On Managing the Space Between Your Ears (The Mental Game)

This is my first post for the dog agility blog event – please be gentle with me :)!

brainI had been doing agility for many years before I got serious about developing a mental game. It’s something nobody talks about or teaches in class. Yet what I’ve learned in my journey is that what goes on in the space between your ears is every bit as critical to your performance as what goes on in the space between obstacles.

In every aspect of our lives, we have a “self image” – our perception of our abilities and skills in various situations. Brains are funny – they like to be consistent. So subconsciously, we are drawn to remaining in our comfort zone. This means that like it or not, we will act in ways which “fit” our self image. Your subconscious tries to make sure that you behave “like yourself” – whatever that may be.

So what does that mean in an agility context?

– If you keep telling yourself that you’re an awful handler, are you comfortable with being a “good” handler? Is that “like you?”
– If you keep telling yourself you always mess up sequence xyz, is it “like you” to handle xyz correctly?
– If you keep telling yourself you have no concentration span and can’t even focus for the 30-70 seconds it takes to run a course, is it “like you” to stay focused for just those few seconds?

Step #1 – Stop the negative self talk! Just … stop it!

Every time you put yourself down – whether you say it out loud, write it on Facebook or just listen to that evil little voice inside your head, you reinforce the negative self-image and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We focus on the positive with our dogs, right? Focus on what you did RIGHT during that last run. Replay the parts that went well. Watch the “bloopers” on video just enough to see what you need to practice or proof, or to understand how you could have handled that section more successfully. Then stop. Practice the skills you need to practice. Watch videos of the good runs at least twice as many times as you watch the bad ones.

If your instructor treats you like a lost cause, find another instructor – one who believes in you AND your dog!

Like any skill, managing your mental game isn’t something you learn overnight. The more you work it, the stronger it gets. If you can just make that one little change, you’ll be off to a good start.

Thanks for listening! In case you’re wondering, I loosely follow Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management system. You can read more about it in his book With Winning in Mind. If you aren’t convinced about the effect your thoughts can have on your life, grab a copy of Freedom Flight too.

Don’t forget to stop by http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/the-mental-game/ and read what other agility bloggers have to say about the mental game.