How Tom Brady Achieves a Winning Mindset
This past Sunday, the New England Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl — the ninth Super Bowl they have attended since Tom Brady joined the team.
At 41 years old, Brady remains the oldest active quarterback in the NFL and boasts more MVP awards, wins, and total games played than any other player. He attributes his success not just to innate talent but to his exceptional training paired with what he calls a winning mindset.
What is this mindset, and how do you get it?
Mental Toughness is Something You Learn
Brady looks back on his early career and draft days as a formative time for his mindset. It was during this period that he says he learned mental toughness — the ability to never give up.
“I never accepted the place I was at,” he says. “At certain points, I could have chosen not to keep trying to reach my goals, but I never backed down, and I had a lot of people who supported and encouraged me, you know, when I faced my own personal doubts.”
In fact, Brady claims it’s these tough times that taught him what it means to fight.
“I found that challenges bring out the best in me,” he says. “I think back on them as gifts. And I fought hard to get where I am today, which means I know what it means to fight hard.”
For Brady, mental toughness is about two things: staying positive and staying centered.
Focus on the Positive: What You Can Control
Brady makes an effort to stay positive. That’s easy when you win the Super Bowl, but what about the rest of the year? A winning mindset, for Brady, means focusing on what’s in your control.
“Regardless of the outcome,” he says, “I always ask myself whether we did the best we were capable of, and what we could do differently and better next time. To me, that’s a big part of creating the right mindset.”
Brady echoes wisdom here that’s been around for millennia. All the way back to the Stoics of Ancient Rome, philosophers believed it was important to differentiate between two types of events: those you can control, and those you can’t. Brady agrees.
“Things happen sometimes that I don’t welcome or want,” explains Brady, “but I make the choice to remain positive. That is something within my control. I don’t like to focus on negatives or to make excuses. I am never a victim. And whenever my team loses a game, it’s an opportunity to learn something. A game is always an experiment.”
When in Doubt, Bring Yourself Back to Center
Framing events in a positive light helps Brady to keep his head up, but positivity alone doesn’t cut it. Winning takes more than a smile and a can-do attitude, according to Brady; it takes focus. To get in the zone, Brady uses simple centering exercises that anyone can do.
“For me,” he explains, “reading magazines, listening to music, driving in my car, lying down in my bed, or working in my garden are the things that help me recenter.”
But winding down isn’t the only way for Brady to get centered. Emotional regulation takes on the opposite color before a game, where Brady’s goal is to rev himself up. The tactic here is totally different.
“To get into the game mindset, I might let out a scream,” he says. “Other times, if I don’t scream, it’s maybe because I’m too pumped up, and I want to balance that energy out.”
No matter what Brady does, staying centered is about knowing how he feels and then knowing what mindset he needs to reach. Then, it’s a simple matter of getting from point A to point B.
Reframe Reality: Treat Practice Like a Game
Possibly the most important aspect of Brady’s mental game is his practice of reframing ordinary activities (like practice) in such a way that there’s no “easy mode.” Practice, for Brady, needs to be taken as seriously as a game. In fact, this is the approach he took at the beginning of his career to stand out and get ahead.
“Every day during practice I was competing as hard as I could,” he says, “because I knew that if I didn’t, there was no guarantee I would see any game time. And I thought, If I don’t treat practice like a game, then there’s no way the coaches will let me play in an actual game.”
By raising the stakes, Brady doesn’t change reality — but he changes his perception of reality. This allows him to access a fiercer motivation and hold himself and his team to a higher standard.
“It’s a rule I still live by today.”
Positive, Centered, and Always On — Three Components of a Winning Mindset
Achieving a winning mindset is not rocket science. Just do what Brady does:
- Focus on the parts of your life that you can control.
- Reframe setbacks as opportunities for improvement.
- Take 5 to 10 minutes every day to do something that gets you back to center.
- Raise the stakes in something small — become extraordinary by doing ordinary things at a high standard of excellence.
When it comes down to it, you only have one life to live. That’s why getting your mindset right is so important. You’ll spend less time dwelling on dead end thoughts and more time focused on what matters: winning your game.