Olympic athletes are considered the best-of-the-best at what they do, not only with their physical strength but mental fortitude as well. We all suspect that a rigorous exercise routine is necessary to reach such levels of physical excellence, but how do they achieve their mental toughness?
The answer is called the Big Four.
The Big Four is a four-part method, comprised of skills you have likely heard of before.
Something so innate to us all, breathing is a skill so easily taken for granted. However, you should never underestimate the power of your breath!
Just ask Wim Hof, who has accomplished monumental achievements by focusing on his breathing. What sorts of achievements? Some of his most noteworthy accomplishments include:
Now you may be wondering what this has to do with your mental health. As Hof explains it, with dedication and proper techniques, anyone can control their body and mind through breathing. To learn more, checkout our article on this influential man.
Visualization is a skill like no other. Did you know studies have shown that you can actually make structural changes in your muscles (ie. grow muscle) without physically performing exercise? Or, that you can learn how to play a new song on the piano without ever touching a key?
Few other skills can leave you as prepared or in control over situations you’ve yet to even encounter, as well as visualization can. It’s what sets the world's’ best rock climber Adam Ondra apart from the rest. Not only is he known for climbing the hardest routes in the world, but he is doing so on his first try. How? His relentless commitment to visualizing every aspect of climbs, including how “pumped” he will feel at every stage of the climb, recognizing when he will need to re-chalk his hands, understanding how his emotions will change throughout the climb etc. Not only does he picture these things in his mind, but he actually feels them – before ever touching the rock.
Have you heard of the bully a plant experiment? In this experiment, IKEA provided two identical plants to a classroom in the United Arab Emirates. The students were instructed to speak positively to one plant each day (ie. complimenting it), and negatively to the other (ie. bullying it). Other than that, the two plants received the same exact treatment – identical amounts of watering, sunlight, food, etc.
Yet, after 30 days, the students saw a noticeable difference between the health of the two plants. Specifically, the plant that received daily compliments was thriving and quite healthy, while the plant that was “bullied” was wilted and struggling to survive.
This simple experiment speaks volumes to the power of our words; they truly have the ability to hurt or empower you. Since we will never speak to anyone as much as you we do ourselves, this is an important reminder to always be kind to yourself.
4. Goal Setting
This is likely a skill you have heard time and time again. On the surface it may seem like a silly, insignificant thing to do. However, having clearly defined goals (ie. SMART goals) that are written down and are something you are actively striving towards, is what truly makes the difference between something you wish to happen and it becoming a reality.
Michael Phelps is famous for writing his goals down, keeping them beside his bed, and checking them as often as needed to help keep him on track. He actually suggests you look at them whenever you’re having a bad day to remind yourself of what you are working towards.
On their own, each of these skills can positively influence your mental wellbeing. When combined, there’s no stopping you!