Top names in business and sports have one thing in common: they know winning lives in the mind, and they know how to get mentally prepared. To perform at our best we have to learn how to get motivated and focused, so we can concentrate on the challenge despite distractions and pressure.

Watch a pitcher warming up, his game face on. You may think he's just naturally tough. But mental toughness doesn't come automatically. Working with the St. Louis Cardinals, I coached players to develop mental toughness with specific exercises, and had them practice the same way they practiced playing ball. With Spring training now approaching, I compared notes with Rick Peterson, the pitching coach of the NY Mets, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Oakland A's during their Moneyball reign. He shared his methods for getting his players mentally sharp for baseball season. Rick wrote a compelling book with performance coach Judd Hoekstra called Crunch Time: How to Be Your Best When It Matters Most. It's about overcoming high-pressure situations to do your best, and its strategies apply to the boardroom as well as the baseball diamond.

Rick used spring training as a way to get players mentally as well as physically ready for the season. With stakes as high as they are in the Major League, he worked with pitchers who were wound up tight -- intensely ambitious, but terrified of failing. "Baseball games are often decided by razor-thin margins; often just a couple pitches per game are the difference between winning and losing," Rick said. "So while the fans may think it's just about getting in shape, there's far more to winning -- and a lot of that is mental."

We can all use more work on becoming mentally focused. If we devote just a small amount a time to daily practice, we'll soon feel the difference in our own toughness. As Rick's players headed into another season of baseball, he made sure they were focused on the mental game. Here are four tips for training our minds to focus and perform:

Put Mental Preparation First

No matter what your game is -- business or sports -- the moment you head into training, make mental preparation your priority. If you're training for a sport or a diving into a new work challenge, you need to have the mental toughness to be confident and stay motivated though those inevitable bad days that come along with the good days. Remind yourself that your mind is your master, and your body will never outperform your mind. Then focus on executing every step as perfectly and precisely as you can.

Make a Rally Cry

Motivation takes more than telling yourself to be motivated. Something has to inspire you and lift you up to face the challenge. Rick said that when he brought his team together for the first time each spring, he'd have them come up with a rally cry that reflected their big, lofty goal. One year, it was "Hunt for October!" meaning they were aiming for the playoffs and the World Series. We all have that lofty goal we're aiming for. Make your own version of a rally cry to generate your own energy and optimism.

Narrow Your Focus

Rallying cry made, now move from the motivation to the process -- the what and why to the how. Big, lofty goals are great signposts but allow for too much distraction, and our brains really can't focus on more than three things at a time, if that -- that's the concept of "channel capacity." Rick's pitchers needed to stop mentally multitasking. They had to stop thinking about all the factors outside of their control, and start concentrating on what they did have control over. They couldn't control how the other team played, but they could focus on pitching right into the catcher's glove -- and they did. With one simple goal, they pitched better, and ultimately won more games, delivering on that rally cry. It's a useful tactic for all of us.

Make Small Improvements

To keep ourselves from getting overloaded and not accomplishing anything well, we have to take smaller steps towards the end goal. Making small and achievable improvements in execution will lead to bigger results, and faster. Rick would target specific elements in each pitcher's game. He used metrics to locate the ideal strike zone just as we might use analytics in business to find that optimal ratio, for instance, of leads to actual sales. When you multiply each incremental improvement, it adds up: two winning pitches over a 162-game season, or two more sales over a quarter, make an enormous difference. And that's what puts you closer to your lofty goal.

Gaining the confidence and the focus to perform at our best isn't a matter of just going for it: it takes real work, dedication, and practice. No matter how brilliant or talented we are, that's the key distinguishing factor of overachievers: they never stop working on improving their mental game. They just work on it in a step-by-step, steady way that guarantees success.