Book Report: Mind Gym

Mind GymInner excellence is a way of thinking and a way of acting. It is a quality of mind, a mentality that says no matter how difficult things become, you are responsible and accountable for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Inner excellence is staying positive in negative situations, and it is dealing with adversity in an optimistic way. It is finding love and joy in what you do and remaining steadfastly committed to your goals, values, and dreams. It is staying cool when the heat is on.” (Mind Gym – p192-193)

Title: Mind Gym

Author: Gary Mack with David Casstevens

Publisher: McGraw Hill

Publication Date: 2001

Origin: Mind Gym was recommended to me by my sister-in-law, Melissa; she was a competitive gymnast growing up, competes in triathlons as a hobby now, is a certified personal trainer, and is a social worker (after stints in Family and Children’s Services and some secondary schools, she now works as a counsellor at a local college and has a private practice). My point is this: she knows a thing or two about the importance of mental strength, whether for competition or just to overcome the challenges thrown at you by life. She figured I’d like Mind Gym, and she was very right.

Summary: Mind Gym spreads forty lessons across four parts:

  • Part I – Welcome to the Inner Game
  • Part II – Living the Dream
  • Part III – Mind-Set for Success
  • Part IV – In the Zone

These parts progress the reader from establishing the importance of mental preparation as a requirement for performance success, through the exercises and techniques that you can apply to train, to final tips for competition.

Key themes (e.g., visualizing success, controlling your emotions, learning about your own characteristics) are repeated throughout, and the book has hundreds of quotes and plenty of anecdotes from athletes. Unfortunately, many of these athletes (e.g., Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Lewis) aren’t looked at quite the same way now, but you can just add “and drugs” to the quotes where they talk about the keys to their success (it’s fun, like adding “in bed” to any fortune cookie content).

My Take: As you can tell from the number posts I wrote while reading Mind Gym, I both enjoyed the book and found it to be quite useful. Mind Gym was accessible and easy to read, and the anecdotes helped to bring the lessons to life. If you’re looking for extensive examination of a particular topic, then look elsewhere; Mind Gym goes quite broad, and presents lessons and take-aways rather than diving deeply into the psychology and physiology on which those lessons are based.

Read This Book If: You want to learn what it takes to be mentally strong in the face of adversity.

Related Posts:

Notes and Quotes:

  • p3: “Ninety percent of the game is half mental.” – Yogi Berra
  • p7: “What you think affects how you feel and perform. Training your brain is as important as training your body.”
  • So stop worrying about hitting the ball into the water hazard, and instead focus on the green! p11: “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.”
  • p13: “The most important part of a player’s body is above his shoulders.” – Ty Cobb
  • I keep reading all over the place how important it is to visualize things, p14: “The power of visualization and mental rehearsal has been demonstrated in dozens of research studies. If you take twenty athletes of equal ability and give ten mental training they will outperform the ten who received no mental training every time.This is what we call the head edge.” This quote is then supported with an example that had players shooting free throws (some who practiced, some who visualized but didn’t practice, and some who did both).

“The power of visualization and mental rehearsal has been demonstrated in dozens of research studies. If you take twenty athletes of equal ability and give ten mental training they will outperform the ten who received no mental training every time.This is what we call the head edge.”

  • The chapter Mental Toughness spawned The seven Cs of mental toughness
  • The Know Your Numbers chapter led me to write The Performance Curve: how to perform at your best
  • I loved this quote, from p35: “What has benefited me the most is learning I can’t control what happens outside of my pitching.” – Greg Maddux
  • p36 supports the Maddux quote: “Too often, people play the blame game. Successful people take responsibility for themselves and their game. They understand that it’s not the event but how they respond to it that’s most important.”
  • I wrote Getting out of your own way after reading Getting Over Yourself
  • This chapter, The Next Level, and in particular this quote, “Build your weaknesses until they become your strengths” – Knute Rockne from p47, reminded me of this story about Georges St-Pierre that was told by Alex Smith as part of his commencement address at the University of Utah (I read it on MMQB): “I recently had the opportunity to hang out with UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. For those of you who don’t know Georges, he’s a world class mixed-martial artist, and some would even regard him as the best ever. After getting to spend some time with him, one thing really stuck with me. It was how much time Georges and his team spent evaluating his own weaknesses. I’d always imagined that they spent all their time and energy focusing on their next opponent, a lot like we do in football; instead, Georges spends his time targeting his own weaknesses. He isn’t insecure about his abilities or who he is—instead he’s honest with himself, and he embraces the challenge of his own shortcomings.”
  • Hmm…what the hell are mine? p55: “You must have dreams and goals if you are ever going to achieve anything in this world.” – Lou Holtz
  • This is a neat way of putting it, p58: “It is said that extraordinary people live their lives backward. They create a future, and then they live into it.”

