Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide To Inner Excellence

Mind Gym, An Athlete's Guide To Inner Excellence

Summary of “Mind Gym, An Athlete’s Guide To Inner Excellence”: In this book, Gary Mack, sports psychology consultant and counselor, provides us, in the form of 40 lessons, with the techniques and exercises he used to help his athletes build their mental strength and shows us that the mind impacts sport performance just as much, if not more than, physical ability.

By Gary Mack, 2002, 224 pages

Note: This article was written by guest, Maria from the blog, Maria Medita.

Review and Summary of Mind Gym:

Before getting to the heart of the matter, I must inform readers that, to my knowledge, Ming Gym has not been translated into French. Gary Mack seems to target mainly an American audience, and much of his vocabulary is very specific to the American sport community, especially to baseball. This is why the many practical examples he uses to illustrate his point relate to sports terms that are relatively unknown in Europe (relating to baseball or American football in particular). Therefore, I sometimes made the choice to target this review on the theoretical passages of the book, rather than on the concrete examples.

In addition, throughout Mind Gym, Gary Mack makes reference to many very well-known athletes (notably American) in the sports world, but they’re perhaps less known among French readers. Consequently, and to help this review flow more smoothly, I allowed myself to add, in brackets and under a different font, a concise presentation sentence of each athlete cited by the author.

Finally, since this review’s objective is to summarize the words of Gary Mack, he’s the one who is expressing himself in the “I” of this article.

Part One: Welcome to the Inner Game

Chapter 1: Yogi was right

“90% of the game is 50% mental ” – Yogi Berra (very well-known professional baseball athlete from the 1950s, very well-known especially for his reflections a la Jean-Claude Van Dam).

Studies have shown that mental training improves, not only performance and productivity, but also the enjoyment you get from the activity. Regardless your age, you can learn to use your mind in order to remain focused, strong in the face of adversity, motivated during boredom, to pursue your dreams, and to live your life consistently.

Lesson 1: The mind is developed like any other skill.

Building your mental strength, like building your muscles, takes time and effort. The more you work on the inside, the more it will show on the outside.

Chapter 2: Mind Games

“The mind is a powerful thing and most people don’t use it properly” – Mark McGwire (baseball player known for his home runs)

One of the keys to using the mind is to understand that our mind works better when it is told what to do rather than what it shouldn’t do. Indeed, in the presence of a negative order (“don’t hit the ball into the water“), the law of dominant thought will cause the negation to be ignored, and the body will perform the unwanted action (aiming for the water). Therefore, you should focus your mind on what you want to achieve rather than what you fear.

Lesson 2: Understand the law of dominant thought.

The action follows your thoughts and mental images. Don’t look where you don’t want to go! Focus on what you want rather than what you fear. 

Chapter 3: The Head Edge

“The night before a game, I visualize the pitches. I hit the ball right on the button. I know what it’s going to feel like and I hit the pitches where I want to.” – Carl Yastrzemski, (baseball player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989)

Sports psychology has been called the science of success, because it studies what successful athletes do. Research has concluded that one of the main characteristics of champions is that they rehearse, mentally and in pictures (visualization), the course of their performances. In fact, it has been shown that, between athletes of equal ability, the ones who practiced visualization outperformed the others. This is called the head edge.

Lesson 3: Practice visualization regularly.

Create your own mental gymnasium, in which you will review, in your mind, the actions that will lead you towards the achievement of your goals.

Chapter 4: The Pressure Principle

“Under pressure you can perform fifteen percent better or worse” – Scott Hamilton (American figure skater whose success had not been predicted by anyone because of his small physique, yet was 4 times world champion between 1981 and 1984, then gold medalist at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics).

The human body reacts to pressure: our heart beats faster and our breathing accelerates. No one is immune to this feeling, even if some people don’t want to admit it. However, and despite the bad rap that pressure has because of the discomfort it brings, it is also because of pressure that we can go beyond ourselves. In fact, it is even thanks to it that we are compelled to give the best of ourselves.

Lesson 4: Learn to make pressure a friend rather than an enemy.

See pressure as a challenge rather than a looming defeat.

Chapter 5: Mental Toughness

“Mental toughness is acquired. It’s not innate” – Chris Evert (American tennis player considered one of the greatest players in history after winning 18 Grand Slam titles and 4 Masters)

Mental toughness has 7 characteristics which we will come back to in detail later in Mind Gym. In the meantime, and to sum up, we can say that people with mental toughness have:

  1. Competitiveness: They use disappointments or failures to come back stronger instead of using them as an excuse to give up.
  2. Self-confidence: Michael Jordan said he went into every game believing he was the best player until someone else proved him wrong.
  3. Self-control: They focus on what can be controlled and are not affected by what is out of their control.
  4. Commitment: They use their time to achieve their goals and dreams.
  5. Composure: They know how to keep their cool, even when it gets hot.
  6. Courage: They are willing to take risks.
  7. Consistency: They give the best of themselves, especially and even when they feel at their lowest.
Lesson 5: The competition is first won in the head.

