Published January 28, 2021
Top performing athletes know that a strong, healthy mind is just as important as a strong, healthy body. Pau Gasol, NBA All-Star and BetterUp’s newest investor and strategic advisor, learned to stay centered, focused, and true to his core values with the help of many coaches and sports psychologists throughout his career.
And he wants to help others find the same opportunities.
Pau shares our vision for a world where everyone, not just pro athletes, can access personalized coaching, care, and transformational experiences to achieve their goals and aspirations. I’m thrilled to welcome Pau to the BetterUp community as an investor and strategic advisor in the pursuit of our mission.
I recently had the opportunity to connect with Pau to learn how he stays in peak mental condition both on and off the court. He offers practical insights grounded in performance psychology and field-tested by a pro who was drafted at 21 years old, was the first international player to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award, and won two NBA Championships back-to-back with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
Read on for a few of the insights Pau shared with me.
Pau Gasol’s guide to mental fitness
- Keep your head in the game
In the NBA you can be traded at any time. There are always rumors and decisions can change at the very last minute. It takes work to keep your focus on each game. Phil Jackson, the legendary coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and someone I consider a Zen master, made meditation and mindfulness a regular part of team practices. We were all bonded through spirituality and silence and it would bring with it a sense of interconnectedness that I hadn’t felt before. Practicing mindfulness helped me get comfortable with uncertainty and keep my head in the game. I’ve learned how to let go of the things that are outside of my control and focus on staying in flow. Throughout the uncertainty of this past year, mindfulness has helped me stay focused on what’s important to me so I can get through the tough times.
- Visualize your success
If you can’t see yourself doing it, it is hard to actually execute. That’s why visualization is key to getting into flow during a game. When I visualize success before stepping onto the court, I feel more confident come game time. This is a powerful approach, grounded in research, that can be applied in any context. Take a big presentation or meeting, for example. Start by visualizing it step by step so you fully experience your every move before it actually occurs. This creates a sense of mastery in the moment because, mentally at least, you have been there before.
- Make mental health a priority
Mental health affects everyone, of every age, in every profession regardless of socioeconomic status. As an athlete, it can be difficult to ask for help when you are expected to be tough and have a “king of the jungle” mindset. But it’s really a sign of strength to have the courage to say “Hey, you know what? I need help, I’m struggling and I don’t feel right.” It’s encouraging to see top athletes and celebrities speak out about their mental health challenges. I learned to be proactive and build habits like addressing my personal struggles as they surfaced, rather than waiting for them to create stress or anxiety.
Mental health is an important part of overall health, and this is especially true for children. That’s why mental health is a priority for the Gasol Foundation, which aims to reduce childhood obesity by helping children develop healthy habits. All the families who participate in the foundation’s programs learn how to manage their emotional wellbeing.
- Build a foundation of confidence from within
Early in my career, I put immense pressure on myself to be perfect. Lorenzen Wright, one of my teammates at the time, reminded me to believe in myself even after a devastating loss. He told me, “You are a great player and you are very talented. Mistakes will happen, they are part of the game, but there are 79 more games for us to play.” His support helped me bounce back, remember my strengths, and get into a mindset of constant learning. That year, I won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Confidence has to be built from within yourself, not from your title. We all have a tendency to over-identify with our jobs. You have to work on your roots, on the foundation of yourself, and build self-esteem to know that you’re more than your job or title. I love being an NBA player but I’ve learned that I can’t fall in love with it as an identity. Otherwise, it is too hard to move on.
- Win as team
Another valuable lesson I learned from playing with Phil Jackson is the connection between personal and team success. Phil would remind us often that, “the strength of the wolf is in the pack and the strength of the pack is in the wolf.” Each player has a responsibility to bring their best performance to the team but we win together and must support each other. I’ve learned to never underestimate the impact we can make when we take the time to connect and help each other out. It’s easy to get caught up in our individual success but we always achieve more when we have the mindset of winning as a team.
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