Tag: Premier Sport Psychology

The idea of talents or special gift is a myth, writes Tony Schwartz in a recent blog post at the Harvard Business Review. Have you stopped yourself from trying new activities or working hard at difficult pursuits by telling yourself you lack talent for the specific endeavor? It’s time to reroute this way of thinking.

Schwartz shares the comment of Will Durant, who was channeling Aristotle’s thoughts, “We are what we repeatedly do.” That’s right. We aren’t born tennis players, star quarterbacks or successful CEOs. And we don’t need an innate ability to master a task. Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, has found in his work with executives “that it is possible to build any given skill or capacity in the same systematic way we do a muscle: push past your comfort zone, and then rest.”

We’ve talked before about the idea of 10,000 hours: many researchers believe 10,000 hours of practice is the bare necessity to garner expertise in any complicated domain. This means mastering any activity, from racquetball to writing, involves “frustration, struggle, setbacks and failures,” writes Schwartz. The reward is simple: success at something you care about via hard work is satisfying.

Schwartz gives us six keys to achieving excellence. Here’s an abbreviated (and paraphrased) version of his tips:

1. Pursue what you love: passion motivates us.

2. Do the hardest work first: practice in the morning before other endeavors because we all have good energy in the a.m.

3. Practice intensely: practice for no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break.

4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses: look for simple, precise advice, and don’t seek too much feedback, which can create anxiety.

5. Take regular renewal breaks: Relaxing rejuvenates us and helps embed learning.

6. Ritualize practice: Create specific, absolute times for practice. It’s not about will and discipline, but about creating habits so you practice automatically.

So remember, excellence is always possible when we care about something enough and are able to, as well as choose to, dedicate the resources to working at it in a focused and consistent process.

There is a human phenomenon which social psychology uncovered that states “people prefer to be right than to be happy.”

What does this have to do with sport psychology? The answer is everything. A majority of people and athletes hold strong beliefs about themselves and their capabilities. And for most, they may experience some degree of self-doubt at times. If an athlete allows this doubt to become habitual, convincing, and perhaps even “grooved” in their brain (repeated thoughts of doubt over and over again so that the brain is trained to think that way), then he or she will start to believe that they are incapable and not good enough to be successful. Once an athlete believes the doubt to be truth, they will begin to look for evidence to support and confirm this belief, even though holding the belief makes them feel unhappy.

That’s “right”. When the athlete begins to believe that they may not be good enough, they will tend to filter out any information that counters the belief and hone in on information that supports it. In other words, many unconfident athletes will tend to focus on the negative aspects of their game because those aspects support their self-doubting beliefs….ultimately forming a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the cycle of only filtering in the “right” negative information begins, performance declines, and the belief that they are not good enough is confirmed. And on and on they go spiraling downward.

To break this cycle athletes need to first become self-aware. They need to understand the beliefs they hold about their performance abilities and where their thoughts reside. Second, athletes need to begin looking for evidence that supports a positive belief about their performance and aim to dismiss some of the negative. The athlete needs to find a more positive belief that is also “right.” Perhaps the latter athlete can be both “right” and happy?