Over the years I've developed a kind of armchair philosophy for keeping myself mentally strong based on some common sense advice I've learned from coaches, trainers, other athletes, and my own experience. This isn't hard science, but it works for me, and I think it might help you as well:

1. Keep your focus. It's fine to let your mind wander when you're shopping or cleaning your house, but when you work out or practice your sport, try to keep your mind attuned to what you are doing. The more presence of mind you bring to each exercise, the more your mind can enhance your body, especially in the initial part of the movement.

2. Stick to your routine. The more you follow your schedule, the more your body and mind get accustomed to the routine, which in turn helps you reinforce and strengthen your commitment—to your goals and to yourself.

3. Practice. Every athlete knows that without practice, you can't expect to play well on game day. Practice breeds trust. Practice breeds muscle memory. Practice hones your skills. Practice enables you to battle your nerves on game day.

4. Do your best. This tip is about doing your best not just during a performance or competition but during practice. Give each practice, each workout, your all. Don't back off on yourself. Don't tell yourself that you'll run longer, play more intensely, or swim harder the next day. Give it your all every time, and when it's game day or competition day, the intensity of your practice will pay off.

5. Manage the pressure. Our nerves can get the best of us. When you feel yourself getting too anxious about your performance, take a deep breath and look off into the distance to shift your attention away from the nervous feeling. Really look at that tree on the right, that bird in the sky, or the gorgeous guy on the treadmill. Let your mind shift so you can take your body away from your anxiety. The feeling will pass if you let it.

6. Develop a strategy. The more comfortable and familiar with the individual exercises you become, the more you will be able to direct your workout. For instance, if you are a runner, you might want to do more quad stretches and strengtheners. If you're a swimmer, you might want to practice fast-twitch movements.

7. Be efficient with your energy. Don't lollygag through your workout. If you only have an hour for a workout, then you need to manage your time; this will not only make sure you fit in the workout but also make you use your energy (physical and mental) more wisely.

8. If you feel tired, ill, or injured, back off. Pushing through pain or working out even though you're coming down with a cold will backfire. Let your body rest when it needs rest. When you take care of yourself by refueling and getting more sleep, you will end up feeling more connected to your body.

9. Create your own support team. Another way that I keep my spirits up and my eye on the prize, so to speak, is by surrounding myself with a posse of people who believe in me, who cheer me on, who trust me and help me stay focused. This group includes my mom, my siblings, and, on a daily basis, my trainers. I couldn't be where I am without them. You might not need a team of trainers like me, but everyone can use some support. Reach out to those you trust and tell them of your new fitness plan. Share your goals with them so they can cheer you on. Who knows, you might inspire one of them to join you!

10. Relax and have fun. It's easy to get caught up in winning. I've been there, done that—for years. But practice and working out can be something you enjoy and look forward to—not just something you look forward to finishing. And if you let yourself relax while you work out, you might just have more fun!

Excerpt taken from GOLD MEDAL FITNESS by Dara Torres with Billie Fitzpatrick, published by Broadway Books.

 

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