Practice the 7 C’s of mental toughness, and the results will show in the game.

Chapter 6: Know Your Numbers

“In a close game, I check my pulse. I know that if it goes over 100, it will affect my thinking,” – Phil Jackson (former basketball player and coach, known in particular for coaching Michael Jordan, and for having, as a coach, won 6 times the title of NBA champions with the Chicago Bulls and 5 times with the Los Angeles Lakers).

Each of us functions according to what is called the performance curve. In the beginning, the more the stress increases, the more the quality of our performance increases. However, if the stress becomes too great, the quality of our performance decreases. You need to know how much stress you are at with peak performance.

(“Fonctionnement Optimum = Peak Performance; Quantité de Stress = Amount of Stress; La Courbe de Performance = The Performance Curve)

To find out, you need to identify what level of stress is causing your warning signs of a blockage (drastic acceleration of heart rate, excessive sweating, nausea etc.). And you should perform when you are at a lower stress level.

Lesson 6: Know your performance curve.

You can’t control your performance until you control yourself: it starts with controlling your physiology.

Chapter 7: Responsibility Psychology

“What has benefited me the most is learning I can’t control what happens outside of my pitching”Greg Maddux (former American baseball player, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014)

In sports, as in life, you can always be the victim of injustice, bad circumstances, jealousy, etc. This should not be an excuse to stop and dwell on things. Successful people understand that what matters is not the event, but their reaction to it. And we always have the choice how we react.

Lesson 7: Accept responsibility for what you can control and let go of what you cannot.

Do not try to control the circumstances but your reactions to the circumstances. 

Chapter 8: Getting Over Yourself

“I worked hard. I felt I could play the game. The only thing that could stop me was myself.” – Jim Abbott (professional baseball athlete, known for being born without a right hand and having won, in 1991, 3rd place for the Cy Young trophy for the best pitcher in the American League).

In my profession, I very often come across athletes who, despite their awesome potential, perform poorly, even badly, because of their fears, their doubts and their negative conditioning. In psychology, the self-consistency theory explains that our psyche prompts us to act in a manner consistent with the image we have of ourselves. This is why people who do not have a good image of themselves are prone to self-destructive behavior.

Lesson 8: Find out how you’re getting in the way of yourself.

We all have thoughts and behaviors that hinder our performance. Identify yours and list them. In sports, as in life, the first step to success is not to get in your own way.

Chapter 9: The Next Level

“Build your weaknesses until they become your strengths”. – Knute Rockne (former American Norwegian American football player and coach, known for winning, as coach for the Fighting Irish team, 105 games with 12 losses and 5 draws).

Japanese athletes work a lot with the KAIZEN concept, which means training and daily improvement, not only in sports, but also in all areas of life. Most people resist change. They prefer to stay in their comfort zone, but the paradox is that sometimes you have to be willing to take one step back in order to take five steps forward.

Lesson 9: Have the courage to take a step back so that you can move five forward.

Honestly ask yourself: In what areas are you good, and in what areas are you weak? Then accept your weaknesses rather than resist them and develop your action plan to make them your strengths.

Part Two: Live Your Dream

Chapter 10: Good Enough to Dream

In psychology of success, we find that successful people have what is called a “Positive Sensory Orientation“. This means that they have a very vivid imagination with the ability to project themselves into their dreams, not only visually, but also at a tactile, auditory and olfactory level. These people are able to “live their lives backward“. They mentally create a future for themselves, then they take the actions necessary to live in it.

This is exactly what Dwight Smith did, one of the athletes from the Chicago Baseball Club that I advised in 1985. He was only in his twenties and most young athletes his age could not imagine their life past tomorrow. Dwight Smith knew exactly where he wanted to be three years later: “Mack, I see myself at Wrigley Field (baseball stadium located in Chicago where the National League Cubs play in Major League Baseball), starting in the outfield in the Major League and singing the national anthem.

When he informed me of his plans, Dwight Smith didn’t just vaguely picture the scene in his head. He could see, hear, and feel everything in detail. Four years later, he entered the Major Leagues and finished the year as the second-best rookie player. Later, he sang The Star Banner (national anthem of the United States) not only at Wrigley Field but also in several Major League stadiums. He ended his career in Atlanta, where he was awarded a World Series ring (Major League Baseball series final trophy).

Lesson 10: Mentally create the future of your dreams and immerse yourself inside it.

