Anything worth striving for will contain some degree of resistance. That resistance comes in many forms, but perhaps it manifests itself through stress. Stress is everywhere, all the time. Rather than neglect it, it's worth examining one's relationship with stress. In sports, stress is a part of preparation. For example, think of a strenuous workout that pushed you to the brink. If you were prepared for it, then that stress helped. Not only did it strengthen the body, but fortified the mind.
The appropriate amount of stress equips the mind for difficult moments in the future. Stress Inoculation is a strategy used by the U.S. military to equip soldiers for combat. Through training, soldiers are gradually exposed to a plethora of variables that emulate combat-like scenarios. As time progresses, so too does the intensity of these exercises, thus providing soldiers opportunities to make important decisions that imitate the high pressure situations associated with combat.
However, if too much stress is experienced too soon or too often, then the consequences are not positive. They range from physical injury to a decline in training or performance to psychological burnout. Still though, stress is necessary. If you haven’t appropriately exposed yourself to stress in training, then it is likely that you won’t be ready when it comes time to perform. If you’re not ready to perform, don’t expect your “A game” to pull you through. That’s not a reliable option. Ever. According to legendary sport psychologist, Ken Ravizza:
“Are you that bad of an athlete that you have to feel great to perform well?”
Rather than rely on the unlikely chance that your “A game” will show up, use training or practice as a way to prepare your mind. If your mind is not equipped to handle the stressors during training, then it becomes more probable that these stressors will derail your performance. Performance-related stressors come in many different forms. Some include:
- Not feeling 100% (pretty much everybody, all the time…)
- Inclement Weather
- Concern regarding external variables or what lies beyond your control
- The challenge itself
These physical stressors tend to influence thoughts, attitudes, or emotions. Most, if not all, of these are within your control:
- Feeling Unprepared
- Lack of Confidence
- Fear of Failure
- Lost b/c everything seems to be moving too fast
- Wayward Focus
- Feeling Inadequate
- Misaligned thoughts
- Constructing a False Narrative
- A Distracted Mind
- Lack of Belief
If these are not addressed, they have the potential to exacerbate how you experience a performance and then the performance itself. If this mind-body connection implies coexistence (it does), then the internal activities that accompany a physical performance deserve your attention. If not addressed, these mental minions chattering away can quickly morph into mental mutants that will sabotage your decision-making ability, thoughts, and actions. That leaves you bargaining, hoping, or wishing for either a miracle or for the performance to end as soon as possible. Such adversity (that never should have started in the first place) leaves you in a reactionary and defensive position. It inhibits your performance because you are directly in your own way. The only one who can get you out of your own way is you. Fortunately, there are strategies you can implement in training to prevent an unraveling from taking control.
PBS is a strategy that can put you back on the offensive and in a more proactive position. PBS stands for PAUSE; BREATHE; SELECT. PBS is like going from a red light to yellow light to a green light. It can help slow things down, providing you ample time to refocus and move forward.
In preparation for you next goal, practice using PBS. What you SELECT to focus on can be a mantra, quote, song lyric, image, or verse. It is important that it is meaningful to you and you alone. Then, take ownership of it. If you don’t believe during the difficult moments in training, then you certainly won’t believe it during a performance. A couple examples are:
Eat the Wolves
Ride it out
Let it go
Remember, You chose to do this
One Step at a Time
The ad below (circa 1998) is one of my all time favorite Nike commercials. It's a nice reminder that conveys how sport can be a tremendous platform for anybody because it grants innumerable opportunities to test one's physical limits in conjunction with the internal dialogue. Status, speed, time, money, agility, height, weight, vertical leap... I could care this. To this day, every single time I watch this I get energized when I see the elderly gent catapult himself up the stairs. He literally is propelling himself forward with unbreakable belief. Every single step. It still gives me goosebumps.
You can use PBS as a tool to mentally reset. Much like training the physical piece, this requires t practice, practice, and more practice. Don’t just save PBS for the strenuous workouts. The more you practice, the more efficient you’ll become at flipping the switch and reigning your focus back in. Through this intentional repetition, you become able to quiet your mind. Then, when that static dissipates, it’s replaced by a crystal clear focus. Coupled with that is a clarity that gives you the opportunity for both body and mind to work harmoniously. What more can you ask for? This is part of the tool kit that will help you paint your masterpiece. PBS isn't the end-all, but it is one step closer in freeing yourself from distraction so that all you need to do is execute the task at hand.