Optimizing Your Daily Routine to Conquer Mental Barriers in Sports

No one has ever drowned in sweat.

-Lou Holtz, Football Coach

As a student-athlete, no matter how talented, hard-working, and skilled you are, you will struggle to fulfill your highest potential if you don’t look at those mental blocks holding you back. Mental barriers are invisible and act from within – but that’s what makes them so powerful. Since you cannot see them in reality, you’ll tend to underestimate them. You’ll think that you can still go ahead and compete even if that internal critic is nagging you to stop trying.

But mental blocks can end up controlling you. They will sneak into your mind when you least need them. Low self-confidence, fear of failure, negative self-talk — these are only several blocks that interfere between you and your greatest potential.

If you’re serious about working with those barriers and even overcoming them for good, you have to start somewhere. Most often, the most obvious start is in your daily routine. In the way you spend your time, in the way you train, eat, sleep, and talk to yourself. While all these aspects are obvious, they can make or break your discipline, self-confidence, and ability to make progress. In this article, we will teach you how to create a routine that empowers you to conquer those fears and blocks that keep you stuck. We will mainly focus on mental training, but we will incorporate some health-related habits that may play a role in how you’re feeling.

The biggest mental barriers in sports

Before going into how to overcome your mental barriers through your daily routine, let’s discuss what those barriers actually are.

Mental blocks are associated with thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviours that keep you from performing at your best. Imagine that you train hard every day in preparation for a big competition. You have the skills, practice, and talent you need to give it your best. Yet on the competition day, you start getting nervous. Your emotions are so intense that all you can think about is how you will fail and disappoint your loved one. That’s how a mental block shows up. It’s that underlying fear that you just can’t make go away. Some common mental barriers examples that many athletes face are:

  • Low confidence: this shows up as self-doubt, lack of trust in your skill, and fear of taking risks.
  • Perfectionism: wanting to do everything at the highest standards, and avoiding taking action due to fear of not living up to them.
Student athlete having self doubt
  • Performance anxiety: intense nerves before and during a game that destroy your ability to focus or enjoy the game.
  • Self-criticism: excessively focusing on your mistakes and diminishing the things you do well.

There are a few other types of mental barriers, but for the scope of this article, we won’t go into too much detail. Instead, our focus will be to provide you with some tips to work through your own mental blocks in sports.

Supporting the body

Part of the answer to how to break your mental barriers lies in your daily lifestyle. No matter how much mental training you do, the mind alone cannot create big changes if you are sleep deprived, have an unhealthy diet, and are highly disorganized.

Before working on your mindset, confidence, and focus, start with the basics. Are you taking as much rest as you need? Do you nourish yourself with nutritious foods? Do you have some basic well-being practices that allow you to decompress at the end of a difficult day? Your body is the home of your mind. This means that whatever positive changes you make to your physical health, your mind will be better equipped to deal with the ‘higher level’ stuff.

Breaking mental barriers should always start with getting your sleep, nutrition, rest, and time management right. However, don’t complicate this too much. The most impactful lifestyle choices are the most simple ones. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night, eating a nutritious diet, and taking time for yourself are key foundational behaviours that prepare the ground for more complex psychological barriers solutions.

Setting time aside for yourself

If you want to get past your mental barriers, you must prioritize yourself. Working with your most difficult fears, self-sabotaging thoughts, and limiting beliefs doesn’t happen while you’re watching TV. It takes commitment, effort, and deliberate action. In order to put in that effort you need to push through your mental barriers, you must have the time and space in your day to do this kind of work. This is only possible if you intentionally set some time aside to work on mental barriers tools, reflect on your progress, and set goals for the time ahead. Mental barriers in sports are no different from any other type of work you do on yourself — just like you dedicate time to training and preparing for competition, you must also block some time to engage in renewing your mind & breaking your mental barriers.

Training the mind for success

Without a doubt, athletes develop mental barriers to success because they don’t believe they’re capable of outstanding results. Some part of them might even believe that they don’t deserve to win. While we won’t discuss where do mental barriers come from, we will provide some guidance on how to remove mental barriers through daily mental training.

Training your mind can be approached in a similar way to training the body. In athletics, you already know that the more you train a muscle, the stronger it becomes. In mental training, the more you practice an emotion, thought, or behavior, the more familiar it will become to you. If what you’re practicing on a daily basis is fear, limiting beliefs, and negative self-talk, guess what you’re gonna experience? More fear, limiting beliefs, and negative self-talk.

The scope of mental training is to rewire your brain to experience new emotions and thoughts that will help you in your battle against mental barriers. Now, the question that might pop into your mind is “ok, so how do I train my mind? What do I specifically need to do on a daily basis?”

If you’re new to the sphere of the personal development world, there’s no need to start with complicated mental training practices. Just begin by choosing one single method of changing how you think. This could be:

Student-athlete thinking about failure
  • Mental rehearsal
  • Goal setting
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Visualization
  • Positive self-talk

Each of these tools is safe to practice daily. For example, if you choose mental rehearsal as a way of reducing your mental barriers to success, you can recreate a pre-performance routine in your mind and go through it multiple times. If you practice it daily, it will be a lot easier for you to access this rehearsal before a game, because your mind will have already stored all the visual stimuli.

With other tools such as visualization, you can imagine yourself playing at your best or you can bring to mind the most confident version of yourself. This way, it will be a lot easier for you to connect to that whenever you feel less confident in yourself.

Check-in with your mental health

Many psychological barriers in sport are fed by poor mental health. Common conditions like depression or anxiety lead the athlete to perceive their skills and performance in a negative way. If this is the case, overcoming mental barriers should be simultaneously done with seeking mental health treatment. Even if you’re not suffering from any mental health condition, looking after your mental and emotional health should be part of your daily routine.

Develop the habit of asking yourself daily — where am I right now emotionally? How do I feel about where my life is going? Is there any area where I’d need a little bit more support?

Checking in with your mental health allows you to identify and respond to any unmet needs. On the longer term, this translates to better care for yourself.

Breaking through your mental barriers in sports is possible

If you want to succeed but stumble upon mental blocks, that’s incredibly frustrating. It feels like something is weighing you down when you want to go up. If that’s also the case for you, don’t despair. Most of the successful athletes you look up to have probably dealt with some kind of mental block at some point or another in their lives.

The key to overcoming those mental barriers lies in your daily actions. How do you support yourself through your lifestyle choices, the people you surround yourself with, and the thoughts you choose to listen to? Every single routine in your life either feeds or fights your mental barriers. In this article, we have outlined 4 critical aspects that any athlete should incorporate into their life.

athlete free climbing cliff
  1. Supporting your physical health
  2. Prioritise yourself
  3. Train your mind
  4. Keep an eye on your mental health

Even if you do nothing but apply those tips, you will likely see some improvement in your confidence in sports. Why not start by applying one today?