I began my work as a sports psychologist in the world of professional golf. A friend of mine had just qualified for the PGA Tour through the Tour’s qualifying school and wanted me to travel with him to every event for the season to make sure his head was in the right place on a daily basis for his debut season. Being a single guy with no wife, girlfriend, or children, I was more than eager to hit the road and spend several months working on location at golf courses across the country.
I’ll never forget my first experience seeing just how mentally strong some of the game’s best players can be. My client was playing in the 2011 Honda Classic and I was in the gallery watching the leader, Adam Scott, play the final hole of the tournament. All Adam had to do was score a par on the par 4 18th and he would win the tournament. As he steps up to the tee and hits his tee shot, the unthinkable happens. He hooks it straight into the lagoon to the left of the fairway. Now, being someone who works with the mind, I’ve got my eyes locked on Adam to see what his reaction would be in that moment. Would he slam his club? Vomit out a torrent of curse words? Literally vomit? His reaction was telling, and a sign as to why he’s been one of the game’s best players in recent years.
Adam doesn’t react at all. Literally no reaction. If I had just walked up to the tee box after he hit his shot not knowing what had happened, I would have never been able to guess he had hit it into the water. He simply, very calmly, walked back to the waiting area, had a chat with his caddie, and discussed what his next shot was going to be. After a short chat, Adam steps back up to the tee, sets himself up, and absolutely stripes a pearler straight into the middle of the fairway. From there, he chips the ball to within 8 feet of the hole onto the green, and then goes on to sink his putt and win the tournament.
To win that tournament, Adam exemplified one of the most important aspects of the psychology of performance that is absolutely essential to success in competition—utilizing what I like to call the “mental reset button.”
After he hit his ball into the water, he had two choices in that moment. He could either dwell on the past, relive that shot in his mind again and again, allow himself to become embroiled with anger, and completely wreck his chances of winning. Or, he could refuse to indulge in anger, hit his mental reset button, wipe his mind clean, and keep himself in the present moment so that he could execute his next shot free from the burden of that bad shot. He chose the latter.
The mental reset button is just as important for you as a competitive Magic player, and there are many instances where it can and needs to be applied. Let’s take a look at a few and walk through them.
Every game of Magic consists of individual moments that occur turn by turn for both players. And many of those moments are going to be negative, challenging, or obstructing. For example, you could make a massive mistake that swings the momentum of the game in your opponent’s favor. Or your opponent could topdeck their best creature while empty handed, slam it onto the board, and pin you back. In these kinds of moments, you have two choices. You can either brood over your mistake, curse your bad luck, keep your mind locked in the past, and almost certainly tilt yourself off, or you can hit your mental reset button, keep yourself focused in the present moment, and concentrate on what your next move is going to be.
Hitting your mental reset button in these kinds of individual moments is going to play a huge role in determining what your mental state and performance level is like moving forward the rest of the game, which has the knock-on effect of playing a huge role in determining whether or not you win or lose that game.
Every match of Magic consists of either a best-of-three or best-of-five series of individual games. Like with individual moments, many games you play are going to be losses because as we know, it’s impossible to win every game. Some of your losses will be extremely frustrating. Perhaps you had to mulligan to 5 and didn’t even get to play. Or perhaps you drew lands for five turns in a row when you had the game locked up and, while you were drawing lands for those five turns, your opponent was drawing haymakers and was able to take back the game. When you lose a game, you have the same two choices. You can either brood over the loss, relive it in your mind over and over and stay locked in the past, or you can let that loss go, wipe the slate clean, hit your mental reset button, and focus on the next game you’re about to play.
Hitting your mental reset button after an individual game is going to play a huge role in determining what your mental state and performance level is like moving forward into the next game you play, which has the knock-on effect of playing a huge role in determining whether or not you win that match.
Every Magic tournament consists of multiple individual rounds, with some tournaments having fewer, such as the ones at a local game shop, and other tournaments having lots of rounds, such as a Grand Prix or Mythic Championship. In either case, just like with individual moments and games, you’re going to experience failure with individual rounds of Magic. For example, you may start out a tournament by losing the first two rounds and have to win the rest to make Day 2. Or you may be in a prime position to make your first Top 8 where all you have to do is win one of your next three rounds and you’ll be in, but go on to lose the first of those final three. Whenever you lose a round of Magic, the same two choices present themselves once again. You can either dwell on the loss, indulge in anger, convince yourself “today is not my day,” and basically guarantee it happens again, or you can erase that loss from your mind, hit your mental reset button, and focus on the next round you’re about to play.
Hitting your mental reset button after an individual round is going to play a huge role in determining what your mental state and performance level is like moving forward into the next round, which has the knock-on effect of playing a huge role in determining what your mental state and performance level is like throughout the remaining round and whether or not you do well in the tournament.
Whether it’s an individual moment, individual game, or individual round, the past is the past and you can’t change a loss. It’s beyond your control. Locking yourself in the past and not allowing yourself to wipe the slate clean is only going to do you more harm than good. Learn from those experiences and extract from them the relevant information you need to take with you moving forward. Once you’ve done that, hit your mental reset button and focus on the here and now.
Thanks for reading, and good luck out there!