This is the application of visualization exercises (lesson 3). What will your life be like once you live in this future? Describe precisely where you see yourself, how you feel, who you are with, what you do, etc.

Chapter 11: Progress, Not Perfection

Once they have visualized their future, successful people manage to make their vision a reality by setting goals. The art of setting goals is a way of bringing the future into the present in order to be able to take daily action. This art has 5 principles, which can be summed up by the acronym SMART:

  1. S for SPECIFIC: It is not enough to fix a goal for something vague like: “I want to get onto the national football team as a striker“. A specific goal would be to improve your shot on goal accuracy daily. The goal must therefore relate to actions in your sphere of control (work your kicking accuracy) rather than results (getting onto the national team). If you reach the goals in your sphere of control, the results will come.
  2. M for MEASURABLE: “Every day I will practice shot on goal accuracy for 15 mins“.
  3. A for ACHIEVABLE: Your goals should be inspiring enough to push you to work, while not being completely beyond your reach so as not to discourage you.
  4. R for REALISTIC: You can integrate the achievement of your goals into the timetable of your current life.
  5. T for Time-bound. A goal is a dream with a deadline. Each goal must be achieved within a certain time. I encourage athletes to set daily or short-term goals, rather than long-term goals. One way to achieve your long-term goals is to break them down into short-term goals.
Lesson 11: Goals are dreams with deadlines.

Now that you’ve created your future, turn your vision into action by setting SMART goals. In doing so, seek progress rather than perfection.

Chapter 12: Don’t Shirk the Work

When we look at the lives of champions, we understand that behind an overnight success, there are years of regular work you don’t see.

Bjorn Borg illustrates this when he says, “I remember how I used to take the train every day after school to play, then come home late, study, get up the next day for school, get back on the train…all those years. It ended up paying off. But even if it hadn’t, even if I wasn’t able to become a champion, I would still know that I gave it my best shot. I got on the train, and I tried.

Lesson 12: To become an overnight success requires years of hard work.

What about you? Are you willing to work, to put in the effort required to achieve your dream?

Chapter 13: Fatal Distractions

Having served as a counselor for different professional teams in all types of sports, I know several athletes whose careers have been wiped out or seriously damaged following some ill-considered choices.

This is the case of Notah Begay, a native American golfer, who, during the PGA Tour (men’s professional golf course) in 1999, won 2 tournaments. However, when, 2 months later, his hometown of Albuquerque did him the honor of naming a special day after him, the 27-year-old athlete made headlines for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was sentenced to 7 days in jail, along with a fine and community service. Presented to a group of young people in difficulty, he told them “you are looking at someone who is about to go to jail.”

A consequence of the previous lesson is that in order to live your dream, you must devote your energy and your time to the achievement of goals that matter to you, rather than giving in to the easy distractions that are likely to end all your years of work in a single night.

To avoid finding yourself in situations that would lead you where you don’t want to go, partner up with people who will make you better.

Lesson 13: Don’t get lost on the way.

Stay focused on your goals and distance yourself from the distractions that would lead you where you don’t want to go.

Chapter 14: Fate Loves the Fearless

More than anything else, it is the fear of failure that stands in the way of success, whether it be athletes or anyone. Why? Because it is precisely this emotion that creates the conditions for failure. Indeed, the fear of negative consequences agitates us mentally and paralyzes us physically. This is why constantly pushing back action – procrastination – is a manifestation of the fear of failure: those who procrastinate do nothing, and doing nothing, they cannot fail. In addition, the fear of failure pushes us to play it safe; it keeps us from taking risks. Sometimes, however, the greatest risk lies precisely in not taking a risk.

As Jimmy Johnson (American racing driver famous for having won 7 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles, including 5 titles consecutively in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and two others in 2013 and 2016) said:

Do you want to play it safe and be good or do you want to take a chance and be great?”

Lesson 14: Sometimes the greatest risk is not taking risks.

Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from moving forward. Hate failure, but never fear it.

Chapter 15: Permission to Win

We saw in chapter 8 that our psyche always pushes us to act in a way that is consistent with the image that we have of ourselves (principle of self-consistency), often for the worse if we suffer from a poor self-image. Because of this need for consistency, we experience psychic discomfort called cognitive dissonance when the way we perceive ourselves comes into conflict with reality. In this case, our psyche will push us to act in way as to put an end to this discomfort, here again, sometimes for the worse.

This is what happened with Annika Sorenstam (Swedish professional golfer whose performances place her as one of the best golfers in history) before she experienced the success that made her famous. Early in her career, the champion confessed that she was afraid to speak in public and that she felt so uncomfortable being the center of attention that she deliberately missed putts on the last holes of tournaments, just to be able to finish second. Annika Sorenstam was afraid of success, which amounts to a fear of failure at the next level.

