An Olympic Gold Medalist's Trick for Eliminating a Mental Block

How a frustrated silver medalist went on to claim the gold and set four world records, thanks in part to a new mental prep technique.

In the 1980s I was a shooter. My shooting "career" moved quickly from competitive shooting to military shooting, as I joined the Israeli Defense Forces. I never got to the Olympic games as a shooter. Lanny Bassham did. He was probably the best shooter in the world at the time, but in the 1972 Olympics he only got the Silver medal. He was upset with himself, but was not going to give up.

When I met him in his Flower Mound, Texas office, he asked me two simple questions. "What part of your performance, in your opinion, is mental?"

"At least 90%," I replied. As it turns out--that's almost the "standard" answer.

"And what percentage of your time and effort is spent on your mental game?" was the second question. The answer was clear. Very little. So why are you spending so little time on something that you believe has the biggest impact on your performance? The answer is, according to Bassham, that improving technical skills is so much easier to measure and work on, whereas improving your mental state is hard to either measure or improve. I would rather spend an extra hour a day at the range than work on my mental state.

It doesn't matter whether you are an Olympic shooter, a PGA champion, an author, or a speaker. The biggest hurdle that blocks you from achieving your best is in your head. Your mind can block you from taking a perfect shot (rifle or golf), or even from writing a great article!

Bassham started working on his state of mind through what he would later call "The Mental Program." And it worked. When he went back to the 1976 Montreal Olympic games he won gold.

But he didn't stop at improving his own performance, and decided to help others. He founded Mental Management, and published several books, including With Winning in Mind, which I read in preparation for our meeting. He has been teaching Mental Management to clients that included PGA tour players, Miss America finalists, World and Olympic champions, Fortune 500 companies, the Secret Service, US Navy SEALS, the Army Marksmanship Unit, the US Marine Corps Marksmanship Unit, and the FBI. He is now expanding the program to help high school students do better in school, and not let their mental state block them from success.

Lanny claims that your performance depends on a balance of power between three elements (which is why his logo includes 3 of the 5 Olympic circles): your conscious mind, your sub-conscious mind, and your self-image. Those all work in harmony to help (or, if not balanced, to hurt) your performance. Your conscious mind, says Bassham, can only focus on one thing at the time. Your sub-conscious mind, through training, does all the work (that's what we typically refer to as "muscle memory"). But it is your self-image that will drive you to (or block you from) great performance. If you are about to take a test, and focus on "what if I fail?" you will fail. Your self-image becomes one of someone who fails tests. However, if your self-image causes you to regularly see what it would feel like to succeed, and makes you feel that success is "what you do," then you will succeed.

After reading his book, I started changing how I prepare for my own work, and how I encourage my daughters at school. And I can see the difference.

This article was originally published at Inc.