The Upside of Being Clueless By Drew Brannon, PhD, the Lowdergroup
Having decided on my college plans to play basketball, I decided to run track during my final semester of high school. Why not? I had friends on the team and had known the coach for a few years. During the first few meets I ran the 400m and 800m and enjoyed it. Several weeks into the season, we traveled to a large meet and I was selected as the first leg for the 4x1600 relay team. At the time, I did not know that mile relays existed.
Race time drew near, and I lined up with a host of guys who looked like they knew exactly what they were doing. I, on the other hand, would have been best labeled as "clueless." Nevertheless, the gun went off and I took off. I went out hard and felt great the whole time. Iíd never run a mile in a meet before and proceeded to run this opening leg in 4:31.
I never ran a faster mile the rest of the year, and Iím certain my mindset had a lot to do with it. After posting a fast time in my first attempt, I started placing expectations on my performances. With these expectations came pre-race nerves and pressured thoughts. This tendency is common for athletes.
Success is never good enough. Success at one level seems to demand success at the next levelÖ or else. Instead of building confidence and enjoyment, we build pressure and stress. We initially get involved in something because itís fun, and soon enough, weíre taking it way too seriously. Itís impossible to stay clueless toward our pursuits forever, so what can we do? Here are two tips to consider when trying to avoid the negative effects of expectations.
Howís it working for me?
Itís important to assess the thoughts we have about our training, performances, etc. An excellent question to use in this assessment is, ďHowís it working for me?Ē For example, if Iím approaching my next event with the thought, ďIíve worked way too hard not to break three hours,Ē Iíve already set a pressure filled expectation. When race day comes, you can be sure that youíll be playing this thought back in your head. This negative thinking pattern is likely to cause sleepless nights before the race, and then accentuate the pain during the race. Clearly, the answer to our initial question of how itís working for me is, "Not too well!"
Training mindset vs. performance mindset
The mental skills critical to improving in training are vastly different from those required to perform well. Applying pressure in training can often be a helpful practice, but self-inflicting pressure in competition usually impedes performance. For example, deciding that you will run an extra mile repeat if you donít finish the current one in a certain time is an excellent way to push yourself in training.
Conversely, convincing yourself that you HAVE TO run tune up races in certain times in order to hit your goal race time is likely to prompt negative thoughts in your mind if things donít go exactly according to plan. Such pressured thinking is likely to trigger stress/anxiety, which usually prompts labored breathing and tight muscles. Needless to say, itís difficult to perform at an optimal level under these conditions.
When itís time to perform, you canít be overly technical or perfectionistic. Instead, you need to free yourself up by focusing on the correct things, which will help you relax and have a more positive impact on your performance.