Lesson 15: Limits begin where vision ends. You cannot go beyond the image you have of yourself.

If you can’t visualize yourself succeeding or think you aren’t worth it, you risk self-sabotage. To be successful, start by giving yourself permission to win.

Chapter 16: The Fire Inside

An athlete’s success depends on 4 factors:

  1. Physical ability,
  2. Physical training,
  3. Mental training,
  4. Motivation to take action. This motivation can come from the desire to succeed or from a fear of failure. To achieve success, the desire to succeed must be stronger than the fear of failure.

Peggy Flamming, Olympic figure skating champion, is referring to this when she says:

The most important thing is to love your sport. Never do it to please someone else – it has to be yours. That is all that will justify the hard work needed to achieve success.”

Lesson 16: Be motivated by your desire to succeed rather than by your fear of failure.

Find your passion and make the room for it that it deserves in your life.

Chapter 17: The 4 D’s

Once you have a dream (lesson 10) and a roadmap (lesson 11), Dedication (lessons 12 and 13), Determination (lesson 14), Desire (lessons 15 and 16) and Discipline will get you to your destination. And the only Discipline that lasts is self-discipline. Self-discipline is about doing what you have to do, when you need to do it.

Lesson 17: Self-discipline will help you achieve your goals more definitely than any product that supposedly “boosts” your energy.

To practice the 4 D’s that will make your dream a reality, be action oriented. No procrastination, no excuses. 

Part Three: Mindset for Success

Chapter 18: Attitude is Everything

“So many players enter the game with the same approximate skills. The difference is not aptitude but attitude. Your attitude more than your aptitude determines your altitude – how high you go, how far you climb the ladder of success” – Dave Winfield (American baseball player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001)

Attitude influences the way we think and feel. And because of this, it affects the way we act and react. To inject optimism into your state of mind, remember that failure or setback is only temporary. Don’t become distracted by your doubts and congratulate yourself on your victories.

Lesson 18: Control your attitude.

Your attitude determines your ability. If you think you can, you probably can.

Chapter 19: Riding the Pines

“Don’t let what you can’t control interfere with what you can control” – John Wooden (former basketball coach, considered the greatest American university coach, of all sports combined, having notably won the NCAA championship 10 times between 1964 and 1975).

It’s not easy to sit on the bench, whether you’re injured, or you haven’t been chosen to play. In such cases, even more than usual, it’s essential to maintain a proactive attitude, asking yourself what factors you can control, and which factors are beyond your control.

Remain proactive even in times when action is becoming scarcer. Take the opportunity to practice in a different way. For example, by analyzing the game of your competitors or by encouraging your peers.

Lesson 19: Control your attitude, even and especially when the circumstances aren’t in your favor.

Chapter 20: You Have to Believe

  • In your wildest dreams, did you imagine such success so early in your career?
  • Absolutely (Response from Tiger Woods, 20, when he had just won the 1996 Las Vegas golf tournament against David Love III).

In psychology, the term self-efficacy designates the belief held by an individual concerning his/her ability to succeed. Our belief system has a huge impact on our self-confidence, so we need to take a close look at it to flush out any irrational beliefs that wouldn’t be in our best interest.

For example, some people believe that it’s shameful to fail. However, failure is a part of life. If babies were afraid of failure, they would never learn to walk.

Simply believing in yourself will not make you are a winner every time, but it can definitely put you in a better position to win.

Lesson 20: Examine your beliefs.

Your beliefs determine your behaviors, and limiting beliefs cause self-destructive behaviors. Hunt down your negative irrational beliefs, and gradually learn to believe in yourself and your abilities.

Chapter 21: Between the Ears

“If you don’t think too good, then don’t think too much” – Ted Williams (former American baseball player, considered one of the best hitters of all time).

Just as you may have irrational limiting beliefs, you can have destructive dialogues with yourself. However, what you say to yourself internally affects how you feel, and how you feel affects your behavior. Your thoughts become words, your words become actions, your actions become habits, your habits become your character, and your character becomes your destiny. So, you must learn to listen to your inner voice, and determine whether it encourages you or destroys you.

Lesson 21: Control your thoughts.

Just as you learn to shoot a basketball, you must learn to think clearly and to use your inner voice constructively.

Chapter 22: Servant or Master

“Emotions, particularly anger, are like fire: they can cook your meal and keep you warm, or burn your house down” – Cus D’Amato, (former American boxing coach, known in particular for having trained Mike Tyson, Floyd Patterson and José Torres, all three heavyweight world champions).

As a teenager, Bobby Jones (an American amateur golfer who beat professional stars of his time such as Walter Hagen or Gene Sarazen, and dubbed the Mozart of Golf) could beat any opponent at his local golf club, but he had a bad temper. At that time, the young Jones became friends with an older man, who worked in the pro shop, and whom everyone nicknamed Grandpa Bart. At 14, Jones took part in the National Amateur Tournament, from which he came home a loser.

