The golfer stands over a 6 foot putt thinking, “I need to make this in order to stay 3-over. Then if I can just birdie one or two of the last few holes, I might even have a chance at finishing close to par.” The baseball player steps up to the plate with thoughts about average bouncing around upstairs, “I’ve gotta get a hit here. I have a chance to drive in another run and really boost my stats up. God, I hope I don’t strike out. I can’t afford to go 0-fer in another game.” The pitcher nervously enters the game worried about his control and hoping that he has a better outing than last week, “I can’t get behind early. I have to throw strikes. I have to make sure I last more than 2 innings tonight.”
There’s a really funny thing about going into a performance situation with these kinds of outcome thoughts on your mind. They will almost ALWAYS lead you to tighten up and melt down performance-wise. Thoughts about your statistics, what’s at stake or the outcome that you REALLY want will inevitably tighten you up physically, distract you from the proper focus and paradoxically, insure that you don’t get the very outcome that you desperately want!
This is probably one of the bigger mental traps that athletes across all sports and at every level tend to stumble into: Getting hung up in one way or another on the outcome. The lax player who goes into the game thinking, “these guys aren’t that good so I should score at least 5 or 6 goals” is setting himself up to have a frustrating, poorly played game. Why?
Outcome thoughts (anything related to scoring, statistics and winning) get athletes too tight to play their best. This line of thinking makes you too conscious of how you’re performing while you’re out there. This overly conscious head-set distracts you from the proper feel and the flow of the performance, leading to sub-par play. When you expect to be playing better and you’re not, this sets you up to go quickly into self-criticism and frustration. Of course, putting yourself down and feeling frustrated will simply accelerate your poor play.
The solution? If you really and truly want a specific outcome, a time, so many hits, points or goals, or a particular score, then you need to learn to direct your concentration to staying calm and performing in the moment. In short, you must discipline yourself to concentrate on what you’re doing in the NOW of the performance. You must keep your focus totally in the flow of the match, game or race. Statistics or any kind of outcome focus mentally removes you from the flow and therefore, causes performance problems.