When working with Athletes and Coaches the common misconception is that Sport psychology, and my role as a mental skills trainer, is all about getting people to start thinking positively. I actually get people say to me: "oh are you going to talk to them about positive thinking and stuff?
There is a belief that if we just think positive all the time, we're gonna always be happy and perform well. One problem! Life’s not always positive. Bad shit happens. What's more, our minds are programmed to constantly scan and look for threats and negativities. It's a reality. So, during those tough times, our brain is not going to believe that things are going so awesome when you say it is.
Actually, you could look at it in a different way and say that if someone isn’t experiencing a few negative emotions and thoughts, then they’re probably not doing something challenging enough! Because there haven’t been many people that have achieved something great without a few self-doubts and a bit of negative thinking along the way.
Further to this, there has been some popular advice out there that suggests you should imagine your goals happening to you. Just belief it will happen and happy day... it will! They say you should visualize yourself as a winner and having achieved everything you want. In actuality, this has been shown to potentially have a negative effect on the chance you’ll succeed at what you want to. It’ll just be a fun dream.
So here’s the tip for young aspiring young athletes. When setting yourself a goal, take a different approach. Set yourself a positive, realistic and challenging goal, but then write down all the things that are going to be extremely difficult about achieving your goal and then imagine yourself experiencing and getting through those moments. Make a plan for how you’re going to deal with all the obstacles and mental blocks along the way.
For an example, it could be getting up early for the gym in the middle of winter that might curb your fitness goals or avoiding alcohol when you’re out on the weekend or going through the process of having to learn a new skill and being prepared to fail at it and having to deal with that. Imagine yourself experiencing these difficulties and still moving forward!
Don’t kid yourself that it’s going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Think about the bad times, what it might feel like and how you’re going to get through them. You actually do want to imagine yourself achieving your goals as well, but we don’t want to trick our minds into thinking that it’ll come easy. That is the biggest worry. No great achievements are easy. Remember that and embrace the hard times by imagining yourself pushing through them!
So go ahead and dream big, but if you do, remember to contrast your dreams with some thinking about all the shit that you’ll have to deal with along the way.