Bobby, you are good enough to win that tournament,” said Grandpa Bart, “but you will never win until you can control your bad temper. ” Jones knew it was true, but he had to wait 7 years before he could win his 1 st tournament.  “Bobby was 14 when he mastered the game of golf,” said Grandpa Bart, “but he was 21 before he mastered himself.

Lesson 22: Learn to control your emotions or they will control you.

Who is in control: you or your emotions? Before you can control your performance, you must learn to control your emotions. Buy the solution. Not your emotions.

Chapter 23: Fear Lives in the Future

“Of all the hazards, fear is the worst” – Sam Snead (American golfer known for his quirky image, having won 82 PGA Tour tournaments and 70 other tournaments around the world).

Fear is an unseen presence, a booming voice behind a curtain. It is as powerful as we imagine it to be, but it lies in the future. When you focus on the present, it cannot affect you. This is why athletes who focus on their performance are not afraid.

You should accept fear and perform despite everything. Remember: fear doesn’t protect you from making a mistake. Your training does.

Lesson 23: Accept fear and perform anyway.

Chapter 24: Breathe and Focus!

“You have to learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable” – Lou Piniella (former American baseball player and manager having spent a total of 40 years in the Major Leagues, before retiring in 2010 with 1,835 wins in 23 seasons, which places him in 14th   place in history for the most wins).

Have you ever gotten into a cold shower or an icy lake? Your natural instinct would no doubt have been to get out as quickly as possible. However, if you had breathed and managed to stay in there, you would have most likely found that you would have gradually acclimated to the temperature. Well, it’s the same thing with performance under pressure. By learning how to breathe and stop focusing on the discomfort you feel and concentrate on the task at hand, you will gradually be able to desensitize yourself to stress.

Lesson 24: Learn how to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Use your breath to focus on the present and the task at hand, rather than yourself and the future.

Chapter 25: Be here Now!

“Each point that I play is in the now moment. The last point means nothing, the next point means nothing” – Billie Jean King (American tennis player, former world number one and holder of 39 Grand Slam titles).

Being able to play an entire game in the present moment is the pinnacle of mental discipline. However, this skill is not easily acquired. When you perform in the present, you are able to give your best. Why? Because fear does not live in the present. As we saw in the previous chapter, pressure is due to fears about the future and memories of past failures. One of the keys to taking advantage of all your abilities is to learn to recognize when your mind is no longer in the present.

Lesson 25: Learn from the past, prepare for the future, perform in the present.

Chapter 26: Hurry Slowly

“When you are in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging” – Team of the Arizona Cardinals (National League of American Football)

During sports training camps, I like to start the week by asking young athletes to participate in a game, which has the potential to determine which of them is the fastest in the camp. I start my speech like this, “Now, I’m going to count down to three, and at three, I would like each of you to run to the nearest fence.” My words are followed with a quick glance at a fence that’s a hundred meters behind me.

At the count of three, all the campers begin to sprint. From the largest to the smallest, they dash straight ahead of them, legs churning, arms pumping, the wind blowing their caps off. After reaching the fence, panting and exhausted, they realize that there was another fence, much closer, 20 meters behind them. If they had ignored my non-verbal cue, they could have reached it in a few seconds, without being winded and without getting tired.

Sometimes the best action is inaction.

In some cases, as we have just seen, going too fast can slow you down. When you are stressed, your world accelerates. You feel a growing sense of urgency. You become like Alice in Wonderland’s white rabbit. Then, you want to finish everything as quickly as possible, and the more you hurry, the more mistakes you make. You switch to “got to” thinking: “I got to do this, I got to do that.” It’s a sign that it’s time for you to put your shovel down and stop digging. Take a break, refocus, and return to the present.

Lesson 26: Pace instead of race.

The more you hurry, the later you get. When you start to rush, you are no longer in the present. 

Chapter 27: Try Easier

“The less tension and effort you put into it, the faster and more powerful you will become” – Bruce Lee.

Sports glorify strength. Coaches require their athletes to give 110%, ignoring that, mathematically, it’s impossible. The truth is, muscle and strength aren’t everything. Over-trying, as athletes do when they are under pressure, is most often counterproductive.

This is what Jay Novacek (major player in the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys team – American football -, victorious in Super Bowls XXVIIXXVIII and XXX) experienced while he was on his university’s track team. At that time, the members of the team were instructed to run 800 meters as quickly as possible. Later, the trainer asked them to run the same distance, this time at 90% of their capacity. They were surprised to find that they got better times when they gave 90% rather than 100%. This is explained by the fact that the voluntary muscles are organized into opposing pairs. Running, and many other sports, are most effective when certain muscles contract while others relax.

