“Your mind needs to be like water,” he said.
Okay. Fine. But I’m a very literal person and that literally means nothing to me. So he continued:
“Imagine a clear pond with a smooth, glassy surface. If you pick up a pebble and toss it into the pond, the energy that ripples through the pond before calming is the exact energy that the pebble required.”
He looked at me with a delighted look on his face. Probably assuming I was about to bask in his genius level analogy building skills and marvel at his astute description of real life.
I mean, I get it. I do.
I get what MIND LIKE WATER means.
It’s an illustration of reacting to a disturbance in your life with the appropriately sized reaction. Stepping on a Lego (while horrific) doesn’t warrant the same level of emotional reaction as getting into a car accident. A pebble doesn’t disturb the water as much as a boulder. And the energy of those disturbances should dissipate over time accordingly.
IT’S A GOOD ANALOGY, BRENT.
But how do you cultivate a mind like water?
What can you do to ensure that your reactions aren’t oversized and causing more problems than they should?
It all starts with being aware of the state of the pond (er, your mind).
In other words, you need to start hearing HOW your brain reacts to the disturbances it comes across. It’s just mindfulness.
Unfortunately for most of us, when we deal with distressing negative situations on our skates — or elsewhere — the voice in our brain is overwhelmingly negative.
This voice is most likely to pop-up when you encounter one of 5 big obstacles: building skills, facing challenges, putting forth effort, receiving feedback, and overcoming setbacks.
When one of these obstacles presents itself, HEAR your first thought. What is it actually telling you?
- You’re faced with a challenge. Do you think: “Am I sure I can do this?” or “What if I fail?”
- You’re attempting to overcome a setback. Do you think: “This would have been easier if I were any good.” or “So-and-so wouldn’t have had a problem with this.”
- You’re receiving feedback (or facing criticism). Do you think: “It’s not my fault.” or “I’m so angry right now.”
The first step to overcoming negative thoughts and controlling the ripples in the pond is to notice when they happen. This is about awareness — you need to be honest with yourself when those thoughts occur.
Building a stronger mindset isn’t about replacing these thoughts with sunshine-y optimism or hearts and flowers. It’s simply about noticing when they happen.
Right now, I just want you to pin that thought. Mark it for the red flag that it is.
It’s OKAY to have negative thoughts. Flag that thought. Try not to react to it in the moment.
Feedback & Reflection
Once you’ve collected enough red flags, it’s time to start looking at what they mean. The thing you’re really trying to determine here is this:
What is the story that you are telling yourself?
The things that happen to you are just FACTS. So it’s time to ask yourself:
- What is the actual truth about what is happening? It’s a fact that’s raining today. “Today the weather is miserable” is the story you’re telling yourself about it. You didn’t complete a successful hockey stop at practice today is a fact. “I’ll never get a hockey stop” is the story that you’re telling yourself.
- What am I going to do with the feedback that I’ve received? Separate out all of the feedback and determine whether you’re willing to act on it or not. Make actual strides towards the former type of feedback and dump the latter type of feedback.
Hopefully you’re starting to see where avoiding intense reactions in the heat of the moment allows you to collect and use more feedback. Not everything has to have feelings with a capital F attached.
In other words, if you don’t like the story that you’re telling yourself, CHANGE IT.
Now that you’re used to recognizing — and flagging — your negative thoughts or disturbances that can happen in your brain pond, practice responding to them in a less reactive way. Often that means trying to use less negative phrasing or words.
Earlier, I provided you with some negative thoughts. Take a look at them again and practice reframing them into a more productive voice:
- Are you sure you can do it?
- What if you fail?
- This would have been easy if I were any good.
- So-and-so could have done this, no problem.
- It’s not my fault.
- I’m so angry right now.
Remember that having a mind like water doesn’t mean that you constantly believe that everything will come up Milhouse. It means that you believe that you can react appropriately to the situation and return to a calm state.
Let your thoughts reflect that.
Back to your brain pond
So, what do you do with facts? You recognize that you have a choice in how to respond and you respond accordingly.
The zen thought experiment that the guy at the beginning of this article was trying to get me to undergo, does make sense. In it’s way.
Imagine you’re standing next to a still pond. The surface of the water is smooth like glass. It’s beautiful and peaceful. Someone across the pond picks up a pebble and tosses it in. How does the pond react?
The pond — the water — reacts exactly as it needs to.
Ripples spread across the surface of the water, but it quickly smooths itself back out. A small pebble does not cause a tsunami. The water only adjusts itself exactly as much as needed for the stimulus provided.
Maintaining a “mind like water” means that you are actively returning to that calm, placid state once you’ve dealt with the situation at hand. Interpret situations as places to grow, learn, and stretch and you will.
WARNING: Cultivating a “mind like water” is hard. Very hard. And your ability (or inability) to do it will become frustrating. Even if you are still churning below the surface, try to outwardly return to that calm state. It’s not so much ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ as ‘be it ‘til you see’. Outward calm will travel inward.
Slowly…but it will.
If you want more concrete tools and strategies for improving your mental game, check out my book Train Your Brain to Shut Up. It was developed specifically to provide athletes with the tools to improve their mental game. This journal gives you the tools to build an athletic mindset that supports—instead of sabotages —your performance.
Just like your physical training, your mental training is integral to your success in-game. And it takes practice and training to get it the way that you want you. With this journal, you’ll learn:
- What mindset is (and what it isn’t).
- Why (and how) to build an anti-anxiety pre-game routine.
- To recognize your negative thoughts without letting them sink you.
- Tricks to flip your thoughts into something less negative.
- Ways to turn around “bad” practices or games.
- A consistent way to PRACTICE your athletic mindset.
Focused journal prompts to work on your mental game all wrapped up in a package you can fit inside your kit bag.