Right before a competition, top athletes go to great lengths to convince themselves that they will win. This is true even if the athlete in question has just suffered a string of defeats.

To an external observer, this kind of conviction may seem irrational. But in fact, the point of this conviction is not its veracity.

You see, in a competition, even the slightest shadow of a doubt in your ability to win will make you more likely to fail. This is because doubts make you nervous and can cause your muscles to quiver or tighten, which could cause a golfer to miss a crucial putt or a gymnast to lose his balance.

Doubts will also distract you when you should be concentrating on your performance. Thus, for example, a football player riddled with doubts will be less likely to spot important cues and signals from teammates.

Finally, doubts can also cause you to be so nervous that your mind “draws a blank,” meaning that you temporarily forget something crucial. This phenomenon is familiar to many people in, for example, public speaking.

To perform optimally, you must first get into the right mindset, because your mind can significantly influence your physical state. An excellent example of this is the placebo effect, where people experience an improvement in health that cannot be explained by the medical procedure they underwent. For example, when severely injured soldiers were injected with saline solution, their pain subsided as long as they thought they were getting morphine.

For top athletes, the mere belief that they are in unbeatable form focuses their mind and allows their body to perform better. It improves their concentration, helps them remain calm under stress and enhance their motor control.