“It is said that extraordinary people live their lives backward. They create a future, and then they live into it.”

  • I captured that quote from p58, the exercise outlined later on that page, and a great story from earlier in the book, in Living life backward: the power of visualization
  • Well, it worked out pretty well for him…p60: “I’m a firm believer in goal setting. Step by step. I can’t see any other way of accomplishing anything.” – Michael Jordan
  • I’ve written before about The Power of Goal-Setting
  • Here’s a good quote from Jimmy Johnson: “Really it comes down to your philosophy. Do you want to play it safe and be good or do you want to take a chance and be great?”
  • p76: “The fear of failure, more than any single thing, keeps people in sports, and in all avenues of life, from realizing their full potential. Fear of failure prevents more of us from succeeding than any opponent.”

“The fear of failure, more than any single thing, keeps people in sports, and in all avenues of life, from realizing their full potential. Fear of failure prevents more of us from succeeding than any opponent.”

  • Among other things, this partially explains why someone can be over-performing relative to their expectations, then upon that realization they collapse: “There is a psychological principle called cognitive dissonance. It can be defined as the uncomfortable psychological state that arises when how you see yourself and what is really happening come into conflict. Many athletes who experience this conflict revert to their comfort zone.” In this context, the comfort zone is often average play. In other words, you can’t outperform your self-image.
  • p92: “Motivation gets you going. Discipline keeps you going.” – Jim Ryun
  • From one of my faves, p104: “Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.” – The legendary John Wooden
  • p112 puts into perspective how fear of failure is a learned response, rather than innate: “If, as babies, we had a fear of failure – if we believed that failure is terrible – we might never learn to walk.”
  • From the chapter Between the Ears, p115: “Every athlete hears two competing voices. One is a negative critic, and the other is a positive coach. Which voice we listen to is a matter of choice.”

“Every athlete hears two competing voices. One is a negative critic, and the other is a positive coach. Which voice we listen to is a matter of choice.”

  • The quote from p115 reminded me of another part of Alex Smith’s commencement address, and from that I wrote Which voice do you listen to?
  • p124: “The key question is who is in control – you or your emotions? Remember, before you can control your performance you need to be in control of yourself.”
  • p126, in explaining the impact on performance of fear: “Fear is a mental response to a perceived danger or threat. Fear releases chemical hormones that can inhibit performance and shut you down. When you are afraid in sports you play small. Because you’re focusing on the negative, you worry about making mistakes.”
  • p128, on how to deal with fear: “Athletes should accept fear and recognize it as the body’s way of telling them to become energized. Don’t let fear hunt you. Instead, hunt your own fears. Pull the curtain away. Unmask your fears and face them down. Examine them.”
  • Pages 130 to 133 spawned Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Alternatively, you can dig up! p143: “The Arizona Cardinals were in San Francisco to play the 49ers. While seated on the team bus for the ride to Candlestick Park, I noticed a sign above the driver’s head. The sign was titled ‘The First Rule of Holes’ and it read, ‘When you find yourself in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging.'”
  • p149, and how true it is: “Relaxation happens when you stop creating tension. Over-trying leads to under-performing.”
  • p160: “Confidence comes from the emotional knowing that you are prepared mentally as well as physically. Over-prepare so you don’t under-perform.”
  • p166, quoting Martina Navratilova: “Concentration is born on the practice court…you must mentally treat your practice sessions as matches, concentrating on every ball you hit.”
  • Man, the zone is so wonderful! p171: “When you’re in the zone, you have switched from a training mode to a trusting mode. You’re not fighting yourself. You’re not afraid of anything. You’re living in the moment, in a special place and time.”

