How to Increase Mental Toughness While Keeping YOUR Sanity at the Plate

Mental Toughness

"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
-Harvey Mackay

This mental toughness article comes from popular eZine Issue #005 of our very own The Dugout, Hitting Baseballs from the Neck Up, and is about acknowledging failure as part of the game, and being able to shrink the game down to ONLY what we can control. There are 4 keys to conquering fear and anxiety, causing slumps to stick to us like La Brea tar babies:

  1. Self Evaluation,
  2. Goal Setting,
  3. Key Preparation, and
  4. Hard-Nosed Persistence.

Total words 2,153, total reading time 8 minutes, 30 seconds)

We're going over these plus provide 9 fool-proof solutions to blood sucking confidence killing obstacles. Did you get that?! :P We even draw from invaluable ancient Roman Stoic principals for mental toughness!

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"Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been."
-Marcus Aurelius

We revisit this like a broken record, but Ted Williams was right when he said hitting is 50% proper thinking; self confidence is an integral part of that majority percentage. There are 2 parts to regaining lost confidence and building mental toughness...

We have to grasp the fact baseball is a game of failure; Hall Of Famers are ones who fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, OR a pitcher like Cole Hamels, the Phillies World Series MVP in 2008, who won 14 games that season out of 33 total pitched, and10 of them were losses.

Might I add, the most clutch statistic in baseball, batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP), which finds BIG Papi, Vlad Guerrero, and "Pudge" Rodriguez at the top of the list year-in-year-out, still get out 60-70% of the time in thatsituation?

Even the best-of-the-best ground, pop, or strike out with ducks on the pond. Recognizing this fact and having the ability to forgive oneself for failures is the first step in poor mental toughness recovery.

Even the best-of-the-best ground, pop, or strike out with ducks on the pond.

So failure is one part, the other is shrinking the game down to what we can manage. There are internal factors, such as making adjustments, goal setting, preparation, and persistence playing important roles in controlling OUR own mental toughness as well.

Then, there are external factors at large, such as what our parents, friends, coaches, and teammates are thinking about usat a given moment, the weather, bus drivers losing their way to the stadium, stadium lights going out in the middle of a ball game, and on and on eating away at players' mental fortitude.

What's more...

The following emotions are constantly under fire from these external factors:

  • Self Worth,
  • Comfort v. Discomfort, and
  • Uncertainty of the unknown, which leads to anxiety and fear.

What's the mental toughness solution?

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PAINT A SELF PORTRAIT

The Building Blocks of Self Confidence include:

  • Self Evaluation,
  • Goal Setting,
  • Key Preparation, and
  • Hard-Nosed Persistence.

Self Evaluation & Mental Toughness
What skills do I have to learn or improve upon? As a hitter, wehave to know our role, and what assets we have to help the team win...do you have power, do you hit for average, speed, do you get on base a lot, can you switch hit, are you good with analyzing the game and playing 2 and 3 steps ahead?

After answering those questions, what skill, if learned, wouldcompliment those self-assets to the team...learning to drag bunt, sacrifice bunt, efficiently steal bases, D&T method of hitting, switch hit, building a stronger core in the weight room, or taking repetitions at another position?

Part of self evaluation is mastering your craft, diminishing any weaknesses, and making adjustments...or, in other words, making a mistake, learning from it, and moving on. This process requires a lot of mental toughness because most become stubborn rhinos when a change has to be done.

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Mental toughness in baseball requires a short attention span, be more like a gnat than a slow moving sloth.

We have to be constantly making ourselves more valuable because if we get stale, or comfortable, we're in a constant state of panic about when the next player will take our position. It's Lord Of The Flies all over again, and you better believe it, you're the main character.

Goal Setting
There are long and short term goals (season, game, & situation). I like to have a season goal of increasing my On Base or Slugging Percentage, then break down what I have to do per game, then persituation in order to do that.

The mental toughness bottom line with goal setting is...

We have to have them or else we have nowhere to go. If you've run out of milk, then you get in your car and drive to the grocery store to buy some...but if you get an itch to sit in your car with no rhyme or reason, would you go anywhere, no, probably just mindlessly listen to music on your iPod.

Key Preparation
Reliving the Harvey Mackey quote above, "If we fail to plan,then we plan to fail." This means going over game situations in our head we expect to see during show time, and how we're going to successfully react to them.

Visualization is one of the secrets to separating immortals from the mortals in mental toughness training. To consistently do well as a hitter we have to take the mental reps necessary, or else we're just like the rest of the pack. Your brain doesn't know the difference, whether you're taking mental swings or physical ones, it's all the same.

Persistence
"Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go."
-William Feather

Understand that it's okay to fail, and hitting slumps will inevitably happen, all great hitters "cool off," but we have topersevere through the tough times and keep the performance dips to a minimum.

Remember...the harder the course, the more rewarding the triumph. Stay on plan, extraordinary hitting is like retirement, if you're in it for the short run, you'll end up frustrated and broke, but if you're in it to win it for the long haul, then you'll be wealthy over time.

Thinking long term is the epitome of mental toughness.

The bottom line?

