Keep your mind in shape

by Pau Gasol Influencer


Visualize your success, says Gasol Foundation President and professional basketball player Pau Gasol.

 “If you can’t see yourself doing it, it is hard to actually execute. That’s why visualization is key to getting into flow during a game. When I visualize success before stepping onto the court, I feel more confident come game time.”

Mental health is just as important as physical health. This is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from the many coaches, mentors, and psychologists who have supported me throughout my career.

We all need someone to help us grow and be our best selves. This is why I’m excited to partner with BetterUp in their mission to help people everywhere access personalized coaching, care and transformational experiences.

I recently had an interesting conversation with Alexi Robichaux, CEO and co-founder of BetterUp, a company I have invested in and which I serve as a strategic advisor.

BetterUp shares my vision that anybody, not just professional athletes, should be able to receive coaching, personalized attention, and transformative experiences so as to achieve their objectives and realize their maximum potential. A strong, healthy mind is just as important as a strong, healthy body, and not just for high-performance athletes.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned how to stay focused on my objectives and be faithful to my principles thanks to the help of many coaches and sports psychologists. In what follows, I want to share some of the practices that have been very helpful to me. I hope they’ll be useful for you too.

  1.  Keep your head in the game  

In the NBA you can be traded at any time. There are always rumors and decisions can change at the very last minute. It takes work to keep your focus on each game. Phil Jackson, the legendary coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and someone I consider a Zen master, made meditation and mindfulness a regular part of team practices. We were all bonded through spirituality and silence and it would bring with it a sense of interconnectedness that I hadn’t felt before. Practicing mindfulness helped me get comfortable with uncertainty and keep my head in the game. I’ve learned how to let go of the things that are outside of my control and focus on staying in flow. Throughout the uncertainty of this past year, mindfulness has helped me stay focused on what’s important to me so I can get through the tough times.

  1. Visualize your success 

If you can’t see yourself doing it, it is hard to actually execute. That’s why visualization is key to getting into flow during a game. When I visualize success before stepping onto the court, I feel more confident come game time. This is a powerful approach, grounded in research, that can be applied in any context. Take a big presentation or meeting, for example. Start by visualizing it step by step so you fully experience your every move before it actually occurs. This creates a sense of mastery in the moment because, mentally at least, you have been there before. 

  1. Make mental health a priority

Mental health affects everyone, of every age, in every profession regardless of socioeconomic status. As an athlete, it can be difficult to ask for help when you are expected to be tough and have a “king of the jungle” mindset.  But it’s really a sign of strength to have the courage to say “Hey, you know what? I need help, I’m struggling and I don’t feel right.” It’s encouraging to see top athletes and celebrities speak out about their mental health challenges. I learned to be proactive and build habits like addressing my personal struggles as they surfaced, rather than waiting for them to create stress or anxiety. 

Mental health is an important part of overall health, and this is especially true for children. That’s why mental health is a priority for the Gasol Foundation, which aims to reduce childhood obesity by helping children develop healthy habits. All the families who participate in the foundation’s programs learn how to manage their emotional wellbeing. 

  1. Build a foundation of confidence from within

Early in my career, I put immense pressure on myself to be perfect. Lorenzen Wright, one of my teammates at the time, reminded me to believe in myself even after a devastating loss.  He told me, “You are a great player and you are very talented. Mistakes will happen, they are part of the game, but there are 79 more games for us to play.” His support helped me bounce back, remember my strengths, and get into a mindset of constant learning. That year, I won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

Confidence has to be built from within yourself, not from your title. We all have a tendency to over-identify with our jobs. You have to work on your roots, on the foundation of yourself, and build self-esteem to know that you’re more than your job or title. I love being an NBA player but I’ve learned that I can’t fall in love with it as an identity. Otherwise, it is too hard to move on.

  1. Win as a team

Another valuable lesson I learned from playing with Phil Jackson is the connection between personal and team success. Phil would remind us often that, “the strength of the wolf is in the pack and the strength of the pack is in the wolf.” Each player has a responsibility to bring their best performance to the team but we win together and must support each other. I’ve learned to never underestimate the impact we can make when we take the time to connect and help each other out. It’s easy to get caught up in our individual success but we always achieve more when we have the mindset of winning as a team.

This article originally appeared on the BetterUp blog.