State of Mind
Most often when we think about or get asked this question, we are probably referring to the ways in which various situations (mostly the challenging ones) cause us to react. For example:
"When the referee makes a bad call, I get angry and it causes me to get stuck thinking about that instead of moving on to the next play."
"When my boss gives me critical feedback, I get defensive because it makes me doubt myself and feel like I'm not good enough."
"When we get the call to respond to a car accident, my heart starts racing and it narrows my focus."
"When I hit a certain age, I started thinking about if I was going to lose my role as a principal ballet dancer which made me feel stressed and less motivated."
"When my performance doesn't go as planned, I start to get worried about whether I'm going to achieve my goals and try to force the outcome I want."
This is a very useful exercise to go through in order to think about the impact different situations (good and bad) have on us and our performance. By doing this, we can understand what our keys to success are as well as be able to respond instead of react when we are faced with pressure or difficult situations.
I was talking to a few clients and a team yesterday though about a different way of thinking about this question. What strategies or actions do you need to use in order to trigger a particular response/performance?
For example, what can you think or do to...
Be confident (remember why you should believe in yourself)?
Get your focus in the right place?
Refocus when your mind has gotten off track?
Get you into the right mindset (mentality)?
Shift or reframe your perspective?
Ignite your motivation?
Bring your intensity up or down?
Calm your mind or body?
Elicit the emotion(s) that help you to perform optimally?
Be ready to train or perform?
Remember to move on after a mistake or bad result in order to build resilience?
Overcome the challenge or obstacle that is getting in your way?
For both ways of looking at this question, this is where sport, exercise, and performance psychology can play a big role: 1) helping you to better understand yourself (your team/organization) and what you need to be ready and perform at your best, 2) giving you insight into the ways our minds affect our performance, and 3) identifying and implementing strategies that will help you to perform more consistently to your potential.
In today's information age, you can easily look up a lot of this stuff for yourself. But if you really want to make it effective and optimize your performance...seek help from a mental performance coach!
Note: make sure you seek help from an appropriate professional, someone who is a CMPC - Certified Mental Performance Coach - with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology or at the very least has formal education/training in the specific area of sport (exercise, performance) psychology.
Since the dawn of man/woman, we have been hard-wired with a self-protection mechanism that operates both on a physical and psychological level. Back then survival was the name of the game, and despite the world changing drastically over time, this feature of human nature has not evolved. Most of the time it is for good reason...it's what tells you to lift your hand off of that hot surface or to be extra tuned into potential danger when walking down a dark alley alone at night.
Unfortunately, it is also what sometimes gets in your way when you are performing or preparing to perform. It can make you hold back, avoid challenges, give up easily, respond negatively to critical feedback, avoid change, adopt a negative mindset, and a whole host of other responses that only serve to get in the way of you being able to perform to your potential. Our mind does this because it thinks it's helping us by keeping us safe...from failure, discomfort, negative emotions, conflict, etc. (for a good, quick read on a related topic check out this Brain Pickings article)
Though there are many times when our minds are serving us well, there are also times when they simply just get in our way. That is why consistent mental training is so important. It's also why making sure you're not protecting yourself too much during training/preparation is so essential. Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Confront your weaknesses. Train and prepare for the adversity/obstacles you might experience when you perform. Be vulnerable. Seek the help of a mental performance coach.
"You are only confined by the walls you build yourself." - Andrew Murphy