There are many lessons we can learn from sports: play by the rules, don’t cheat, lose honorably, start with a goal, create a training program to get there, keep composure when the pressure is on, teamwork, and, of course, how to overcome defeat.


And many challenges we face in life mimic those we face on the field. If we want to pursue anything worthwhile, we need a plan to get there, we have to take risks, we have to overcome our fears and doubts, and we have to push past inevitable hurdles.


The mental game we speak of in sports applies to so many areas of life. In many ways, anything you want to achieve starts with a mental game.


So here are three ways you can step up your mental game:


Separate the Outcome from the Process. It’s so easy to become focused on just the goal and forget the process it takes to get there. After all, we pay attention to wins, not near wins. Players are paid for wins, and in the corporate world, the bottom line is what matters. And people are primed to focus on what they accomplish, not the process of getting there. Yet this strategy just doesn’t work very well when it comes to performance. The main reason is that there is only one thing you have control over — and it is not if you win. The only thing you really have control over are your actions — what you do, how you respond, how you train, and ultimately, your performance. And have the best performance ever, you may still not win. But that’s part of the game. And the game is being played so you can get better. Whether we are talking about a sport (such as tennis or golf), a career, a personal pursuit (like writing a book), or just the game of life, before you can win anything, you have to learn how to play. You have to sharpen your skills. You have to hone your drive, and yes, you have to perfect your mental game. So instead of focusing on winning or losing, focus on the process of playing the game. Focus on learning the skills — delivering the perfect pitch (literally and figuratively), mastering the footwork, reading the plays, and knowing the rules. If you focus on the process of perfecting your skills, the winning will take care of itself.


Separate the Person from the Product. For people who put their all into what they do, it’s so easy to become defined by what they do. Being great at anything, after all, requires an enormous amount of time, dedication, and immersion. The greats — at anything — become so infused with what they are doing that it almost becomes who they are. Yet while the drive to become great invites this type of complete investment, it doesn’t prepare you for when things don’t go your way. Because if what you are doing becomes who you are, when things go poorly, you will feel as if you are a bad person. You will feel as if you, as a person, have failed. But in the mental game of life, you, the person, are not the product. The product is the sport, the business, the proposal, or the new relationship, and these things may or may not go well. Yet, the person — who you are — is everything else. You are defined by many things — not just one area of your life that you invest time and energy into — even if it is a very large part of your life. You still have your values, you have your honor, you have your abilities, skills, intelligence and drive — those things don’t change simply because things don’t go your way. In order to sharpen your mental game, you have to be able to separate who you are from how things go. You have to be able to see failures as part of the process and not become defined by them.


Prime Your Brain For Success. If you want success, you have to make it real every part of your day. You have to train yourself to think, act, and react like a successful person. Ultimately, you have to prime your brain to believe that success will happen. This begins with the routines and habits you keep. All successful people — especially great athletes — have routines that they use every day, without fail, to create greatness. Everything they do from the time they go to bed, to what they do first thing in the morning, what they eat, who they talk to, how they train, and what they say to themselves, are all designed to position them for success. Some make a habit of writing down their goal for the year once every morning and once every night. I will publish a book. I will win Wimbledon. I will run a marathon. You get the picture. Others visualize — creating images of the perfect serve, a great sales pitch, a finished book — and saturate themselves with them until their brains begin to see them as real. Others create routines that are designed to elicit a positive mental state. Michael Phelps, for example, is known for listening to the exact same playlist before every competition. What all of these things do is program success into your brain, and the more you do them, the more real success becomes. The more your brain starts to believe in success, the more it creates the habits that will get you there.


Whatever goal you pursue — on or off the field — begins with a well crafted mental game.