The world of popular sport psychology is full of false beliefs. I want to share with you some of the biggest problematic beliefs. Some of these make my work difficult and some of them really do hold people back from getting better!
Myth 1: A couple of tips and techniques will have a significant long term impact on your performance.
Yes, this is a big myth that people cling to. The belief that a cue word, a little bit of visualization, a solid goal or a relaxation technique will have a significant impact on your performance is false. Here's an unfortunate truth: Real change takes time.
The human brain is wired in a certain way and it will ensure that you, more often than not, will respond in the same way you have acted in the past. Unless you consistently make systematic steps toward changing your habits. And you have to keep working on it!
You will need to work hard to change, but that will make it all the more satisfying when you do experience some success. It's true, even on this website you'll see some quick tips and strategies, but even those tips require practice and work to make them effective. Bottom line, if you want to change, you have to put in a bit of work, that's why having someone to work with you along the way is so effective.
Myth 2: Sport psychology is only needed for those who are mentally weak (or have a "problem")
Another myth is that performers should only seek support if it is to help them fix a certain problem or to make them “mentally tough”
It is a true that a lot of sport psychology practice helps people deal with certain issues. But, Sport psychology training and consulting is also about performance enhancement. You can enhance your performance no matter what level you are at right now or how "mentally tough" you already perceive yourself to be. After all, your mind is in control of your body so if you can train that to help you perform at an optimal level more often, then you are setting yourself up for consistent success.
A huge majority of the top athletes in the world get sport psychology support and this has been a huge factor in sporting success. It is NOT about mental weakness, it is about finding and developing existing strengths.
Myth 3: If I feel good, I’ll perform good.
A major problem in sport is the pursuit of consistent positive feelings. That’s right. The belief that we should be FEELING happy and confident all the time leads to significant mental distress in sport.
This is because when we find ourselves in times of stress and struggle, we tell ourselves it shouldn't be like this. We tell ourselves we're not going to play well. We try and fight off the bad feelings.
Then, we end up overthinking and focusing on what's going on inside our head, rather than focusing on our performance and what is important.
We all want to feel great all the time, but emotions arise in different situations for different people and that's how the mind behaves in normal human beings. How we feel is also a result of our own unique genetics, and our lifetime experiences that have shaped and moulded us to become who we are.
The best practice you can try to implement, is to practice focusing on what your are doing, rather than what you are feeling - something which you hear me saying a lot!
If you believe that you need to feel good to perform good, then it's going to be pretty hard not to focus on those feelings. So drop that myth and just be yourself.
Myth 4: Sport is 90% mental
I love this one. You will hear sports commentators, fans and athletes talk about the “top two inches” and that it is “all mental at the top level” or people may talk about how percentages like its 80% mental and 20% physical. All these sorts of numbers are fun, but obviously have no scientific thought behind them, they don’t even make sense if you look at it realistically.
Our brain is in control our entire body! Neural networks fire in a sequence that helps our bodies move in ways that enables us do amazing things in the arena of sport. Whatever we are doing, our brain is in control.
So in effect, it is all "mental"
Take learning a new skill as an example. When you learn a new skill you are rewiring your brain in ways that will enable that skill to be remembered and become automatic (proceduralised) so that in future it can be replicated without conscious thought. A simple example of this is walking. When you were learning to walk, you wont remember, but you no doubt had to consciously think a lot about how you would move your legs and balance yourself. Also, I’d bet you fell over a fair bit! (this wasn’t you "failing" at walking btw - which is how a lot of people see learning these days, it was you learning what didn’t work and improving as a result!)
Now just because the skill becomes automatic, doesn't mean that it's not "mental" any more. When something is in "muscle memory" it doesn't mean the brain is no longer in control. In fact, in pressure situations it is exactly that muscle memory that can be hijacked and cause us to fail at even the most simple skills .
This is another blog all together, but, I am against the current trend of needing to categorise an athletes' life in different areas of focus. Strength and conditioning, nutrition and skill learning.. etc. What might be called the "pillars" or whatever. ALL at stuff has important psychological elements because it is all human behaviour! The best method of development is based around integrating all this into a holistic athlete development programme, where various experts in different fields collaborate and work together.
Those are some of my big myths you'll hear about in sport and performance psychology, but there are plenty more. What I teach, and how I practice, comes from evidence based research (i.e. in danger of sounding like an informercial: it's been shown to work in scientific studies!).
I offer training and support that has been tried and trusted by athletes around the world. Hopefully by packaging it in a way that is easy to understand and not full of too much psychobabble!
How do we be where our feet are? How do we connect with The Now?
Connecting with The Now is the first stage of building a sense of presence and choice over your actions.
Have you ever performed in a couple of different competitions? There is the one in the outside world and then there is the one inside your head. The battle with your own thoughts and feelings. It is amazing how our minds can put as much focus on the competition inside our own head as much as we actually focus on playing it in the outside world. We worry, then worry about worrying. We look toward the future and what we are going to need to do, to get the result we want. We worry about what people think of us and how our image is affected by our behaviours. Or we think about the past, in a game of golf, we might think about that putt we missed or that unfair lie we had or other sorts of "if only" thoughts. We dwell on our mistakes.
Now the first thing to remember is that it's somewhat natural to have these thoughts. It's not your fault!
The truth is that we cannot control the past and we cannot control the future.
I know, I know, you've heard that before... But seriously, what we can do, is focus on the control of what we are doing in this moment. This can be a useful thing to remind yourself in any situation. Really!
The competition in our mind is the one where we have our harshest and most fearsome competitor. The competitor that knows our own weaknesses better than anyone else! So what happens when we get caught up in our mind and our own thinking, is that we naturally try and win. This is where we try and forcibly relax ourselves, we try and fight off our negative feelings and control everything that we are thinking and feeling, because we truly believe that will make us play better.
But there's a problem with that. If we are spending all our emotional and mental energy on trying to win this battle in our mind, then we are not really connected to the present moment. We are not really paying attention to what is happening now.
And what is happening right now is what's important. Surely!
Even if what you are doing is just preparing to perform, maybe warming up or just getting changed. That is a great opportunity to engage with the external environment and embrace the things around you. Get present.
You can do this my actually taking time to notice things outside of your own head. You might do this by taking a moment to notice the weather, the feel of the sun or the wind on your face, the stadium seating, the water...whatever! This moment is a moment in your life, like every other.
Or maybe notice something about the environment you haven't looked at before. Have what has been called: the "beginners mind" Treat your environment like you've never seen it before and be curious about it. This will give you a chance to get out of your head and into the world around you, an ideal scenario, because this is where we perform! This will prime your brain for the best sort of focus: external focus.
Anchor yourself to the present moment.
The act of doing this IS mental training and the more you do it, the better you will get. So go ahead and lift the weights, so to speak, and it'll become a habit.