Lesson 27: Over-trying leads to under-performing.

Do not force it, either with your muscles or with your brain.

Chapter 28: Simply Observe!

“I see the ball, I hit the ball” – Ken Griffey Jr (American baseball player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014).

When we practice a sport, we tend to over-analyze. Seek the advice of 10 golf instructors and you will get 10 different suggestions, on how to hold the club, how to rotate your hips, or how to transfer your body weight during a swing. Some well-intentioned coaches actually make the game too complex. Moreover, the old joke is that if golf instructors taught sex education, civilization would come to an end as we know it. Don’t be like golf instructors, simplify your task: play with your eyes, not with your ideas.

Lesson 28: If your mind begins to wander, so will your performance.

Keep your eyes focused on the task at hand, thinking about what you do, not how you do it.

Chapter 29: The Bottom Line

“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare to win is vital” – Joe Paterno (most successful college football player and coach in the history of college American football with 409 Division I wins).

What do you think is the most important criteria for mastering your mind? When in doubt, I have sought advice from hundreds of professional coaches and athletes over the past 20 years. The answer is always the same: Confidence.

When you are confident, you can relax and give the best of yourself. But where does this confidence come from?

Great athletes say they feel it when they know they are physically and mentally prepared for anything (foreseeable) that might happen in competition. They visualize not only the best possible scenarios, but also how they’d react to unpleasant and difficult situations.

Lesson 29: Prepare as much as possible in order to stress as little as possible.

Perform mentally first (visualization) before performing physically. You will then have an impression of deja-vu, which will make you feel confident.

Part Four: In the Zone

Chapter 30: Trust Your Stuff

Better to be decisive than to be right, because, as the late Harvey Penick explained (American golf instructor who coached many Hall of Fame players), if you are undecided, have doubts, or your mind is lacking in commitment, your body will not know what to do!

To learn to be decisive, you need to understand the importance of routine. A routine is an action (or series of actions) that you do regularly for a specific purpose, and that you can control. Conscious practice of your routine will lead you to the unconscious habit of success. Once you’ve thought about your routine and implemented it regularly, it’s time to get out of your head and get into your body.

Switch off your analytical mind: Switch from the thinking mode to the trusting mode. You cannot think and act at the same time.

Lesson 30: You must be 100% committed to each action. If you have any doubts, your body will not know what to do.

Let your routines switch you from the thinking mode to the trusting mode. 

Chapter 31: White Moments

Perhaps you have already experienced a competition in which everything surpassed your expectations: everything was in perfect harmony, as if you were on autopilot, in total control of the situation. All great athletes know this feeling but use different words to describe it.  Japanese baseball players use the term Mushin, which translated loosely, means “no mind”. As for tennis star, Arthur Ashe, he calls it “playing in the zone”.

When you are ”in the zone”, you have gone from training mode to trusting mode. You’re not fighting yourself. You’re not afraid of anything, and you’re living in the present moment, in a special space/time. Athletes playing “in the zone” experience time distortion. Everything seems to slow down, and they have time to perform calmly, without indecision or pressure. They are totally absorbed.

Lesson 31: The zone is the reward for all your hard work and preparation.

When you reach it, just let yourself be carried by the current and enjoy the ride.

Chapter 32: Paralysis by Analysis

In general, when an athlete begins to experience difficulties in his/her sport, he/she tends to over-analyze his/her failures. However, over-thinking leads to over-trying. And as we have seen, over-trying leads to under-performing.

Cory Snyder (former American baseball player in the Major Leagues) illustrates thism, explaining:

When you are in a slump, you go up to the plate trying to hit a home run (one of the most difficult things to do in baseball), you start pressing instead of just letting things happen. You let all the negatives come floating through your mind.”

In sports, as in life, there are always ups and downs, victories and failures. Remember, when you are in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging (lesson 26). The key to getting out of a slump is to go ahead and focus on the basics and forget about the result.

Lesson 32: During slumps, focus on the basics and make your life as simple as possible.

Don’t over-analyze your mistakes and keep moving forward.

Chapter 33: Paradoxes of Performances

A paradox is defined as a seemingly contradictory statement that is nevertheless true.

In sports, as in life, everything isn’t black or white. Sometimes, it’s black and white. Let’s recap 10 frequent paradoxes in the sports field, which you must accept in order to progress:

  • One step back can propel you five steps forward (lesson 9).
  • Fear of failure makes failure more likely (lesson 14).
  • Playing it safe (and refusing to take risks) can be the most dangerous option (lesson 14).
  • Slowing down can save you time (lesson 26).
  • Less can be more: Sometimes the best action is inaction (lesson 27).
  • Over-control gets you out of control (lesson 28).
  • While you must be present (in your body) to win, you must also be absent (from your head) (lesson 30).
  • Trying easier can be harder (lesson 31).
  • The probability of getting what you want increases when you let go of the need to get it (lesson 32).
Lesson 33: Understand the paradoxes of sport and learn to play in the gray areas.

