Sheep and mountain goat guides will tell you that a mentally tough client is worth their weight in gold — the client that can withstand the day-in and day-out grind of hiking, trekking, being cold, being wet and staying motivated when hunting conditions go bad type of guy. A person that has an unwavering desire to be successful, that can sacrifice comfort in order to accomplish the task at hand is someone I strive to be.
Mental toughness has always played a role in most of my adventures with a bow and I think there’s a few ways to increase capacity to deal with the uncertainties of our sport. Perhaps we can shed some light on gaining more room for our mental prowess by way of fitness. That’s right, training for more strength and conditioning can encourage more discipline, aid in our ability to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable and this alone will transfer over to the realm of mentally tough hunting.
The late John Wooden used to preach to all of his players that you must “Discipline yourself, so others won’t have to.” The art of discipline really boils down to prioritization and execution as in figuring out what really matters to you and the price-tag to accomplish it. If it’s the herd bull bugling at his harem in late September, we’ll have some concerns to address. That bull lives and thrives at elevation for most of the year. He has to survive harsh winters, predators and tracks up and down ridges just to get to food and water. You buy your groceries in town, you drive to work, you walk to the refrigerator and haven’t broke a sweat in months. How are you going to compete with that? You have to sacrifice sleep and go to bed earlier, get to the gym, prepare a meal versus pulling up to the drive-thru. Schedule workouts in your phone calendar, get a training partner, cook your own food. These are the samples of how disciplining yourself at home will aid you in the mountains. None of these items are in our comfort zone, but they separate those that are interested in hunting from those committed to hunting.
Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
Workout bouts need intensity to maximize benefits. Cookie cutter elliptical training won’t test your limits. Don’t get me wrong, something is definitely better than nothing, but the theme of this piece is getting a mental advantage. When training, intensity is my number one goal, not how much I sweat or how high my heart rate got, but how much work did I accomplish in the least amount of time. Workouts that entail large workloads under the gun of a stop-watch often leaving me laying on the ground post workout. Muscles screaming, lactic acid flowing and a puddle of sweat insures that I gave a maximum effort and pressed on even when my body begged for mercy. Not only do these type of workouts sear away calories and fat like burning gasoline, but they get your mind adapted to uncomfortable situations. To me, uncomfortable happens all the time when hunting — Waking up two hours before light, sitting in a rigid tree-stand from dawn to dusk or fighting off fatigue mid-week of your ten day hunt. The examples are endless, but you know there are many obstacles we face on our adventures.
In order to enhance mental potency, one may look no further than how they conduct their current lifestyle. Do you look for the highroad? Can you find a way each day to challenge your mental capacity? Can you recall doing something everyday that you don’t want to do, but knowingly do so anyway in the name of mental development? I call this the high road, this is the ‘Hard Routine’ — no room for selfishness, indulgence, compromise or distraction. In any rigorous endeavor, the bedrock for success lies in the mind set of the individual. Total commitment like that of Alexander the Great and his men as they burnt down their own vessels in their enemy’s harbor. The only way home meant a march across land through the enemy: victory or death. My personal hunting adventures imitate some of life’s best curve balls; challenging my inner most toughness, what I’m made of and testing my mental toughness. Understanding that mental toughness is born of adversity; that it will atrophy if not consistently engaged and that it carries over to everything you do. Deny thyself daily and push through a handful of things each day that you don’t want to do.
Train the Mind
I’m not a sports psychologist by any stretch, but I am fascinated by the science of success. As an athlete I am searching for ways to improve. You are either getting better or getting worse, no one stays the same. Studies show that within a group of athletes of about equal ability, the ones who receive mental training outperform those who don’t almost every time. Mental skills, like physical skills need constant practice.
3 x 5 Note Card
This is probably going to help both your training and your hunting, so grab a pencil. On one side of your card list your personal keys to success. On the other side , your performance keys to success. Keep this card handy and study it often.
Personal Keys to Success
- Work Ethic
- Perfect Practice
- Belief In Myself
- Top Tier Focus
- Unwavering Desire
Learning to use your mind is critical in both training bouts and outdoor adventures. Our actions follow our thoughts and images. This means to only look where you want to go, block out the negative.
Imagery is the formation of mental images, figures or likenesses of things or of such images collectively, rolling through your mental camera, seeing yourself through a process with the mind’s eye so to speak. Before you go on your next adventure, visualize the smell of the mountain air, remember how much fun it is to wake up two hours before first light, the excitement and the anticipation. Fast-forward through the hike from base camp, recall your greatest prior moments of triumph, your best stalks, your best shots. See yourself pulling back on the trophy of a lifetime, taking some awesome recovery pictures behind the rising sun. Run through your own personal slide show of positive images. To get a head edge, try creating your own mind workout. You can do mental practice when you are physically tired, when seasons are closed or if you’re injured. Make your images clear, vivid, see yourself overcoming mistakes and imagine yourself doing things well. Confidence comes from knowing you are mentally and physically prepared.
The Four C’s To Mental Toughness
A competitor will find a way to win. This means taking the bad breaks and using them to drive yourself that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as reasons to give up.
Confident athletes have a can-do attitude, a belief they can handle whatever comes there way. This means never succumb to self-defeating thoughts.
The hallmark of mentally tough athletes is the ability to maintain poise, concentration and emotional control under the greatest pressure and the most challenging situations.
Play your best even when you feel your worst, no excuses.
Mental toughness is an ongoing process. I write these things as a student, not a teacher. I still have enormous room for growth in this department, but I am constantly seeking more truth and honing my mental game with success as the common denominator. If you too want to elevate your mind game, stay on the path and have an unwavering attitude for success. Stay out of your comfort zone.