Power Players

Mental coach for NFL players: Super Bowl winners and top athletes swear by this daily brain exercise

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) eludes Washington Redskins defensive end Matthew Ioannidis (98).
The Washington Post

For 18 years, I've worked as a brain conditioning coach for some of the world's top athletes, including NFL and NBA players, to help them gain a mental edge.

When I met one of my earliest clients, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, back in 2012, he told me: "My mind is one of my best attributives. I want to enhance it." And that's exactly what we did. Today, the Super Bowl XLVIII winner is a representation of everything I've been teaching throughout my entire career.

How to think and compete like a Super Bowl winner

I've been asked numerous times about the secret to enhancing your brain for success. Here's my simple answer: Russell became one of the NFL's most elite — and highest-paid players — because he trained his brain to stay neutral.

Neutral thinking is a performance strategy that emphasizes judgment-free thinking, especially in crises and high-pressure situations. To fully master it, you must practice stripping away the bulls and biases.

This isn't easy, as there are more biases in this world than fruit flies: Confirmation bias, selection bias, negativity bias, gender bias, optimism bias, pessimistic bias and so on. It's difficult to clearly perceive reality when your subconscious is busily prejudging it.

Don't let the past take control

But the most dangerous bias — whether on the field, in the office or at home — is our innate privileging of the past; we give it too much importance when we should be giving it a wide berth.

In a 2015 interview with HBO's "Real Sports," Wilson was asked: "When you stink up the first half, you don't think about it?" Wilson didn't blink. "No, I don't," he replied. "I think about one play at a time. Let's go. Let's keep it going. That's how we all think. That's how we're able to win."

How does he do this? It all boils down to three states: What already happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Wilson never pretends that the past — good or bad — didn't happen. Instead, he stays neutral: He's aware of the past, grounded in the present, and focused on putting all his energy into the next move.

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has a similar thinking process. "If I don't play my best, why am I disappointed? Because I could've, should've played better, done better, worked harder, prepared more?" Brady said in the 2018 documentary "Tom vs. Time." "In the end, it's about whether I put in the best effort relative to our team's potential."

Steer clear of your feelings

Neutral thinking often requires you to steer clear of your feelings and make an honest assessment of each situation you're facing. In other words, don't worry about how you feel. Rely on what you know.

You can apply this strategy to the workplace. Let's say you hate your boss, and out of spite, you consider only putting in half the effort into a big project. But you'd only be hurting yourself.

The solution is to look at the assignment from a neutral point of view: If you complete the task, and you continue doing the same with future projects, your boss will most likely get off your back. You may even get promoted and become the boss.

What happened already happened. Okay, fine. But your success isn't determined by your past. It's all about the present moment and what you do next.

Thinking neutrally can also help you concentrate when devastating factors are swirling around in your life. Dramatic life events tend to introduce a flood of emotions, but staying neutral can help you manage them.

Consider a marathon runner: She has more than 20 miles to go. But is she thinking about the finish line when the race begins? Is she letting the unpleasant events of her personal life take over her mind? No. That's too overwhelming. She's thinking about her pacing for the first mile. She's planning out when she wants to grab a water gel or eat a pack. Her head is in the now.

Unfortunate things will happen, and when they do, I don't believe in pretending they didn't. But I also don't believe in viewing them as the end of the world. What happened already happened. Okay, fine. But your success isn't determined by your past. It's all about the present moment and what you do next.

Trevor Moawad is a renowned mental conditioning expert and strategic advisor to some of the world's most elite performers. In 2017, he was named the "Sports World's Best Brain Trainer" by Sports Illustrated. Trevor is also the author of "It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life." Follow him on Twitter @TrevorMoawad.

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