How to Manage Negative Thinking
Scientists estimate that the average human being has approximately 50,000 thoughts per day.
A large majority of the time athletes engage in negative thinking such as:
- Dwelling about past mistakes
- Battling guilt over missed opportunities
- Worrying about future outcomes
These types of unproductive thinking do not provide you with the positive, instructional feedback necessary to perform optimally in the present.
Negative thinking distracts us from what we need to “now” to play our very best.
For example, have you ever made an error in the field during a critical moment in a game? You can’t seem to stop ruminating about how you messed up. You become fearful that you may have cost your team the game. You think the coach may soon bench you and you may not get many opportunities to play in future games.
During your next at-bat, you step in the batter’s box and you feel anxious. Your heart is pounding, your palms are sweaty and you can feel the tension in your shoulders. You say to yourself, “I always mess up in these situations,” and are so nervous that you may strike out.
Subsequently, your timing is off and you fulfill the thing you feared… you struck out!
Does this sound familiar?
Have you ever allowed one mistake to take you “out of the game?”
Your ability didn’t change.
You didn’t get worse at the game of baseball instantaneously.
You just became overcome by negative thoughts. Give yourself a break. It happens to the very best athletes and teams at times.
A recent example of how distractions can be disruptive to performance is the 2011 Boston Red Sox.
Boston was a pre-season favorite to make the play-offs.
The Red Sox squandered a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay for the AL Wild Card spot finishing with a 7-20 record in September.
Soon after the season, allegations broke about several Red Sox players playing video games, eating fried chicken, and drinking beer in the clubhouse and dugout during games. The team’s inability to focus on the right things (the present moment) had disastrous results. Both Terry Francona (manager) and Theo Epstein (general manager) parted ways with the organization.
Francona was hired to manage the 2013 Cleveland Indians who secured a wild card birth and won 92 games, 24 more than the previous year.
Francona has preached to his team that the best way to manage distractions is to focus on your game, “The game is the game, and I think the best way to do things is pretty much the routine that you’ve done all year. So we’ll kind of stick to the routine.”
Consequently, a small portion of our thoughts are actually focused on what we need to do in the present moment to be successful.
If you can manage to stay focused on the things you need to do now, you will exponentially increase the chances of being successful.
How to manage unproductive thinking:
- Be aware of what situations cause you to focus on your negative thoughts.
- Understand what things you need to perform well to be successful.
- Notice when your thoughts drift to the negative side.
- Pause briefly and take a deep breath to relax.
- Re-focus on what you need to do “now.”
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