Book Review: “Mind Gym”, Part 1

You might find Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence[1] in the sports section or the self-help section, depending on the bookstore. Published in 2001, Mind Gym was written by sports psychologist Gary Mack to show regular people how the mind influences athletic performance. The book is organized into 40 chapters which end with short exercises to improve the mental habits which help performers succeed. Mack demonstrates the impacts of stress and motivation on success using examples from sports. However, his recommendations apply to elite athletes and regular people alike.

I have read Mind Gym many times since my mom first introduced it to me. The book is physically small (it fits in a purse!) and fairly easy reading since most concepts are explained using examples from sports and direct quotes from athletes. The examples are easily understood, even if you aren’t ‘sports literate’; they rarely focus on details or rules of the game. Athletes often recount how they are feeling in a given moment which may help readers to draw on times when they felt the same way. Additionally, if you have ever played a sport (even non-competitively) or been in the performing arts you will be able to relate to some of the examples!

But what is the book really about? Mind Gym focuses broadly on techniques for improving stress management and positive thinking and why these are important. If you have ever attended a stress and anxiety workshop, few of the concepts will be new, but they will be presented in a different manner. Mack discusses SMART goals, visualization, distorted thinking, fear of failure and much more all in the context of having a mind gym. The mind gym is where you work on your mental strength to improve your quality of mind.

Statements about the importance of goals in achieving success are backed up by a large body of psychological research which indicates that people do better when they break down a goal into realistic steps (mini goals). By doing this people bring the future (which often feels unpredictable) into the present (something they can control). The discussion of the power of positive thinking and how to implement it is also very interesting. The idea that winning is about doing your personal best is woven into the book.

Online, you’ll find many news articles with athletes quoted on how the book helped them, you’ll also find excellent ratings from Goodreads and Amazon. Mack concludes the book by acknowledging the fact that Mind Gym is not only for elite athletes and most people are not elite athletes. However, they can use the skills in the book to become a most valued person (MVPs), someone who can ‘stay cool when the heat is on.’ The tools explored in this book can help anyone improve their commitment, attitude towards themselves and the world, confidence, or patience. Notably, I think this book is incredibly relevant for students or for people who want to improve their public speaking. For anyone who wants to do well at a task, activity, or in life more generally, Mind Gym will certainly present good skills and habits in a unique and accessible manner.

[1] Gary Mack with David Casstevens, foreword by Alex Rodriguez, Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence. New York: McGraw Hill, 2001.

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