Athletes mentally and emotionally out of control and spiraling down the toilet fast: You see it all the time. He strikes out and immediately let’s his displeasure be known. He slams his bat down into the dirt, hangs his head and puts a puss on as he walks back to the dugout. She angrily bangs her racquet against her leg, let’s out a “YOU SUCK!” and begins dragging her feet around the court. As his errant shot hooks into the woods, the golfer let’s out a loud 4-letter expletive, kicks his bag and drops his shoulders.
What these athletes don’t realize is that they are on a very slippery slope, on the verge of self-destructing and handing their opponents an easy victory. It’s their physical and emotional reactions to their mistakes and poor play that will be the catalyst that sends their performance down the tubes. Most everyone is aware that when you allow your emotions to steer your performance ship, you will almost always end up in pieces on the rocks. The more important question is what can you do when your emotions begin to spiral out of control?
Understand that trying to “think positive” when you’re feeling negative rarely works. Telling yourself to “STOP being nervous” when you’re feeling intimidated and/or freaked out is equally as ineffective as is verbally coaching yourself to “calm down” when you’re feeling angry and emotional. The bottom line is that this kind of internal coaching rarely works. Instead, when things start to feel out of control you must learn to ACT AS IF.
ACTING AS IF is what I call a “winner’s fall-back position.” When a winner is in trouble emotionally, he/she “falls back” to acting as if. Let me explain:
If you watch an athlete who is angry, you will see her display certain behaviors. She will show her anger and unhappiness in her facial expression, comments that she mutters or yells out and in her overall body posture. That is, she’ll most likely hang her head, drop her shoulders and start shuffling or dragging her feet. Similarly, the intimidated or nervous athlete will act that way physically. He will put a nervous expression on his face, engage in nervous habits and physically present that way.
Is there a problem with allowing your outer behaviors to reflect how you’re feeling inside? BIG TIME!
When you physically act the way that you’re feeling inside, you will not only reinforce those emotions, but you will cause them to accelerate out of control inside of you. When you’re feeling angry and frustrated and you let those feelings show in outer behaviors like yelling, slamming a bat, club or racquet down, then your anger and frustration will start to head off the charts! “Acting as if” is your first and best line of defense for handling problematic emotions that arise right before or during performance.
ACT AS IF is a physical strategy. It does NOT involve having to tell yourself anything. It is based on the principle that when you act the way that you want to feel, soon you will begin to feel the way that you’re acting. ACT AS IF is a bridge to take you from where you are NOW (i.e. feeling angry, frustrated, nervous, intimidated) to where you want to be, (feeling in control, calm, confident, focused).
When a winner is feeling nervous inside, he ACTS AS IF he’s feeling calm. That is, he physically acts calm even though he can acknowledge that inside he’s freaking out. He walks calmly, speaks calmly, keeps his head up and a relaxed, neutral expression on his face. He changes his breathing so that it is lower and slower. In other words, he physically pretends that he is calm and in control even though he doesn’t feel that way. When you do this, soon your internal emotions will begin to reflect your outer behaviors. That is, you will start feeling calmer and more in control.
It’s the very same thing for handling your frustration and anger. Even while you feel those feelings inside, on the outside you want to act calm and in control. You keep a relaxed expression on your face, keep your head up and you don’t do anything physically that would reflect your inner frustration. Acting as if is like telling a lie with your body. Your emotions are saying one thing but you are deliberately telling a lie physically by showing the exact opposite to the outer world.
So the next time you are feeling upset, frustrated, angry or intimidated start acting as if. Remember, if you act the way that you want to become, soon you’ll become the way that you’re acting!