Sports psychology is becoming increasingly popular in the world of sport. This is for good reason, as athletes search for ways to improve and gain the edge on the competition, they realise that a very significant proportion of sporting success is down to having the right mindset. Psychological skills are not just for the elite, as learning to think positively and effectively will help performance at all levels. Reinforcing and enhancing these skills and a success mindset with hypnosis serves to strengthen the power and focus of your mind.

So, how can you use self-hypnosis and mental skills to enhance your performance as a cyclist, runner or triathlete? By committing time to train your mind, as you do to training your body, you learn skills that will improve your performance in both training and racing. The following skills will prove very effective in providing a starting point, from which you can move forward.

Here are the ideas we will cover in this article, along with exercises and practical advice on how to use the techniques to build your own mental skills and strength.

  1. Attribution: learn how to attribute your successes in helpful, goal-oriented ways;
  2. Confidence: build your confidence using visualisation;
  3. Self-talk: learn how to deal with negative self-talk and transform your thinking to positive, motivating thoughts;
  4. Anxiety and arousal: deal with anxiety in a positive way so that you get to the start line excited and ready to perform;
  5. Focus: use visualisation to improve your focus and concentration;
  6. Motivation: understand your motivations to perform to help set effective goals to help you improve;
  7. Competition: develop practices that help you perform to your best on race day.
  8. Hypnosis and self-hypnosis

Attribution and Goal Orientation

Attribution refers to how you explain your successes and failures says a lot about you and your approach to your sport. Reviewing this attribution and seeing it in a different way can help you deal with things in more positive and effective ways that help you progress more quickly.

Exercise: Attribution – Write down a time when you have been successful and then write down 3 reasons why you were successful.

It is best to attribute your successes to internal, stable things, such as having a strong personality, being solution-focused or having an aptitude for you your chosen sport, or aspects of it. Successful people tend to attribute their successes to things they have done or their positive traits.

Conversely, successful people often attribute failures to external factors that were beyond their control. However, perhaps the most effective way to perceive failures is as feedback, rather than failure. This is one of the basic assumptions of NLP, which is another powerful technique that can be applied to sports psychology. The assumption states that

‘all results and behaviours are achievements, whether they are desired outcomes for a given task/context or not. If what you are doing doesn’t work, do something else.’

Exercise: Attributions

Spend some time thinking about how your successes are attributed to internal factors such as your efforts in training, effective preparation of your physical and mental talents. Choose things for yourself that resonate with you and spend time to make sure that you believe in them. Write them down and alongside each one, write down the reasons they are true so that you can refer back to them along with the reasons when you have times of self-doubt.

Think about how you can use results you may not have wanted as feedback that you can learn from. Write a list of things you can do that will reduce the likelihood of these things happening again. This exercise is really valuable because often, it is possible to do small things that may only take a few minutes and enhance your results significantly. One example I often quote, although not a particularly small thing, is to get your bike setup for optimal performance; I seem lots of people with very poor bike setups in races and think how they could have spent just an hour or two to think about the setup and significantly improve their performances with no need to even get fitter.

Goals can be categorised as either Ego-Oriented or Task-Oriented.

Ego Orientation is based on comparisons with others, winning medals and results in associations of high perceived ability when winning but low perceptions of ability when losing. As you can imagine, the approach can result in rapid swings in perceptions of ability levels and self-worth and is therefore not the most healthy way to set goals or assess performances.

Task Orientated goals are focused on self-improvement, enjoyment and lead to optimal performance, more stability and consistency and higher motivation.

We clearly have a tendency to one or the other and a combination of motivations but the important thing is to set and focus on Task-Oriented goals.

Exercise: Goal Orientation

Review your goals based on what you have learned about Ego and Task orientations, categorise each thing you want to get out of your sport or what you want to achieve and think about how you can make them Task-Oriented rather than Ego-Oriented.


Confidence is made up of many factors and can be state-like, meaning that you are confident at a given time in a given place, i.e. in a confident state, or trait-like, meaning that you have a tendency to being confident, i.e. it is one of your traits. Both your state of confidence and your trait towards confidence can vary for many reasons and learning to create a confident, success mindset is an invaluable skill for both sport and life.

Confidence can be quite fragile and loss of confidence can occur for many reasons, such as poor performances, injuries, slumps, under-preparation, poor or negative self-image.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to increase your confidence and your resilience to otherwise negative factors.

Exercises: building confidence

Spending some time working on your confidence will be well worth it. If you want some motivation, you can imagine each exercise as building up your ‘fuel tank’ of confidence, the more full your tank, the more successful you will be and the more minor knocks you will be able to take without damaging your confident persona. You are making confidence a personality trait.

