Book Review: Mind Gym, Part 2

In this post, I am going to cover how different concepts from Mind Gym[1] can be applied by students. You may be familiar with some of them from other ‘self-help’ type books, from workshops on time or stress and anxiety management, or already use them without giving them names. I am going to give overviews of the power of positive thinking, motivation and fear of failure, and SMART goals. All of these contribute to getting ‘in the zone’ and succeed at everyday tasks or activities.

Do you know anyone who always thinks they’re going to fail? Maybe they do, or maybe they don’t. Either way, a negative of pessimistic attitude gets in the way of peak performance. Indeed, there is a mental element to achieving excellence. Doing well in an exam setting is part studying and having the knowledge to answer questions but also part believing in your ability to answer those questions! Confidence and a can-do attitude will help you relax; they lead your mind to a safe place where you don’t tear yourself down. Part of being an optimist means viewing setbacks as impermanent, you can easily work around or over them given time. It also means you have to view issues as not pervasive. For example, you may think that you will always succumb to social media and never get any studying done. With that attitude, you won’t be able to correct yourself and change your behaviour in the long run.

Next is motivation. Motivation is the reason why you get things done, but it can come from two places: desire for success or fear of failure. Fear of failure reduces your likelihood of success because it means you focus on what you don’t want to happen. Imagine you are driving a car if you look at where you don’t want to go, you’ll end up there! In contrast, if you focus on where you want to go you’ll be able to set goals. Thinking about where you want to be can be short term as well. You may visualize yourself doing well in a midterm or final exam. By imagining the situation, you can also start to think of what emotions you might be feeling, and thus how you can control them. You’ll remember that studying is key to be able to feel calm and ready to write at the beginning of the exam. Furthermore, if by aiming for goals, failures will become a source of feedback – what to do better on next time.

Lastly, in order to get to where you want to be, you will have to set goals. A SMART goal is a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. Goals can be as short as required to work through your tasks, you might have tasks or goals for the day, ones for the week, but also in the long term for the semester or for your degree. Setting these goals is important because it brings the unpredictable future into a controllable present; you can take charge of your future by working towards it now. Furthermore, by working and setting small goals before reaching a larger end goal you become more committed to the goal. The time and commitment are sunk costs which will help you refuse failure and keep working to get to where you want to be.

If your interested in any of these or more tools then I strongly recommend the book Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence which presents these concepts very clearly with great examples from sports. You might be interested to know that optimists live longer, and when compared to people equal talent perform better as well. Additionally, Research by Locke and Latham has shown that goal-oriented visions are key for personal growth and peak performance. Lastly, these tools improve your self-efficacy – the belief that you can be successful.

[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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