Focus on the Moment
Although it's helpful to plan ahead, athletes also practice mindfulness -- tuning in to what's going on right now. They often talk about being in the zone or flow state that lets them perform at a peak level. One way to achieve this is to stop overthinking, says sports psychologist Gregg M. Steinberg, Ph.D., author of Full Throttle. Like the swimmer who concentrates on each stroke, when you quiet your mind you can respond to what's going on and really experience it. For busy moms, that means being fully engaged during those delicious, fleeting moments with your child -- playing catch, having a quiet chat, or snuggling in bed -- instead of worrying about the laundry piling up or e-mail you haven't returned.
Slalom racer Sarah Schleper relies on this strategy when she's on the slopes -- or at home with her 3-year-old. "For me, it's one day at a time, one minute at a time," explains the four-time Olympic champion. "Instead of thinking about the outcome, I focus on what I can do to perform." When her adrenaline is pumping at the top of the mountain, she sings "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" in her head. She also tells herself to "hit delete" any time she has a negative thought.
Listen to Your Inner Coach
Professional athletes rely on a team of experts to push them, but at the end of the day, their motivation comes from their own ability to persevere. "Whenever anything gets hard, no matter what it is in life, I have this little voice in my head telling me to keep going; you can do it," says Ali, who recently relied on that same voice to get through sleepless nights of nursing her daughter, Sydney.
Professional softball player Jessica Mendoza, a two-time Olympic softball medalist and mom of a toddler, knows that even the best players get a hit about only 30 percent of the time. Still, strikeouts are frustrating, especially in front of a packed stadium. When that happens, she tells herself to take a long, deep breath, and then she counts in her head as she exhales. She tries to take an even deeper breath and count to a higher number each time. She does the same thing at home to steady herself when her son is crying and she can't figure out why. "I try to see how long I can let my breath out, and then I can feel my whole body relax," she says. "I think my son picks up on that."
It's been said that 90 percent of any sport is mental. No one's giving medals for motherhood, but I've learned that it takes a lot of stamina to get the job done the way I want it done. Thinking of myself as an athlete helps me remember that I'm striving to achieve a worthy goal every day: to grow into the best mom I can be.
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Parents magazine.