“When you’re in the zone, you have switched from a training mode to a trusting mode. You’re not fighting yourself. You’re not afraid of anything. You’re living in the moment, in a special place and time.”

  • Pages 180 to 185 led me to write Ten paradoxes that will improve your performance
  • …and this guy knows a thing or two about it, p186: “The greatest and toughest art in golf is ‘playing badly well’. All the greats have been masters at it.” – Jack Nicklaus
  • I am always in awe of how, night in and night out, or tournament after tournament, the greatest athletes display an incredible consistency. Any NBA player can pop off for 28 points on a given night, but only a few will hit that mark with regularity. From p187, “Consistency separates good athletes from great ones. The best athletes win consistently because they think, act, and practice consistently.” I’ve really tried to work on my own consistency, and I think I’ve had some positive results. My main approach is simply to never accept less than my best effort, no matter the circumstances – I never want to come home after a game and think, “Well, I could have tried harder.”

“My main approach is simply to never accept less than my best effort, no matter the circumstances – I never want to come home after a game and think, ‘Well, I could have tried harder.'”

  • p191, courtesy of Vince Lombardi: “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field.”
  • Pages 192 and 193 tough on inner excellence: “Inner excellence is a way of thinking and a way of acting. It is a quality of mind, a mentality that says no matter how difficult things become, you are responsible and accountable for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Inner excellence is staying positive in negative situations, and it is dealing with adversity in an optimistic way. It is finding love and joy in what you do and remaining steadfastly committed to your goals, values, and dreams. It is staying cool when the heat is on.”
  • I try to be very aware of any situation in which I find myself thinking, “Meh, I don’t want to learn that.” When that realization comes, I do my darndest to learn the subject! p195: “We don’t grow old. We get old by not growing.”
  • Some good advice, p196: “When times are good be grateful, and when times are bad be graceful.”

“When times are good be grateful, and when times are bad be graceful.”

  • Balance, balance, balance! p211: “Great athletes strive for balance in their lives. On game day they find the warrior within. They know when and how to turn it on, and when the game is over they know how to turn it off.”
  • Echoing my earlier remarks, p212: “When the game is over I just want to look at myself in the mirror, win or lose, and know I gave it everything I had.” – Joe Montana
  • Remember, “While positive thinking doesn’t always work, negative thinking, unfortunately, almost always does.” p223

“While positive thinking doesn’t always work, negative thinking, unfortunately, almost always does.”

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Posted in Books, Everything, Math and Science, Soccer, Sports
12 comments on “Book Report: Mind Gym
  1. […] Mind Gym – An athlete’s guide to inner excellence (Gary Mack with David Casstevens) […]

  2. […] reminds me of Mind Gym, as he quotes The Secret Psychologist: “You can win and learn nothing, or lose and learn a […]

  3. […] quote from p125 reminded me of a lesson of Mind Gym, that I relayed in Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable: “Lisa Smith-Batchen, the […]

  4. […] essentially said to myself, “Twenty minutes to clinch the title!” and I applied all the Mind Gym goodness I’d picked up (thinking positively, focusing on what to do rather than what not to […]

  5. […] of the early chapters in Mind Gym talks specifically about mental toughness, and briefly explores seven defining characteristics: […]

  6. […] Part I (“Welcome to the Inner Game”) of Mind Gym, there’s a chapter called Know Your Numbers that explains the performance curve and its […]

  7. […] after the chapter Know Your Numbers, Mind Gym has a chapter called “Getting Over Yourself”. In it, Mack says, “Working in the […]

  8. […] Part III (“Mind-Set for Success”) of Mind Gym, there’s a chapter called Breathe and Focus that discusses choking in the context of […]

  9. […] Part IV (“In the Zone”) of Mind Gym, the chapter Paradoxes of Performances adds ten more to our list. Don’t dismiss them […]

  10. […] come up almost ten times…wow. Not surprisingly, the subject comes up a number of times in Mind Gym. In fact, the author (Gary Mack) says that “The fear of failure, more than any single thing, […]

  11. […] Mind Gym is full of examples of the power of visualization, from the relatively small – like visualizing a successful shot in basketball or golf – to the large. In fact, the book has its roots with the story of former Major League Baseball player Dwight Smith. His tale is a fine example of the power visualization has to shape an entire life. […]

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