  1. Think through past highlights and spend some time visualising how these things felt. You can strengthen these memories by dwelling on them, feeling your happiness and fulfilment, making the images brighter and more vivid, imagining sounds, things you touched and tasted. If you associated a particular piece of music to a highlight you can play it to strengthen the image further and use it in your race warm up. These highlights don’t have to be associated with your sport, they can be anything where you have been successful. If you have pictures of your successes you can put them somewhere that you will see them regularly to trigger your confidence.
  2. Set and visualise some simple, achievable goals that will show you how you are progressing. Make these goals that you can control and are likely to achieve. If you make a list of them you can tick them off as you progress and make a new list when that is done.
  3. Create a Winning Image of you successfully meeting your goals. A Winning Image is a really powerful tool that can be used in many ways and is worth spending some time on. Your Winning Image is an image of you successfully meeting your goal, use your most powerful senses to imagine it and then build up the strength with other senses. Close your eyes and see it in your minds eye, feel the flow of air on your body, notice what you are wearing and how it feels, the smells and sounds around you and the taste in your mouth. Enjoy this feeling and practice it regularly so that you can bring it to mind at any time. Keep imagining your Winning Image as you imagine your success and notice how it builds your confidence.
  4. Use the notes that you made during the attributions exercise about the things that make your successes, read through them, see and feel that they are part of your personality and that you are a successful person by nature.

Reframing – Use Winning Image to build confidence

Reframing is a common technique in NLP and hypnotherapy, whereby you take either a past or imagined future scenario and reframe it so that you ‘see it’ differently. You can use a combination of visualisation and a variation of the Winning Image to learn this technique and then use your imagination to apply it in different scenarios.

Use Winning Image to build confidence:

  1. Think of a past poor performance and a highlight in your life, work or sport;
  2. Visualise the poor performance as you remember it;
  3. Revisualise the performance as you would like it to have happened, making it as vivid as you can;
    • replay this in your mind several times so it is clear and powerful;
  4. Visualise your highlight, making this as vivid as possible using as many of your senses as you can, imagine the sounds, smells, colours, tastes in your mouth and feelings and then make it more powerful by making the everything stronger, happier sounds, better smells, brighter colours;
    • practice this several times;
  5. Anchor the highlight using either a word or physical trigger
    • Anchoring is a process whereby you use either a word or movement to invoke a feeling or image. An example of a trigger may be to cross your fingers but it is best to choose your own trigger. When choosing a trigger, think of when you want to apply it and make it practical, for example, waving your hands above your head wouldn’t be a good trigger to use when you are swimming or wanting to be discrete.
      • To anchor your highlight, use your trigger then visualise the highlight, do this repeatedly until you have associated the trigger with the highlight. If you are familiar with self-hypnosis, you can do this in a hypnotic state, which will be more effective.
  6. Practice recalling your highlight with your trigger until it becomes automatic;
  7. Visualise the successful version of your performance whilst using the trigger and feeling all the powerful feelings and senses of success.

Once you have this Winning Image in place you need to practice it regularly to strengthen it as much as possible. Practice will make it more powerful but not practicing will allow it to weaken.


Self-talk is a term for the way individuals think and talk to themselves about a situation. Self-talk can be positive, for example, “I’m doing well here” or negative “I’m useless”. I have written a separate article on Self-Talk and how to use what is known as the Stop-Clap technique to help move from negative to positive self-talk. If you want to read more detail, you can follow this link.

Learning to control your self-talk is one of the most effective things you can do to give yourself a strong chance of success on race day.

The Stop-Clap technique is summarised in the infographic, which you can download by clicking on the image.

Anxiety and arousal

Anxiety is a negative emotional state, linked to high arousal that can lower your performance significantly and in some cases it can be so debilitating that it stops people even getting to the start of their event. As with confidence, you can have State Anxiety, in a specific situation, or Trait Anxiety that is part of an athlete’s personality although this level of trait anxiety may be changed with time.

Arousal is the degree to which a sportsperson is excited about, or motivated for a specific situation. Everyone has a different zone of arousal that suits their best performance but most performances require varying levels of arousal throughout the event.

Managing Anxiety and Arousal

Fortunately, there are things that you can do to manage your anxiety and arousal to help you perform to your potential.


  • Relaxation techniques: learning and practicing relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or self-hypnosis can reduce your anxiety levels.
  • Music is a really effective way to manage your anxiety and arousal levels as well as removing many distracting elements from your surroundings so that you can concentrate. Make yourself a playlist that creates the right mood for each stage of your preparation and brings you to the start of your event ready to perform.
  • Managing self-talk: learn the stop-clap technique for managing self talk and practice it regularly to create the habit of positive self-talk.
  • Adapting process goals: review your goals and adjust them to be as helpful and non-threatening as possible. Your goals should be challenging but achievable and your measures of success should be based on process goals and knowing you will do your best.
  • Find your optimum arousal level (Zone of Focus (ZOF)) by visualising past best and worst performances and then use relaxation and imagery to help you create the right level of arousal for your event and for each stage of your preparation.

