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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Setting the Mind

I suppose they call it a mindset because, in a sense, it requires you to "set" your mind. And when you set your mind, you choose to view the world through a certain lens. That view drives how you act and react, so long as you maintain it.

As Muhammad Ali once remarked, "What you're thinking is what you're becoming."

From my perspective, I feel like mindset is one of the more talked about, but less acted upon, factors in athletic performance. How an athlete sets their mind going into a training session or race can drastically influence the outcome, and how the athlete feels about it.

The deepest I've ventured into the world of being a "performer" was when I played the trumpet, which I did from fifth grade through college. My teacher had created his own lesson book that we used for years, and on the cover he had pasted a poem that I would glance at every time I went to practice.

It was called Promise Yourself by Christian D. Larson. It goes like this:

“Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing

can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness, and prosperity

to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel

that there is something in them

To look at the sunny side of everything

and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best,

and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others

as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past

and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times

and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself

that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,

and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,

not in loud words but great deeds.

To live in faith that the whole world is on your side

so long as you are true to the best that is in you.”

Sure, if you're a skeptic, it can sound cheesy. But for a young, impressionable trumpet student like I was, it allowed me to appropriately set my mind before practicing. Those who have learned to play an instrument know that, like distance running, it can be a long, repetitive, and, at times, frustrating path to improvement. Simply taking a moment to read the poem created space to adopt a mindset that was conducive to making that improvement.

In coaching, it feels a bit impractical to read the same poem every day at practice. But at times when setting the mind is essential, I've found it useful to ask an athlete, "Who do you want to be?" in a given situation. It's enough of a self-distancing question to get them to think about what the best approach is.

After all, what they're thinking is what they're becoming.

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