There are three mental zones related to high-level performance: fight (agressive), flight (passive), and flow (assertive). The challenge for fighters is to be able to access the flow zone because it leads to optimal performance through confidence. The ability for an athlete to learn to enter the flow and resist nervousness is the next frontier in preparation. Controlling adrenalin is a distinguishing ability between the master and amateur during competition.
To keep your mental weapon in check, make a commitment to exercise your mind as much as your body. Here are a couple of ways to help minimize nerves and maximize performance.
Visualization is a very powerful tool that is used by many of the top athletes in the world. By using imagery and self-talk to replicate possible scenarios before they occur, your body and mind have greater chance of handling them in reality. When visualizing a fight, it is critical to involve all of the senses (including the sight, smell, and feel of the arena). Even though the mental scenarios you create might not be real, you can create a powerful familiarity with a potential event. Using this technique, fighters can be more relaxed because they have already “been there” by rehearsing possible events before they actually happen.
Create your own highlight reel. Every night before you go to sleep, vividly imagine a movie of yourself competing and, most importantly, succeeding.
Make breathing a conditioned response. Whether it is putting on your gloves or beginning your warm-up, controlled breathing can set the tone for your training and fights. For centuries martial artists have used yoga and meditation with controlled breathing to remain calm, yet mixed martial artists rarely utilize this style of training today.
Using deep, stomach breathing, breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of two, exhale through your mouth for a count of four, and then complete the cycle again. Practice this technique for 5-10 minutes, multiple times per day, and use this as a form of stress reduction.
The ability to control yourself both physically and mentally in high-stress situations can be the skill that eventually separates you from your competition. Research shows that you are able to use these techniques to affect what was once thought to be out of your control. The mind of the warrior is his strongest weapon. Only by learning to control this weapon can you ever unleash it on your competition.