Chapter 34: Choice Not Chance

Sports psychology is especially useful for 2 types of athletes.

  • Those who perform well in practice but who break down in competition.
  • And those who are very gifted but inconsistent with their performance.

However, it is precisely consistency that separates good athletes from champions. It’s much more important to be consistent than to have a one-time spectacular performance.


Champions win regularly because they think, perform and practice constantly. They can perform at the highest level. On good days, as well as bad days. Even when they don’t feel well or are off their game. Jack Nicklaus (professional golfer known by the nickname the golden bear and considered one of the best golfers of all time) is referring to this when he speaks of “the art to play badly well”.

Lesson 34: To be consistently successful, you need to prepare consistently.

Take action to get what you want, until you become consistent with the way you act.

Chapter 35: Inner Excellence

Our western society is outward looking. We always look outside of ourselves to seek approval, admire heroes and measure our success. We look outside for what only can be found inside. To be successful, it is essential to work on the inside. Inner excellence is a way of thinking and acting. It is a quality of mind, a mentality according to which you accept responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions, regardless of the difficulties you come across.

Through Mind Gym, we have reviewed several characteristics of inner excellence. Here is a brief summary:

    • Have a dream: mentally create the future of your dreams and immerse yourself inside it.
    • Demonstrate self-discipline: be action-oriented to make your dream a reality.
    • Accept responsibility for your reactions: don’t let what you cannot control interfere with what you can control.
    • Be open to growth and learning: accept the paradoxes of sport and life and understand that it’s not time that makes us age, but the fact of not growing.
    • Be optimistic: attitude determines altitude.
    • Have self-confidence: limits begin where vision ends.
    • Control your emotions.
    • Resist adversity and stress: use pressure as a springboard to progress rather than let yourself be paralyzed.
    • Know how to be patient and persistent.
    • Have a code of honor (we will see this aspect in chapter 37).
Lesson 35: Work on the inside. It will show on the outside.

The past that has been left behind and the future that awaits you is of small importance to what is happening within you.

Chapter 36: The Hero Within You

Some people think that the people who succeed at everything were born that way. I’m here to tell you that a champion is someone who has fallen down a dozen times. Successful people never give up.

Lesson 36: The world of sports is full of heroes, just like in everyday life.

It takes courage to grow and reach one’s full potential.

Chapter 37: The Well-played Game

Americans are obsessed with success in all its forms. In our society, if you don’t succeed, you are a loser. According to a Florida survey of 500 adults, 82% think that parents are too aggressive when it comes to youth sports. A North Carolina mother was charged with hitting a teenage referee after a game; a Cleveland father hit a 15-year-old boy on a soccer field; in Massachusetts, the fathers of two 10-year-old hockey players beat each other with hockey sticks during a game. One of them died from his injuries.

We must redefine success. A winner is a player who steps away from the competition knowing that he/she has done his/her best, regardless of rank or standing. “Being the first to cross the finish line makes you a winner in one phase of your life. But it’s what you do after crossing the line that really matters” – Ralph Boston (American long jump specialist, Olympic champion in 1960, having beaten the world record 6 times).

Lesson 37: Successful people want to win. The deranged want to win at all costs.

What does a well-played game mean to you? Your sports philosophy will determine how you will play the game.

Chapter 38: Game Day

On game days, you must be able to completely isolate yourself from your daily life and put on your “stage costume”. Many professional athletes like to wear dark sunglasses, headphones and listen to music to help insulate themselves from the outside world. Many enter the stadium early and walk around the field, a practice known as ‘grazing’.

Great athletes seek balance in their lives. On game days, they find their “warrior within”. They know when and how to turn it on, and when the match is over, how to turn it off.

Lesson 38: You too, learn how to find your warrior within for competition days.

Know how to turn it on when the battle begins, and how turn it off once it is over, to leave the field without regret, knowing that you have given everything.

Chapter 39: The Mirror Test

As a performance coach, but also as a personal counselor, I could see what the athletes were going through behind the scenes, away from the applause and the limelight. Some of them, who seem, in the eyes of the public, to have the world eating out of the palm of their hand, were actually leading unhappy lives. Sports heroes are also human beings.

This is why I always ask the athletes to go through a test, which I will ask you, the reader, to also take. It’s the mirror test. “I am a strong believer in the mirror test,” said John McKay, former coach of the National Football League, an association of professional football teams. “By that I mean you shouldn’t worry about the fans, the press or trying to satisfy someone else’s expectations. All that matters is if you can look in the mirror and honestly tell the person you see there that you have done your best.