Exercise: Pre-race routine

We have used the term, pre-race routine for this exercise, however, it is a good idea to use all or parts of your pre-race routine as part of your training and particularly before your main harder sessions. The more you practice it the more it becomes a habit and process that you go through to create your perfect state of mind and body for success.

Use some or all of the techniques described above to build a pre-race routine that includes both your physical warm-up as well as your mental preparation. Start your routine from either the evening of before your event or from when you get out of bed on race day and then use this as the basis for your events from now on, improving it and learning as you get successes and feedback.


The ability to concentrate on the task in hand is essential for success in sports. This may be to focus on performing a particular task or manoeuvre or maintaining concentration to work at your optimal level of effort for a sustained period fo time.

A lack of focus can be caused by internal factors such as negative self-talk, or external factors such as crowds, spectators or other competitors. Your focus can be linked to your level of arousal, decreasing as arousal drifts over the optimal level.

There are 4 types of focus:

  1. Broad-external, such as course conditions, weather, surfaces, wind, etc;
  2. Broad-internal, such as how you are feeling overall, your general state of arousal and readiness;
  3. Narrow-external, such as focusing on the person in front as you concentrate on their movements and react accordingly; and
  4. Narrow-internal, such as the feel of your legs as you make a hard effort during an event so that you know whether to push on or back off.

It is important to understand different types of focus and how to recognise when your focus is incorrect. Learning different focal styles and practising switching between them by visualising different scenarios will improve your skill levels significantly, with consequent improvements in performance.

For example, if you imagine approaching a feed station you need to focus on the broad-external to assess the environment and how the overall feeding system is working, switch to narrow internal-combined with broad-external to decide whether you need a drink and whether slowing down or stopping will negatively impact your position in the event and then switch to narrow-external as you prepare and collect your drink and/or food from the feed station, consume some and maybe save the rest for later.

Exercise: Concentration training

  1. Visualise a scenario that you will encounter in your event and make a list of how your focus will need to change as you go through the scenario;
  2. Visualise yourself going through the scenario on your own with no distractions;
  3. Visualise yourself going through the scenario with distractions such as other competitors, spectators, people stopping in front of you or changing direction unexpectedly and how you may need to change your focus unexpectedly;
  4. Apply focal categories to as many areas of your sport as you can think of;
  5. Create sports specific routines and practice them both by visualising them and where possible, by creating physical scenarios to see how well they work.


Motivation can be intrinsic, through internal sources such as participation in your sport for pleasure, self development, etc. or extrinsic such as participating to win trophies, please others, etc.

You may notice a similarity here between our earlier discussions of attribution and goal orientation. It is common to see similarities, you can learn a lot from looking at how your behaviour and thinking in one area is similar in other areas and if you find a technique that works for one thing you can often adapt it very effectively to work elsewhere.

Having read this far, it won’t surprise you to find that intrinsic sources of motivation are more stable, healthy and often more effective than external motivators.


Competition is when it all comes together and you realise your goals. Competition is also the most exciting but potentially the most stressful time and when you can draw on all the psychological skills you have learned to give you the best chance of a successful outcome.

Using all the techniques you have learned, you can create a routine for the day of your event that contains all the elements of preparing your kit, recovery and relaxation before the event, getting to the venue, meals and nutrition, warm-up and getting to the start line ready to perform. Visualise the event and draw on all your past experience to think through things that might happen and how you might deal with them so that you are ready for as many eventualities as you can be.

Set some goals that you know are achievable but challenging. It is often good to have more than one goal, one which is acceptable and one dream goal and think about how you will pace yourself if it is a long event.

A friend of mine often uses the quote: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, which whilst not always true is certainly something to bear in mind so that you make sure you do everything possible to ensure you perform to your potential.

Hypnosis and mental skills

Hypnosis is a powerful tool to enhance the effects of almost any technique in sports psychology and combining hypnotic techniques with those of NLP and sports psychology can be remarkably effective.

You may be asking why hypnosis is helpful to sports psychology, particularly if you associate hypnosis with stage acts where people are made to do unusual things.

