Every once and a while, you come across a book that totally changes how you approach things. Lanny Bassham’s With Winning in Mind is one of those books for me. I first came across it while serving as a formal training instructor for nuclear operations, and it forever shaped my approach to training students.
Lanny Bassham is an American rifle competitor, who won a gold medal in 1976 and a silver in 1972. He credits the jump from silver to gold to a system he developed called mental management. The book we’re looking at today is the foundational piece of that. He’s been running a consulting and training company for decades built around this idea.
So what is mental management? Simply put, it’s the realization that winning involves your mind every bit as much as it does your physical skills. Mental management is a system for “programming” your mindset to operate more effectively under pressure. But that whole system is for a different article.
In this post, I want to look at the book itself.
Lanny’s mental management system breaks down into three themes:
- Conscious mind: What you are actively thinking during an activity
- Subconscious mind: The automatic thoughts and behaviors you’ve earned through focused practice over time
- Self-image: How you view yourself and your capabilities
The book divides its 19 chapters between these themes.
Section 1 – What is Mental Management
- It doesn’t matter if you win or
lose,until you lose
- Winning is a process
- The principles of mental management
- The balance of power
Section 2 – Building the Conscious Mind
- The Mental Management goal setting system
- Principles of reinforcement
- Rehearsal, the most versatile mental tool
- The three phases of a task
- Running a mental program
- Pressure – friend or foe
- The number one mental problem
Section 3 – Building the Subconscious Mind
- The skills factory
- Performance analysis
Building the Self-Image
- Building a better you
- Directive affirmation
- Become a promoter
- The challenge
Rather than comprehensively go over each chapter, I’ll hit a few highlights from each section. The opening chapters outline Lanny’s definition of mental management and why you should pursue it.
The easiest way to explain it is thinking of a time you were in “the zone” with some activity. Maybe it was a shooting match, a round of golf, or even a particularly good video game session. It seemed as though everything came together and you just could not lose. This is “the zone.”
Lanny’s argument is that this state of mind is not an accident, and it stems from alignment of conscious focus, subconscious skills, and belief in yourself. It’s a process.
The goal of mental management, and the underlying theme of this book, is teaching yourself to enter “the zone” on demand and always perform at high levels.
[Mental management ] is a system that maximizes the probability of having a consistent mental performance, under pressure on demand.– Excerpt From: Lanny Bassham. With Winning in Mind.
These opening chapters highlight examples of past Olympic champions advocating that the mental game is every bit as important to winning as skill development. If I was creating a training course on the subject, this is the equivalent of the “motivation” step, explaining why you should be interested in the subject you’re about to learn.
Building the Conscious Mind
The Conscious Mind contains your thoughts and mental pictures. The Conscious Mind controls all of the senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. It is what you picture or think about. Every time we think about something, we do it consciously. The Conscious Mind processes our environment. Its normal function is to gather information and give us options. The conscious mind plays a very important role in our success.
There are a lot of key takeaways from this cluster of chapters. The first one is that your mind can only consciously focus on one thing at at time. When we think we are multitasking, we are actually just switching rapidly from focus to focus, while doing a mediocre job of each.
When a beginner starts a new skill, there is a lot of conscious thought going on with each step, because nothing has been engrained. Lanny’s argument is that once proper skill has been developed, then you need to quiet the conscious mind by giving it something to focus on rather than letting in wander.
Another huge takeaway in this section is the goal-setting chapter. After I first read this book in 2013, this chapter dramatically shifted my goal setting methods. I used to follow the classic SMART system, but Lanny’s is so much better because it involves actual planning and consideration rather than simply throwing words on paper.
Principles of Reinforcement
Lanny dedicates a lot of pages to reinforcement of positive behavior. I realize this is a little “fluffy” in the age of participation trophies, but this isn’t quite the same thing.
The principle of reinforcement states that the more we think about, talk about, and write about something happening, then we improve the probability of that thing happening again. In other words, we’re training our mind to behave in that way.
It’s like that old adage about minding your thoughts because they become words, words become actions, and actions become habits.
Lanny argues that you should be mindful of what you think and talk about.
I’ve seen the following situation hundreds if times. Two shooters meet after a match. Shooter A asks, “How did you shoot?” B says, “I did terrible. I shot three nines in a row. Two were out the left for wind and the other one came because I held too long.” Shooter B has just improved the probability of having nines the same way in the future because he is thinking and talking about his mistakes.
Also, importantly, Lanny states that listening to others speaking this way also increases the probability that you will perform the same. So it’s not only about your own thoughts and words, but those of people you associate with.
The takeaway here is that you should focus on your positive outcomes. Learn from your mistakes, of course, but think and talk more about your successes.
Along with reinforcement, another portion of this section focuses on the power of rehearsal.
Rehearsal aids the performer in executing a desired action or move with precision. Dog Agility handlers and Practical Pistol shooters use rehearsal when they are walking the course to not only improve their ability to remember the course but also to maximize their mastery of movement during the run.
