Three Proven Ways to Train Your Brain

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1. Switch focus.

Anxiety before a race or a tough workout can stem from being stuck in a loop of panicky thoughts. To channel awareness and let go of negative images, concentrate on something concrete. For example, think, “Where are my feet?” says Pete Kirchmer, program director of mPEAK at the University of California, San Diego. The goal isn’t to figure out what your feet should be doing, Kirchmer says, but to pull yourself out of the anxiety spiral. “Focusing your attention breaks the cycle of rumination and grounds you in what’s happening right now,” he says.

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2. Get imaginative.

To perform a movement perfectly, try motor imagery. Close your eyes, and for a few moments vividly imagine the exact steps of what you want to do — whether it’s a clean-and-jerk or a jump shot. Repeat this three or four times a week. Soon the visualization hack becomes automatic, and you can summon its desired effect during a workout or game, says mental-performance coach Nicole Detling: “Say a ball goes out of bounds — that’s a great time to do a quick image of what you’d like to happen next.”

3. Work out when you’re fried.

Hitting the wall only feels like you’re spent. In fact, you have reserves. To teach your mind to tap into them, “train in conditions of mental fatigue,” recommends exercise physiologist Samuele Marcora. For example, “instead of going for a run in the morning, when you’re fresh and alert,” he says, “go at the end of the day, when you’re exhausted.” This same principle applies after hours of reading, entertaining your kids, or weekend visits with the in-laws.

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