According to the General Hypnotherapy Register: at our current level of knowledge, the phenomenon of hypnosis cannot be conclusively defined but perhaps a reasonable interim definition might be that: Hypnosis is a state of mind, enhanced by (although not exclusively) mental and physical relaxation, in which our subconscious is able to communicate with our conscious mind. It may be better to define ‘hypnosis’ by what it does rather than what it is and in this regard it is widely accepted as an excellent method by which we may access our inner potential. The state of mind referred to may be brought about either by oneself, unaided (self-hypnosis) or with the help of another person.

So, as you can see, hypnosis can be a powerful tool to help you reach your goals.


You can learn self-hypnosis quite quickly and with practice you can use it to enhance any of the techniques described as well as develop your own suggestions to your subconscious. People are occasionally concerned about hypnosis but it is perfectly safe and contrary to what you may be led to believe, you cannot be made to do something against your will. Hypnosis is a way of accessing your subconscious and consequently of embedding or changing ideas and feelings that can then modify how you feel in your day to day life. If you want to learn more about hypnosis and hypnotherapy you can do so via the General Hypnotherapy Register website.

It is useful to break hypnosis, or self-hypnosis, into several stages:

  1. Induction: this is the stage where you induce or develop a state of relaxation. This is often done by counting down from a large number as you imagine yourself walking down some stairs, descending into relaxation. Another way is to concentrate on something like a candle, or flickering light until your eyes feel tired and you naturally close them and relax further.
  2. Deepener: this stage is self-explanatory, in that is deepens your level of relaxation to whatever level is desired, making your subconscious receptive to your suggestions and open to strong visualisations. You can do this by imagining walking or drifting down a tunnel or laying in a boat drifting along a calm river as you drift deeper and deeper into relaxation.
  3. Suggestions/visualisations: after the induction and the deepener you can perform your visualisations, strengthen any anchors you may need or perform reframing of your memories or negative preconceptions.
  4. Breaking the trance: this is just coming back into consciousness, usually by counting downwards from 10 as you gradually waken and become more alert. An alternative is to allow yourself to drift off to sleep and wake relaxed and powerful.

Working with sports people I have found that moving away from more conventional inductions and deepeners towards ideas that are more related to a given sport or activity can be very effective.

For example, runners work very well with running themes and a good example of how I helped someone relax, build confidence and move forward from an injury to eventually performing way above her expectations was as follows.

  1. Induction: whilst out for a run in the countryside, to come across a small river with a grassy bank and decide to stop for a break, relaxing and listening to the river babbling away they drifted off into a relaxed and wonderful dream world;
  2. Deepener: the athletes’ idol came by and waking up the athlete and their idol started running together; as they ran along, keeping pace and focusing on the rhythm the athlete relaxed deeper into a hypnotic trance;
  3. Suggestions/visualisation: the athlete was guided to visualise, feel and sense the power of their running fast and injury free, realising that they were comfortably running with their idol who was one of the best athletes in the world at that time and chatting away about this and that, building fitness, strength, confidence and energy as they moved effortlessly along.
  4. Breaking the trance: the two athletes (runner in hypnotic state and idol) were brought back to their meeting place and the athlete returned to resting on the bank before either waking up strong and refreshed or drifting off to sleep and waking later on feeling refreshed, confident and powerful.

It can be a good idea to make a recording that guides you through these stages, so that you can listen to it and not need to worry about remembering things. If you have trouble sleeping you can use it before bedtime and drift off to sleep afterwards. If you want to get a little more sophisticated, adding some background music can help as well.

I hope you enjoyed this article and find the ideas useful. Hopefully it all makes sense but if you have any questions, please get in touch and we will do our best to explain and help out.

It takes time and practice to train your mind, so work at it and give it time. It is just like physical training in that you get better bit by bit as you learn and accustom to new, more helpful thoughts and feelings. Have fun and good luck!

Related questions

Can I use sports psychology techniques to help recover from injury? Psychology techniques can be very effective, if not invaluable in dealing with and recovering from sports injuries. Injuries often result in loss of confidence and motivation, anxiety, anger, depression, frustration and further loss of confidence due to post-injury lower performance levels. Spending some time to refocus, set appropriate goals for recovery and reassess attributions, motivations and values can provide a logical and incremental path to recovery that can be combined with relaxation techniques to manage anxiety and stress. These can be further combined with sports, specific visualisations that stimulate motor skills and minimise the damage of time away from the sport.

What other ways could I use sports psychology or sports hypnosis? Modelling is a great way to use visualisation and hypnotic techniques that I have used to great effect with several athletes. Modelling is the practice of taking on features of others, such as sporting idols to model their thoughts, actions, emotions and/or behaviours. In particular, I have used this with athletes coming back from injury, athletes that have been lacking confidence or finding certain activities stressful and debilitating. By modelling, these athletes gained confidence, refocused and immediately improved their performances.

John Hampshire
Post by John Hampshire
September 1, 2019