If uncertainty of the unknown is the root of fear and anxiety, then the more we become familiar with future situations through key preparation, developing a purpose in goal setting, making the needed adjustments, and pushing through the hard times (slumps), the more we'll trust our body to do what it's suppose to, and confidence will be the reigning champion.

Let's take a look at hard core mental toughness training...

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"HARDER THAN A ROCK"
-AC/DC

Here are 9 fool-proof hacks to building consistent self confidence and mental toughness of steel:

  1. Using this SUPER learning link to en-grain important swing principals deep into the bowels of our Gray matter.
  2. Be a prospect, NOT a suspect - take responsibility for YOUR actions, and be the player who looks in the mirror, NOT out the window.
  3. Shrink the game into ONLY what YOU can control, nothing more.
  4. Use positive and constructive self talk, utilize the power in "I'm going to get a hit," as opposed to, "I gotta get a hit."
  5. Read this correct breathing habits & slump busting Swing Smarter article.
  6. Better player association - be around players you most want to play like, albeit good morals and ethics. Birds of a feather, flock together. Use each other to problem solve stubborn opportunities.
  7. Build a trigger - use The Dugout eZine back issues to building a peak performance trigger located HERE
  8. Simplify your life down with The Dugout backissue #003 of The Dugout
  9. Take a break - and do nothing remotely related to baseball for one day to re-energize your batteries. The biggest gains come from rest, both physically and mentally.

Now for the bonus round and introduction Zen Hitting...

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BREATHING THROUGH YOUR EYELIDS (Like the turtles of the Galapagos Islands)

Harvesting some ideas from Seneca: Letters from a Stoic, I came across three philosophical principals having a direct impact on a hitter's confidence...you won't find these anywhere in baseball mental toughness training literature.

The first,

Practice Misfortune
Make yourself familiar with worst case scenarios (WCS). Whenever you feel fear and/or anxiety gripping you tighter, ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that can happen in the given situation?"

If I strike out with the bases loaded, 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, down 1 run, what is the worst thing that can happen to me? How do we build stronger mental toughness in these situations?

Here comes the Big Bad Wolf (notice my sarcastic tone?),

I'll be subject to big nasty thoughts of all the people around me, I failed in the face of extreme opposition, I lost face and not to mention my manhood, I won't get that scholarship now or get drafted, and (my favorite) I'll now lose that lucrative Reebok deal because of this one lone crummy at-bat.

Sound ridiculous? Precisely. Believe it or not, this is what goes through a hitter's mind (and sometimes worse), but seriously though, is the situation really as bad as we make it out?

Did the above situation cause physical harm? Unless we, upon looking at strike 3 and the catcher's triumphant face, dropped the bat to the ground in shock & disgust, trip over it, and sprain our ankle.

Did the above put you six feet under? Will your friends and family disown you for putting into actions the words, "thanks, just looking?" Is the sun going to come up tomorrow? Will the sky remain blue? Does Britney Spears still walk barefooted into disgusting public gas station restrooms?

The answers are: No, No, Yes, Yes, and Yes.

The great thing about baseball is everyone starts off 0-for at the start of the next game. Whether a good or bad performance in the past, we adjust and move past it. Use the WCS (aka Doomsday Scenario) exercise when feeling pressure or disappointment from a past at-bat and choose mental toughness over mental collapse.

Turn the Obstacle Upside Down
This concept is turning obstacles into opportunities; what stands in the way, is the way. We flow like water does, it gives when struck, and rushes when given open range. The beauty of being human and NOT all animal, is WE get to control perception, we'll always have free will.

Consider someone cutting you off in traffic, maybe the situation isn't a pissing contest like most of us would believe, but more of a test of patience and humility? We aren't perfect, and we make the same mistakes, so when an obstacle hits an emotional cord, turn it upside down into an opportunity and analyze how this experience may actually help your character. Looking for silver lining here people!

The 21-Day No Complaining Bracelet Experiment mentioned on the Swing Smarter site is a fantastic one to engage in for this invaluable Stoic principal.

Remember How Small You Are
This is a hard one to battle because we're en-grained in sports to make a difference, be bigger than the other player, and to shoot for the stars.

Like Marcus Aurelias said, "You will return to the earth in ashes, smoke, and dust." He was a founder and big promoter of Stoicism, and preached being humble, consistently using humility, and to be aware you are just a blip on the radar screen of time.

The Bible says, trophies and awards only sit and collect dust, the real reward is in a relationship with God and people.

The bottom line on mental toughness and your confidence levels?

By all means be ambitious and have BIG goals, but don't forget your role on earth isn't to just hit home runs, it's to be a light for all teammates and coaches. Strive to be humble and practice humility because as you may read in the news, life is too short...

When your time to be buried comes, it's NOT your polished gleaming trophies people will remember, it's the human relationships you cultivated. We're all just stardust, and our bodies will return to the ownership of the earth someday, so don't forget that.

And keep in mind, humility and humbleness are confidence's best friend, they:

  • Take pressure off,
  • Show others you're human, and
  • Express a vulnerability people can connect with.

Like it said in the movie Gladiator,

"Win the people, and you'll win your freedom."

Without the killing and maiming, of course.

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