be thinking, That’s really interesting, Brian.. but what’s it got to do with ME?

Great question. 

I probably don’t have to convince you of the importance of having a good mindset to perform as a high level as an athlete. As the story above illustrates, your thoughts have power (and there are literally hundreds of other stories demonstrating the power of “mind over matter”). 

So the real question you should be asking yourself right now is this: Is your mindset propelling you forward to higher levels of performance… or holding you back?

Let’s find out. 

The Power of Beliefs (Whether you think you “can” or you “can’t”, you’re probably right)

Philosophers and spiritual leaders have been preaching the power of beliefs for centuries. While scientists have been conducting research on how the mind works for decades. 

Pioneers in the field of applied sport psychology—such as Ken Ravizza and Harvey Dorfman—were among the first in our culture to recognize the practical application of training the mind in a sports setting. 

They paved the way for mental performance training by using things like positive affirmation and self-talk training to help athletes overcome the barriers holding them back and perform at a higher level. So many of the limits in our life are put there by our own thoughts and imagination and can be removed and destroyed with proper mental performance mastery training. 

This is good news—if you’re intentionally working to strengthen your mindset. 

My mentor, Ken Ravizza, used to tell us as his students that…

“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.”  

Ken Ravizza, Ph.D.

Many of your beliefs are not decided consciously but are formed based on previous experiences you’ve had.

If your current beliefs do not get you excited about your life and the future ahead of you… 

If they do not empower you to show up and perform your best when it matters most…

… Then you must begin conditioning your mind and body with beliefs that support your pursuit of excellence. 

Turning your mindset from a liability… to a WEAPON of strength (here’s how)

For years—decades even—the athletic community was desperate to figure out what separates elite athletes from average ones. 

Of course, skill, natural talent, and athleticism always deserve a spot in the conversation. But anyone who’s been involved in athletics for a minute knows there is some intangible essence of greatness that the best of the best have, that everyone else lacks. 

Many have attempted to put their finger on the pulse of what makes great athletes great, but few have successfully found a satisfying answer. 

After working with literally thousands of athletes over the past two decades, I’ve found an answer: Mental performance mastery training, which I used to call mental conditioning. 

I’ve seen it time and time again. As the talent gap closes, as athletes with similar levels of talent converge… the one who walks away victorious is almost always the one who has the stronger mindset. 

Here’s the “secret” elite athletes know that everyone else admiring them is yet to grasp:

“Competition is 90% mental and 10% physical.” 

Unfortunately, most people—coaches and athletes alike—have this ass-backwards. 

To transition from “average” to “elite”, you have to develop a system for training your mental game to unlock your TRUE potential. 

Through my work, I’ve discovered that there is one thing in particular that keeps countless athletes average—when they are fully capable of being elite: Limiting beliefs. 

We started this article out with a story illustrating the power of the mind, teaching us “you get what you expect.” 

Remember: Shortly after Bannister shattered the myth of the 4-minute mile, other runners around the world began breaking the 4-minute mile barrier—dozens in fact. 

How? Because they gained BELIEF that it was possible after seeing Bannister do it. Now that’s the power of the mind! 

And as inspiring as this all is, it’s also very concerning. Because just as a positive mindset has the power to propel you forward; a negative one has just as much power to hold you back. 

If you are doubtful you will accomplish a task, you drastically increase the likelihood that your actions and effort will reflect that doubt, and ensure the failure of accomplishment. 

A positive mentality makes a significant difference between educational self-improvement and self-stagnation. Thus, your mentality represents the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. 

How many athletes are trapped being average when they could be elite, due to self-limiting beliefs? 

Could YOU be falling short of your true potential due to limiting beliefs?

Defeat limiting beliefs (3 smart steps)

The field of mental performance mastery coaching has substantiated the notion that as an athlete, you will never outperform your self-image. If you believe you are slow, you will perform slowly. If you believe you are fast, you will perform at a faster pace. 

Therefore, positive thought processes, combined with a solid idea of your goals and how to accomplish them, will give you the best opportunity for your successful accomplishment. 

Self-image is a powerful tool in mental performance mastery, which is why it’s so important that you keep it positive. 