The interesting thing here is that rehearsal can be both physical, as with range practice, or purely mental. Intense visualization and rehearsal of a scenario in your mind will still train the mind to behave in desired ways.
It’s not a pure substitute for actual practice on the range, but it makes a great supplement on non-range days.
The last few chapters of this section focus on breaking tasks down into predictable steps. The idea is to “program” your mind to follow the same sequence of steps every time. As you rehearse and reinforce this, the steps become automatic and contribute to winning.
In other words, you eliminate randomness and give your conscious mind something to focus on during the performance of a task.
If you are worried about your score, your competition, your last failure or anything other than the process of executing, you are thinking about outcome instead of process. You cannot think about two things at the same time so your focus is pulled away from execution and toward outcome.
This section also cautions you about various pitfalls. One such pitfall is over-thinking a task. Lanny argues that this typically occurs when you do not trust your subconsciously built skills to win the day. In those cases, you think to yourself that you’ll need to be “extra careful,” which causes you to worry about outcomes and throws off the mental game.
The Subconscious Mind
The Subconscious Mind is the source of your skills and power to perform. All great performances are accomplished subconsciously, without much conscious thought. We develop skills through repetition of conscious thought until the Subconscious Mind automatically performs them. The conscious trains the subconscious. Once the skill can be performed without conscious thought it has become a subconscious skill.
Lanny describes the subconscious mind as the “skills factory.”
The short version here is that this is the portion of the brain responsible for recording and mapping behaviors so you no longer have to actively think about it. This actually makes a lot of sense to me from a neuroanatomy standpoint.
It’s not in the book, but I remembered information from college on the topic. Prior to getting a degree in computer science, I was actually studying neuroscience with plans to go into medicine. It turns out that I hated chemistry, though, and switched tracks.
There actually is a portion of the brain, the cerebellum, responsible for motor skills learning and smoothing. If you’ve ever heard of weight lifters or athletes talk about “greasing the groove,” it’s the same process.
This whole section is relatively short at only two chapters, but the focus is on creating a productive and focused practice session. It is through this training that you develop the subconscious skills required to succeed without thinking.
The Self-Image makes you “act like you.” It is the total of your habits and your attitudes. Your performance and your Self-Image are always equal. This is the most important of the three, because the Self-Image and success are directly related. The Self-Image and the Conscious Mind are always in communication with one another. Every time we think about something or attempt to do something it creates an imprint that is stored in the Self-Image. The Self-Image generates a view on how you see yourself based on these imprints. I believe these imprints change the Self-Image. You may have the ability and subconscious skill to play at a very high level but if you don’t have the Self-Image that it is like you to win, you have very little chance of winning.
Lanny writes that this is actually the most important portion of his philosophy. You will only ever perform up to the level of how you view yourself.
In that past, I’ve heard stories of top tier football schools going after players who weren’t the fastest or strongest, but came from teams that won a lot. These players, they argued, saw themselves as winners and were more likely to continue the trend at the new school.
To build this image, Lanny suggests affirmations, reinforcement, and an attitude of promotion. Not just promoting yourself, but also promoting others. As you talk about the positives in other people, they will do the same for you, and everyone’s image improves.
I get it, that sounds like something we tell children. But it also plays to the idea of something my father used to tell me: “You are the sum of your five closest associates.”
Also important here is how the self-image relates to the goal setting process. As you generate challenging goals, and then achieve them, you begin to see yourself in a more successful light. Winning is a habit as well as a process.
The Basic Principles
To summarize, these are Lanny Bassham’s ten principles:
- Your Conscious Mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time.
- What you say is not important. What you cause yourself or others to picture is crucial.
- The Subconscious Mind is the source of all mental power.
- The Self-Image moves you to do what the Conscious Mind is picturing.
- Self-Image and performance are always
equal Tochange your performance, you must first change your Self-Image. Move your comfort zone,
- You can replace the Self-Image you have with the Self-Image you want, thereby permanently changing performance.
- The Principle of Reinforcement: The more we think about, talk about and write about something happening, we improve the probability of that thing happening.
- The Self-Image cannot tell the difference between what actually happens and what is vividly imagined.
- The Principle of Value: We appreciate things in direct proportion to the price we pay for them.
When I first read this book in 2013, it blew me away. It totally shifted how I approached training and practice. I implemented its lessons within my own classes and trainees, and produced several “Distinguished Graduate” students from the ICBM program. While it’s easy to discount that feat as getting lucky with a smart crew, I really do attribute a lot of that success to the unique methods I used to train those officers.
The mental game is every bit as important as the physical game. You can apply this to the shooting sports, as Lanny does, or really to any activity you do in life. I’ve used the goal setting methods listed in this book for everything from professional milestones in my career, physical fitness, to running this very website.
It just works. That is, as long as you actually follow through on it.
Perhaps therein lies the rub. This book will not magically turn a lazy person into a motivated one. Following Lanny’s advice takes discipline and commitment to your goals.
Over to you
Tell me what you think. Have you ever worked on your “mental game” before? How did it go for you?