Lesson 39: Success comes from the peace of mind of knowing that you have done your best on and off the field as a player and as a person.

When you leave the game, how do you want to be remembered? How do you define success?

Chapter 40: The Big Win

As a teenager, Michael Jordan’s goal was to get on the high school basketball team. He remembers the feeling of the long-awaited day, when the coach posted in the gym the famous list of the lucky ones. Only the names of those who had been selected were listed. Jordan’s anxious eyes crisscrossed the list. His finger went through each of the alphabetical columns. His name was not there. Jordan felt his heart sink. After school that day, he went home, locked himself in his room and cried hard tears.

Fortunately, determination overcame disappointment. The skinny young man refused to accept that he was not good enough. He didn’t give up.

Lesson 40: The greatest victory is the win over ourselves.

Remember, it’s always too soon to give up.

Book critique of “Mind Gym”:

Mind Gym came into my life about ten years ago, when I was studying to get my law license in Geneva, which consisted of an exam that one could take after having completed a two-year internship (which paid peanuts) in a law firm.

At this point in my life, I didn’t see myself extending my student status for another second longer. First, because retaking the exams would have been very costly, but also, and above all, because the studying had reached a level of hardship that I could no longer bear. For example, we would be asked about areas as diverse and exciting as the cancellation of a mortgage certificate or the maintenance of civil registers.

So, I had to pass those pesky exams the first time through. And that’s why I started reading “Mind Gym”.

Concerning the form, although, as I explained in the introduction, Gary Mack uses a vocabulary very specific to the world of American sports, the book is written in a simple manner, with short sentences and chapters, which makes it easier to read, especially for non-English speakers. In addition, Gary Mack is very practical and systematically illustrates each of his lessons with a host of examples from the field, but which, for the reasons mentioned in the introduction, I was only able to very partially transliterate in this review.

In terms of content, I appreciated Mind Gym for the fact that it allows us readers to gain an understanding of the importance of mental preparation – and the different aspects that it entails – not only in the field of sport, but also whenever we seek to carry out a project in our daily life. Therefore, I find that Mind Gym is an excellent self-help book for all those who are already engaged in an activity that they partially master, and who plan to mentally prepare to win a competition or to become a better version of themselves.

Perfect bedside book for students

In my opinion, Mind Gym is therefore a perfect bedside book for students preparing for exams. It seems to me that competitive exams rely on the same mental challenges as sports competitions (the need to stay focused and disciplined, to overcome the fear of failure, to know why you’re willing to make certain sacrifices, etc.), and it is precisely these questions to which Gary Mack has answers: learning to boost your motivation, to stay focused as long as you need, to set realistic goals, to visualize yourself succeeding, etc.

As for me, during my three months of studying, I read and applied all the lessons from Mind Gym and, drum roll…passed the exams on my first try.

However, I should point out that in the book, Gary Mack merely illustrates the different stages of mental preparation by indicating how the athletes he quotes put them into practice in their respective sports. He does not explain, though, how these same athletes managed to transform their mental state when they suffered from a blockage. For example, how a person who does not benefit from a “Positive Sensory Orientation” (chapter 10) could practice visualization, or how a person trapped by limiting thoughts (Chapter 8) could concretely identify and get rid of them, or how to control your emotions (chapter 22) when they cause a complete loss of self-control.

So, even though reading Mind Gym helped me to pass a selection exam, it didn’t rid me of my amaxophobia . And I don’t think that mental preparation, as described in Ming Gym, is sufficient to deal with anxiety problems that are deeper than simple stress.

On the other hand, the advice of Gary Mack undoubtedly helps to strengthen your mind, which is very useful for making difficult decisions (like breaking up with a toxic person, for example), which is why I recommend Mind Gym without hesitation to anyone invested in a personal development approach.

Strong points:

  • Mind Gym is Clear and Concise
  • Mind Gym gives many examples covering a wide range of situations
  • The book Mind Gym has Powerful and relevant fundamental concepts
  • Many principles to apply and internalize

Weak points:

  • The examples in Mind Gym are mainly intended for an American audience (American baseball and football)
  • Mind Gym is a bit redundant at times

My rating : Mind Gym performance Mind Gym performance Mind Gym performanceMind Gym performanceMind Gym performanceMind Gym performanceMind Gym performanceMind Gym performanceMind Gym performance

Have you read “Mind Gym”? How do you rate it?

Mediocre - No interestReasonable - One or two interesting paragraphsIntermediate - Some goods ideasGood - Had changed my life on one practical aspectVery Good - Completely changed my life ! (2 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)


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