Following, you will find 3 smart strategies you can begin using immediately to defeat limiting beliefs so you can blast through the barriers holding you back and reach your TRUE potential.

Step #1: Harness your self-talk

Mastering control of your self-talk can be a challenge. 

Imagine your self-talk is a mustang, wild and spirited, seemingly uncontrollable. Now, imagine yourself as a Cowboy or Cowgirl who does not wish to strip this wild animal of its fiery spirit, but you do want it to work for you enhancing your pursuit of excellence on the open plains. 

This is how to think of your self-talk. It is an untamed and powerful beast that has the potential to significantly improve your performance… if you can use it for good. 

The first step is to establish an awareness of its power over the mind. 

During performance, try to recognize when you use it and what mentality it reflects—positive or negative. 

Notice particular situations that bring it out, both the good and the adverse. Notice the particular tones and language used. This is all in an attempt to understand your mental state during, and also away from, performance. 

Begin to recognize what situations tend to lead to negative self-talk. Once you’ve begun to develop an awareness of how your self-talk is at play during performance, the following two strategies can be used to maximize its positive impact. 

Step #2: Focus on what you want vs. want to avoid

Has anyone ever performed the mind tease on you, where they instruct you to focus on something and then say, “Whatever you do for the next 10 seconds, DO NOT think about a pink elephant.”

Well, naturally, the image of a pink elephant pops into your head and you have difficulty focusing on whatever it was you were told to focus on. 

This little mental tease exemplifies the importance of an individual’s ability to keep a focus on what you “want vs. want to avoid” because the brain does not recognize the negative connotation of “do not” and only sees the image of that pink elephant. 

The key to ignoring the “pink elephants” is developing the ability to focus on what you are trying to accomplish, not what you are trying to avoid. 

What this can look like in action:

  • If you are a baseball pitcher, think about pounding the strike zone instead of trying not to give up a hit. 
  • If you are a basketball player, thinking about swishing every shot through the net instead of trying NOT to shoot an airball.
  • If you are a golfer, see the ball landing at your target on the green vs. trying not to hit it in the water.
  • Academically, when you are taking a test you want to focus on solving the problem of answering the question at hand, not worrying about the next ones or the test as a whole. 

These general scenarios represent the present moment focus that makes the difference between subpar performance and performance excellence. 

Like any other “skill” you develop, focusing on what you want vs. what you want to avoid is a discipline that takes time to master. 

But over time, and with practice, you will notice that you are able to stay locked in on the present moment during competition, giving yourself the best chance for successful results. 

Step #3: Leverage your “final thought”

During performance, your “final thought” symbolizes the last conscious thought in your head before performing a specific action in your sport. 

The moment before taking the action, you want to narrow your mental focus on a word or phrase that mentally facilitates the physical accomplishment of that action. 

This final thought should reflect a positive mentality and be confidence-affirming to intensity your focus on the task at hand and thus increase the likelihood of its successful execution. 

This strategy builds on the previous one we covered (focusing on what you want vs. what you want to avoid). For example, in baseball, a pitcher whose final thought is, “Don’t hit this batter!” represents a completely different mentality from a pitcher whose final thought is “Blow it up!” 

The same goes for any action in any sport. The difference in mentality makes a big difference when these thoughts manifest through performance. 

Develop your own final thoughts for particular performance actions in your sport. Once you have chosen them, you want to incorporate these final thoughts into your performance routines to augment the mind-body performance connection. 

Training with a clear final thought will establish confidence by building a routine rhythm to your performance. Developing your own final thought process will undoubtedly help give you the best opportunity for success. 

Your next step: Take my free, 3-day course to discover the systems and secrets I use to help world-class athletes perform at an elite level

If you found today’s article helpful, and you’re interested in learning more cutting-edge mental performance strategies, I’ve put together a free 3-day course that you’re going to love. 

In this course, you will learn how to:

  • Unlock your potential and make adversity your advantage by developing an elite mindset.
  • Become a machine of consistency by establishing the right performance routines and habits of excellence.
  • Get clarity on WHO you are, WHAT you want—and discover the behaviors you must start and stop to get the results you’ve been lacking.

Drop your info below to take the free 3-day course now, and discover the “missing link” in your performance so you can start getting the results you deserve.