Tom Brady’s Masterclass in Mental Toughness Part One
Okay – I admit it – I’m not an NFL fan but I enjoyed reading this article on the mental toughness of Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time. It is especially relevant because the 40 year old will play Super Bowl LII at the weekend (Monday morning Sydney time) when his New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
How do the very best perform at their best when the pressure is on, whether they are sports people or surgeons, actors or arborists?
I have reproduced below in Part One some of an article first published in Thrive Global after the Patriot’s Super Bowl win last year. I really like the author Malinda’s description of mental toughness, namely that it is the mindful focus of a glass lake with a believing spirit that is the fire burning beneath the lake.
You have to admit it — Tom Brady is one of the greatest athletes of all time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a New England Patriots fan or not. To pull off a historic win in the Super Bowl after an enormous deficit is the latest testament to an athlete who continues to perform at the top of his game even as he approaches his 40th birthday.
What is the combination of qualities that creates a top athlete? And what can we learn from that to perform in our own lives?
Of course a professional athlete must be in incredible physical condition to excel at their sport. But to be a champion, you need something more. It comes down to our foundational building blocks of mind, body and spirit and training in all of these areas to perform at the top of our games.
Tom Brady recently cited a book called The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Side to the Mental Guide of Peak Performance, by W. Timothy Gallwey.
He shared this pencil-lined passage on his Instagram account:
Perhaps this is why it is said that great poetry is born in silence. Great music and art are said to arise from the quiet depths of the unconscious, and true expressions of love are said to come from a source, which lies beneath words and thoughts. So it is with the greatest efforts in sports; they come when the mind is as still as a glass lake.
Brady cited the Patriots’ “mental toughness” after the Super Bowl and in his MVP speech when speaking about their win.
Mental toughness has two main components: mindful focus, and a believing spirit.
- Mindful focus is the glass lake.
- The believing spirit is the fire burning beneath the lake.
Mindful focus is a calm state of mind that can experience unaltered reality — meaning seeing what is presented to the eyes, hearing all sounds, sensing all touch.
In this state, anxiety, doubt, fear, anticipation, analysis, have no place. Some athletes also call this being in “the zone”.
In yoga, meditation is used as the tool to train the mind to be still so the mind can serve us. The undisciplined mind creates useless chatter, castes automatic judgments, projects our emotions onto our experiences, anticipates outcomes, and sows worry and anxiety. The Yoga Sutras site “one-pointedness of the mind” as the solution to the run-away mind that creates distractions and obstacles for us.
If Tom Brady had an undisciplined mind, he would have never gotten past the fact that he was down nearly 20 points at halftime! He may have started doubting himself, feared failure, or been distracted with all that was needed to be done to win. Mental toughness means one-pointedness of mind — to be in the moment and play in the moment. No past, no future, only now. One play after another.
A focused mind is essential and with the fire of spirit focusing action, we have a winning combination. Believing spirit is the second element that’s key here.
One of the Yoga Sutras says to deal with obstacles and their consequences “the recommendation is to make the mind one-pointed, training it how to focus on a single principle or object.”
The single principle or object for Tom Brady is winning. It’s not only a desire to win however, it’s believing he can win. A believing spirit doesn’t get exhausted or discouraged or beaten down. A believing spirit keeps the eye on the prize and keeps going no matter what. Even if at halftime, when he had been sacked more than ever and was 20 points down. That doesn’t extinguish the fire of a believing spirit. It never gives up.
This is the mind, body and spirit in disciplined union. That’s what Tom Brady and the Patriots pulled off during the Super Bowl. For those of you who aren’t sports fans, I have to challenge you to think about what it really takes to win and not be fascinated by it!
Read Part Two on Using Tom Brady’s Mental Toughness Masterclass in our own lives and the full article by Malinda on Thrive Global.
For more on mindful focus and building mental toughness contact us.