BYU Athletics’ mental strength coach discusses doubt and faith

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Luca Cuestas
Craig Manning, performance consultant for BYU’s athletic department and adjunct professor, speaks to students during his devotional. (Gianluca Cuestas)

Mental strength coach Craig Manning addressed an audience at the Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 31 about the life changing lessons of having faith in one’s self and not letting doubt hinder one’s ability to succeed.

Manning is an adjunct professor of performance psychology, performance consultant for the BYU athletics department, and author and founder of The Fearless Mind.

Manning began by sharing a personal experience he had as a child to illustrate what can happen if people do not understand the Lord’s plan or do not want to live and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Manning was told by his mother when he was young that he was good at sports, but she said he would not be good in school.

“The statement confused me although I didn’t have the maturity and clarity I thought at the time to articulate the emotion,” Manning said. “I can look back and see why the statement bothered me.”

Manning put most of his attention on sports during his teenage years and directed little attention to his academics which became a habit.

“Just because I was there in body does not mean I was there mentally, I was passing classes without really learning anything,” Manning said. “I didn’t believe I was unintelligent but I was never really paying attention.”

Manning referred to the “Lectures on Faith” to give his interpretation on his faith, related to his academics and sports. He said his lack of faith in academics led him to believe he would only succeed in sports.

Manning said he did not have faith he would succeed in the classroom, which led him to not mentally apply himself; however, he had faith in his sports, which led him to put forth effort and hard work in athletics.

Manning quoted D&C 130: 18-19 and said these two scriptures map out the formula for success and to overcome the doubts he had.

“We need to work hard both mentally and physically, to increase our knowledge and intelligence.” Manning said.

After high school, Manning was selected to travel Europe on a tournament. During the first tournament of the summer, he lost 6-0, 6-0.

“I had no idea what had gone wrong. Unwisely I dwelled on my deficiencies from the match for days,” Manning said. “I have since learned that dwelling obsessively on what we do wrong is one of the greatest sources of interference to maximizing our potential. Self-doubt is dangerous.”

Manning said he struggled throughout his tournament and ended his aspirations to be a professional because he could not identify the problem.

“Doubt is a mental habit and does not stay contained in one area of your life, it can and does spread to other areas of your life,” Manning said. “Once it takes a hold of an individual . . . action is halted. I believe doubt to be one if not the greatest of the adversary’s tools. It is the antithesis to Faith.”

When Manning was offered to play tennis at BYU, he wanted to fix the problem. He did not know how to apply faith, which led him to study psychology and study the mind.

“If a connection can be clearly made between a natural law and the Gospel I have found it always helps people be better,” Manning said. “One such law is the law of occupied space. This law states that an object can only occupy one place at a time.”

Manning said positive and negative thoughts cannot occupy the mind at the same time.

“Any law that is discovered by man or woman was originally created by the Lord and if we would like to obtain any blessing…it requires obedience to that law. “ Manning said.

Manning said he received tremendous blessing from applying the law. Every time he thought in a negative reactive way he would tell himself positive things.

“More important there was no more fear. It is a constant work on progress, a constant battle to apply the Lord’s lessons,” Manning said. “This is potentially the greatest lesson the Lord has taught me, faith begins with how you talk to yourself.”

As Manning continued his education, worked on his dissertation, coached for BYU and took care of four kids, he learned how to take principles and ideas to break them down to actionable knowledge which is called coding the mind.

‘This is done through the creation of relevant cues. A relevant cue is two to three actionable words that act as triggers, exact enough to hold an individuals attention under extreme pressure or under extreme boredom,” Manning said. “These cues enable an individual to direct their attention to very specific actions creating relevant skills rapidly.”

Manning coached an US Olympic mogul skier and trained her thoughts to be positive and used relevant cues to purify her thought patterns and continued to develop her skills rapidly.

During a world tournament, the athlete began doubting herself and Manning reminded the athlete of her power statement.

“A power statement is a tool to use when the doubt comes at critical moments,” Manning said. “A power statement floods the mind with positive strong thoughts and squeezes any negative thoughts and emotions out instantly.”

She doubted herself during the event, and reminded herself of her power statement. Manning said when the doubt crept in, the athlete screamed her power statement which led her to placing first.

“Today is my day, I’m making it happen today,” the athlete said.

The athlete was able to overcome her doubt by applying the principles of faith and was named the number two mogul skier in the world.

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