Every athlete deals with negative thoughts or self talk as it’s sometimes called. Even the best competitors on the planet have had their moments of fear, worry, and anxiety. You can take some comfort in the fact that you are in the same boat as your sports idols when it comes to doubting yourself and your abilities.
Knowing that, don’t you feel better that your negativity is normal? But is it useful for you in sports? Obviously not so we need a plan and a mental game to conquer that and move ourselves into confidence or at least neutral consistency.
I’ll bet most athletes have heard of some version of this advice: “You just need to think positive thoughts.” That’s a lot easier said than done. Here’s my 3 top ways to prevent and/or replace all those negative thoughts that drag down your ability to compete playing to your potential.
1. Before you ever step onto the court, rink or field, direct your attention to what your 5 senses are taking in.
For example, most of us have our eyes open and not consciously thinking about what we see. We are thinking about the upcoming game, strategy, the opponent, the coach, etc. Well, when the brain is in default thinking mode like that (when you just allow it to run wild), it opens the door to negative thoughts.
Instead, what you want to do is consciously look around you and focus on all the things you are seeing in the moment. Pay attention to details, colors, shapes, shadows, patterns, textures, movement, etc. You could replace all your negative thoughts with just this one tactic alone as there is always so much to see and think about what you see.
If you need more useful thoughts to replace that negativity or not let it in in the first place, then add in what you hear…every little sound you can pick up. Think about what those sounds are and what they mean to you. Fill your mind with thoughts of what you hear and everything you can think of about those sounds.
Still need more, go to your sense of touch and feel. What does the ground you are on feel like? What is the temperature? How are your legs today? Stomach? Get the picture now? You can even add in your sense of smell and taste, even if there isn’t much going on there.
2. Think about all the things you love about playing your sport.
In my sessions, I ask my clients, why do you play your sport? Usually they say something general and unspecific like: “because it’s fun.” And I come back with: “What is fun about it?” In an effort to create a large list of the hundreds of small things that go on with you and playing your sport.
Get as specific and detailed as possible. For instance, don’t just think: “I like playing on a team.” Think about all the little exciting, humorous, fun interactions you have with your teammates at different times. Observe them and look for what’s cool about being on a team: The high fives, the picking each other up, the sharing of emotions, the brotherhood or sisterhood, and more.
Focus on all the things you love about the sport and why you play the sport. You do this and it will not only remove negativity but you will shift yourself into a very powerful peak performance state.
3. Fill your mind with thoughts that are totally irrelevant to your sport but make you feel good.
Sometimes, it can be very useful to be completely detached from competition in some sports. For example…golfers have a lot of time in between shots that they don’t need to focus and don’t need to plan anything. Some of the best pro golfers like to make jokes with the fans and tease the other players while walking down to their next shot.
Baseball and softball players have to spend a lot of time in the dugout during every game and are known to purposely talk about things that have nothing to do with the game for long periods of time.
If it’s appropriate for your sport and the timing, (like maybe during a time out or between periods) instead of worrying about whether or not you are going to choke at your next playing opportunity, could you instead let your mind wander to your last wonderful vacation? You risk your coach telling you to “get your head in the game.” But that is certainly preferable to the destruction of negative thinking.
For all 3 thought replacement tactics above, the key to actually making them work is to come prepared to competition knowing when you are going to use it. In fact, you already know the times in your sport when that negative thinking creeps in, right? Could you visualize those moments, in advance, and imagine yourself taking hold of your thoughts and directing them using one of the strategies above?
Mental skills are just like physical skills. You have to practice them in advance of competition.
Let’s do this,