The Sport Psychology Blog
That presentation you have to do tomorrow.
The confrontational meeting you have coming up with your boss.
The 3 foot putt for Birdie.
The serve for the match.
The last minute kick for the lead.
What do all these things have in common?
People tend to massively overthink them.
Over thinking sucks. Its gruelling and emotionally exhausting to fearfully overanalyse and think through all possibilities. It’s called paralysis by analysis for reason. And can almost literally have that effect in sports!
I often have anxious sports people come to me and discuss how much they need to stop over thinking everything. It can really take us out of the flow and mess with our performance in many domains. So, if you are a chronic overthinker what you need to deeply understand and remember is this:
The thing that got you into this mess is not going to be the thing that gets you out of it!
True of many things in life, doing the same things over and over and expecting different results is not going to work. You can’t positive think your way out of these things. Positive self-talk is just MORE thinking and it can add to the problem. It can be like chucking fuel on the over thinking fire and teaching you that you can THINK your way out of overTHINKING (good luck). It’s rubbish. Focus your attention on the doing. What can you do, despite the noise. What can you focus on right now.
I like to describe it with the story below
Imagine you are driving a car on a long journey, alone, in a foreign country, you’re on a tight schedule. You jump into the driver’s seat and get underway, but 5 minutes in, some horrible, horrible music starts blaring out of the radio. What you going to do?
You decide to look down at the radio and change the station. You’d love some nice music to listen to in order to make the drive more pleasant. So you decide to go ahead and try and find some. But the next station you find is equally as bad! Help! Now your focus is drifting more and more from the driving and is almost completely focused on changing the damn radio station. Grrrr. You look up, and just at the right time! You see you’re on the wrong side of the road! Eeeek! You swerve back into the correct lane. A near miss! YOUR DRIVING OF THE CAR IS SUFFERING. But still, this horrendous bloody music is going on and on. The worst, most annoying sounds in the world. Argh! What are you going to do???
I’ll tell you what most of us over thinkers do… That’s continue to try to find a station that we’re happy with, all the while slowly but surely taking our focus off the task at hand. Or, Yes, we just pull over ( = hesitate, procrastinate, avoid).
The simplicity of what is really required is often lost.
Drive the car.
Kick the ball.
Hit the ball.
Swing the club.
Run the race.
Our performance suffers because we try and tune our mind into a state that is happy and pleasant. But, what if we got better at actually treating our own thoughts like we could a car radio. This means you can acknowledge that what you’re hearing/thinking to yourself right now is unpleasant or unhelpful. Yes. Accept that. It sucks but it's there. This car journey may be harder than normal, but will even more satisfying when you arrive. But in doing that, choose not to focus on "my mind FM", just let it be there and continue to focus on the road ahead. So you can ultimately get to your destination safely (= perform at your best). Yes, that means you might be driving with some shitty music. But driving is the task, the goal, the whole point of you being in the car! It’s not having everything feel good for you. Focus on what you’re doing and why you're there doing it.
Overthinkers need to imagine the mind is like this radio in the background. Rather than the driver of the car.
You can listen to it if you want and really try and change the noise (and potentially go deeper into the problem) or you can focus on what you are doing, and (maybe Nike had it right) “just do it.”
Let go of the need to tune the radio and get better at driving through the shitty music.
Sounds easy but this is a skill that can be worked on every day!