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ClubMX Weekly Training Tip: Building Mental Fitness

March 13 2012

Building Mental Fitness

By: Debra Meszaros CSN
(540) 622 - 4989

Q. Talent, are you really born with it? Is it in your genes? Does skill come naturally?

A: Skill, cannot be borrowed, you can't steal it, buy it, or even fake it. You earn skill.

As an athlete, a large part of your success lies in mental and emotional conditioning.
Implementing certain mental and emotional processes into your daily physical routine will build and enhance your skills, developing talent. Scientifically, talent is created when one builds a blueprint of neurological circuitry known as pathways. The brain has 100 billion neurons (wires) and every thought, feeling, and movement travels via nerve fibers. Neurological pathways are constructed by nerve fibers wrapped in myelin and the more layers of myelin that wrap each nerve, the greater the firing power. Your actions dictate the development of myelin and you have the ability to build myelin bandwidth. Myelin is a white fatty material, composed chiefly of lipids and lipoproteins [essential fatty acids are myelin building blocks] that wrap certain axons and nerve fibers. It is built when the nerve fires and Oligo cells respond by wrapping the nerve, creating myelin.

So how do we actually develop talent?

You probably already know that being passionate about what you do and your commitment to it is your motivational fuel, but igniting the contributing factors behind skill and talent come from a different source. Understanding the processes is the key to developing your talent.

The first process is finding your struggle point. This is the point just slightly beyond your present ability; the spot that you are most likely to make a mistake. Target the gap between what you know and what you're trying to do. If your practice is effortless, you haven't reached the edge (struggle point) where you expand your talent. Yes, the best practice is a targeted, mistake focused practice, and its requirement is the struggle. This approach turns your mistakes into skills, so welcome your mistakes. Why mistakes? Mistakes are your myelin accelerants, which improve the speed of your circuitry. Myelin controls impulse speed and impulsive speed is skill. Your skill circuits are built when you make mistakes, so put your attention to the mistake and correct them. The continuous firing (repetition) of using the circuit slowly creates the navigational path to skill. Experience is simply circuitry wrapped in myelin. Once a skill circuit is wrapped in myelin, it doesn't unwrap (the exception is age or disease). This is also the reason old habits are hard to break. To change a habit you must repeat a new behavior by wrapping myelin around a new circuit. Remember a negative event is only negative because of your opinion of it. Negativity blocks progress. Mistakes are positive events as they teach you the definition of what NOT to do and are a vital component of skill building.

In addition to finding your struggle point, another element is awareness. Realizing that each one of your senses plays a contributing role to building the circuitry for a particular skill you're trying to achieve. Practicing in fragments slows the input to the brain. So slow it down, pay attention to mistakes, feel it, then take it beyond your current ability slightly more with each repetition, building the circuit until it happens quickly and intuitively. Develop these fragments by how you see or feel the movement or skill you're trying to achieve. Developing a path associated with that event in broken down segments, (a small series of steps) places that process into your memory; then practice synchronizes the steps creating your performance output. The more you utilize the circuit (repetition) the greater your speed, accuracy and strength, this is commonly known as muscle memory. Muscle memory is a function carried out by your unconscious mind, and practice is what develops the pathway of activity to be routed to the unconscious mind. The idea is to build as many pathways to the unconscious mind as possible. Why? Because the unconscious mind processes 11 million pieces of information per second and the conscious mind only 40 pieces!

The final step in mental fitness is developed from outside yourself, the collective effort of teacher and student. Someone needs to be there with you, guiding you with support through the struggle points you defined. Often you will be in need of someone to tap your trigger points, the points that inspire you to take it beyond your current ability and therefore enable you to reach your goals.