Your mind is not your friend. It’s job is to tell you what COULD go wrong, not what WILL go wrong. It cares more about protecting you than how well you will do in your performance.
You might be thinking, “This doesn’t make sense, though. All this anxiety is hurting me, not helping me! What kind of protection from harm is that?!?”
But it does make sense when you realize this is a basic, primary drive to avoid pain and approach pleasure. Your protective mind is not as concerned about your quality of life as you are. As you know, achieving excellence involves pain and sacrifice. So if we are built to avoid that, how do we get through it to play well?
Step one is to be aware of the urge to worry or freeze and NOT act on it. We actually are pretty good at NOT acting on every thought and feeling that arises. I don’t know about you, but I start every morning out this way when my alarm clock goes off! I want to stay in bed, but I act independent of that feeling and get up anyway. We do this when we don’t yell at people who make us mad, or push hard at practice when we are tired and want to slow down. We can practice this awareness and non-responding.
Step two is to take positive action independent of the unpleasant thoughts and feelings. By positive I mean productive. What does the performance content demand for success. Do that no matter what your confidence level is or if doubt is present. Remember, your actions do not depend on the right or positive thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness training is very helpful here. Mindfulness is a specific way of paying attention: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement or evaluating. (For more on mindfulness in performance, consider “The Psychology of Performance: How to Be Your Best in Life” by The Great Courses at www.thegreatcourses.com/dreddieoconnor).
It becomes easier to get distance from the unpleasant feelings when you understand their value. Sadness slows us down and reminds us of what we have lost, how much we valued it, and seeks to find it again. Anger can be incredibly energizing. Fear is a signal of potential danger so we can avoid it.
So these negative and unpleasant thoughts and feelings can’t be trusted at face value, because our life isn’t simply about avoiding pain. If you get this you are at a real advantage because your sport or performance area doesn’t care about what you think or feel! Only your actions count!
No baseball player has ever imagined a run that ends up on the scoreboard. No amount of positive feelings ensure a win. You can hit a home run with confidence, fear, doubt, happiness, joy, anger or any other emotion as long as you hit the ball correctly. Whoever scores the most points always wins, not who feels the best.
Your actions are independent of what you think and feel, and this is good news! Focus your attention and effort on your actions. This is what matters most. And now you have learned to have a healthy skepticism of the automatic thoughts and feelings that show up. So hold them lightly, and control your actions and reactions.
Now tune into Part 3 for a summary of what you’ve learned and a case to illustrate these skills in action.
And for more support in overcoming the obstacles to excellence, go to www.DrEddieOConnor.com for information about individual mental performance coaching, his Success Stories Membership for a community of high achievers, and links to his course, “The Psychology of Performance: How to Be Your Best in Life.”