Adapted from Mind Gym: An Athletes’ Guide to Inner Excellence, by Gary Mack.

When a weekend golfer arrives at a water hole what is the second thing he does after fishing an old ball—a water ball—out of his bag? Stepping to the tee he tells himself, “Don’t hit it inthe water.” What we’ve learned in psychology is that actions follow our thoughts and images. If you say, “Don’t hit it in the water” and you’re looking at the water, you have just programmed your mind to send the ball to a watery grave.

The law of dominant thought says your mind is going to remember the most dominant thought. Think water, remember water, and water likely is what
you will get.

Rather than say “Don’t hit it in the water,” try another instruction, like “Land the ball ten yards to the right of the pin.” You get what your mind sets. The mind works most effectively when you’re telling it what to do rather than what not to do.

When I was with the Chicago Cubs, a starting pitcher telephoned me from Montreal. He had been rocked in his last outing. In an almost pleading voice, he said he needed help. When I asked him to relate the conversation he had with himself when he was alone on the mound, struggling to find the plate, he ticked off a laundry list of negative thoughts: “Don’t hang your curve. Don’t walk this guy. The ump won’t give me a call. If I don’t get through the fifth inning I’m going to lose my spot in the rotation.”

I give athletes I work with a three-by-five card. On one side I have them list their personal keys to success; on the other, their performance keys to success. I asked
the Cubs pitcher to tell me his performance keys to success. “What are you doing when you’re really on your game?”

“I’m locating my fastball,” he replied. “I’m throwing first-pitch strikes. I’m changing speed.”

“So how do you do those things?” I asked.

“Good balance,” he said. “Shoulder back. Drive through.”

“Good,” I told him. “In five days you start against the Mets in New York. All I want you to do before the game is to focus on those three things.”

In his next appearance, the pitcher threw a complete game shutout. In less than a week he couldn’t have changed that much physically. His turnaround is proof
that by changing your thinking—and you can choose how you think—you can change your performance.
Put
another way, if you don’t like the program you are watching, switch the channel.

Learn to use your mind or your mind will use you. Actions follow our thoughts and images. Don’t look where you don’t want to go.