If there’s one thing that will mess up your performance faster than a speeding bullet, it’s OVER-THINKING! Thinking about: your technique, timing, goals, potential for winning or losing, opponent, what’s at stake, what people might think, etc. while you’re trying to perform will tighten your muscles, steal your self-confidence and run away with your potential. In performance terms, thinking is seriously hazardous to both your competitive health and success. It’s the great undoer of mental toughness and can be found in the core of all performance slumps, fears and blocks.
As a general statement, athletes tend to have far too much of the wrong things on their minds whenever they step into the competitive arena. As a result, they distract themselves from the important task at hand, the performance as it unfolds in this moment. When your concentration drifts from what you are doing in the present moment to your thinking, regardless of what it is, you miss the subtle, but critically important cues which inform your body and muscle memory about how to seamlessly and smoothly perform. No one, regardless of skill, age or experience can perform to their potential by thinking their way through their game, match or race.
Peak performance comes about when we are able to abandon thinking, put ourselves on automatic and SENSE, i.e. feel/react to the moment by moment cues that happen in the flow of the competition. Peak performance is a SENSE or FEEL kind of thing, NOT a THINKING kind of thing! It naturally occurs when a swimmer or runner focuses on the feel of their stroke/stride, when a golfer concentrates on the feel of his/her swing or putt, when a pitcher or hitter focuses on the rhythm/timing of his pitch/swing, when a soccer or lacrosse player concentrate on the feel of the ball.
When you properly sense, which is an automatic, NON-THINKING process, you stay connected to your body and the unfolding of the action. When you think, you distract yourself from sensing and, as a result, end up leaving your body. The instant you leave your body, you end up losing that all-important feel of what you’re doing!
When I talk about losing your mind and coming to your senses I’m referring to the process of keeping your pre- and during performance focus on the feel of what you’re doing rather than on your thoughts about what you’re doing. For obvious reasons this is a whole lot easier said than done. You can’t just tell yourself “Don’t think!” because the minute you do that you’re thinking about “not thinking!”
Instead, you have to train yourself to keep your focus on feel, on what you are sensing in the moment (NOW) as you go through the performance. When a thought pops up you want to calmly notice it as just a thought and quickly return your focus back to the feel of what you’re doing in the NOW. Learning to train yourself to do this sounds easy but isn’t! It takes practice and discipline to recognize thinking, not engage or fight with it and quickly return your focus back to feel.