Life revolves around this, and for many, it is an area of constant concern. And yes, this is full-on innuendo, as I am talking about the space between your ears.
There is nothing more important than the “relationship” you have with your mind. If that running sound track in your head is constantly telling you that you’re not good enough, don’t deserve something, will never get it right, etc., you are swimming up river every hour of every day of your life. You need to get your mind under control, and teach it to be nicer to you. Yes, this can be done, and if live under the regime of a dictator, you need to make some changes to give yourself a chance at a happy life.
If you are involved in any kind of competitive activity, whether it be sports, music, acting, or anything else, I think this amplifies this sort of issue. There are some key things that lend itself to success, one is having a coach or a mentor to show you the path to be on to improve skills and reduce errors, reducing your own learning curve of improvement. This is critical to help ensure good technique, safe and effective practice habits, and other facets of this particular activity. The last thing you want is to build a foundation for the future on shaky ground now, so getting experienced help to assist you is important for a variety of reasons. This is a very crucial to getting yourself on the right track, but there is something more that I would rate as even more critical…that voice in your head.
What you say to yourself in your own head is a major determining factor in your future. We are a product of our environment and in many cases the people around you, who set the tone for your life, do not always operate with this in mind. As children, we don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand this, and we assume that the adults in our lives know what they are doing. This is a bad combination, and why you see patterns of behavior that run deep in families, regardless of how counterproductive they are. You see things like alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poor self image and personal drive, and a lot more examples that we are likely familiar with. From the outside looking in, it makes you wonder why someone would follow in the footsteps of a family member when it seems so obvious that the outcomes are not going to be good. Herein lies the problem…. an environment is a strong influence and a third party perspective is something that has to be sought out.
As a coach, I would meet parents of the kids I was working with and I could see which of the parents that has had the strongest influence on them. Sometimes it was a bad temper or lack of patience, sometimes it was a parent who had achieved success by relentless pursuit, and now they expect the same from the kid(s). Sometimes I would find a family dynamic that I would consider the model that others should follow, but of course this is a cursory view at best. I don’t know what happens in that household all the time, but as an outsider getting a quick glance, I could see the patterns. Parents that encourage effort versus outcomes are a great example of a better operating system than those who only give hugs if you win. As a coach of college age kids, I am meeting them at a time where they are breaking away from the confines of the family dynamic and they are starting to discover their “own voice”. This is the case for most of us, as we enter high school we start to flex our own ideas and desires to be autonomous. It is a natural progression in life, and a necessary one at that. But family patterns run deep, and it can be very difficult to develop your own view of the world when the current view handed to you by your environment is carved deeply into your brain.
So if you are looking to have success in life in general, let alone a competitive environment, you need to be aware of all of this and start to reset the system. If you hear a voice in your head telling you to “be careful, you’ll get hurt” or “don’t choke”, stop and think about this next sentence for a second:
Is it your voice that you hear?
Boom…I may have just solved your problem. Replace that voice with yours, and you are off and running, unencumbered with the thoughts of another. Despite (hopefully) having he best of intentions, your family members may not have installed the best operating software into your system to function on. You need to take responsibility for this being the case, and make changes. If it is your voice that you hear, stop and think for a second about that. Why would yo do anything that is holding you back from your goals and dreams? You (hopefully) wouldn’t get black out drunk the night before a big game or performance, as this would be terribly detrimental to your ability to operate the next day. So why would you do something similar, such as berate yourself before, during and after an event. It is literally the same thing, a detrimental habit that is working against you and setting you up for failure.
That six inches between your ears is the driver of the bus, and you need to get the driver a map and a plan on how to get where you want to end up. It is the only way you CAN achieve pretty much anything. You have to BELIEVE in yourself. No amount of external praise or cheerleading can solve this problem if you do not believe in yourself. You won’t believe or accept this encouragement if you don’t believe in yourself. Easier said than done, I get it, but I am telling you, you need to start THIS MINUTE to getting this under control and on the right track. As someone who has struggled with being far too hard on themselves, I am telling you from experience, get your head right. My saving grace was that I did believe in myself, and if I had a miss or failure or complete belly flop, I could still pick myself up, dust off, and try again. I wouldn’t quit on myself, I could take the embarrassment and the failure and put it behind me.
I learned early on that victories are temporary, but so are the losses. Nothing is permanent if you view it correctly. Yes, winning the Northern AZ Racquetball Championships five times is “permanent” in the sense that no one can go back and change history. But after each of these victories I was headed to a different tournament the very next week, and my past success had zero bearing on the upcoming event. I had to go compete again, win if I could, and take the loss when it came. So since neither victory or defeat is permanent, why would you continue to tell yourself “You never win” or things like “you always fold under pressure”. If you have ever had the slightest bit of success, these statements are not true, so stop treating them like they are. I clung to belief in myself, regardless of more losses than wins as a Pro Racquetball player. I was out there competing with the best in the world, and despite losing frequently, I was achieving what I set out to do, and that was test myself against the best. I want to perform at the highest level of my own ability under pressure and when it mattered most.
I am not a clinical psychologist or anything like that, so I don’t have the exact road map for you on this one. But I can tell you from my own personal experience that becoming aware of this issue is the very first step in the process. Once you understand WHAT that voice in your head tells you on a regular basis, then you can start the slow process of reprogramming the software you are running on. Now you need to work on catching yourself in the process of saying something negative or derogatory to yourself, and stop it in its tracks. Train your brain to react differently or predict a positive outcome instead of assuming things are going to fall apart.
Before too long, you will be able to catch your mind before it “says” something negative and replace that thought with a more positive one. This could take weeks or it may take years. Remember, you didn’t get this operating system installed overnight, so replacing it will be a process, not just flipping a switch. But I can tell you this, THERE IS NO BETTER THING TO MASTER THEN YOUR OWN MIND. I am still a work in progress, just like everyone else. You may look at my life resume and think that this isn’t something I have struggled with, but it is. And to a large degree. But I am getting better at it all the time, and I can feel the difference. I have less anger in general, I feel more positive about myself and the world around me, and I certainly believe in myself even more now that I am not fighting internally for every undertaking I try. If I can do it, so can you.