When it comes to sport psychology and working on your mental game, I have to remind people that first and foremost, there are some realities to how we operate. In fact, we are animals before we are humans, and we are humans before we are people. And believe me, when it comes to emotions and behaviors, people are complicated creatures. But in this post, I want to share with you some biological behavioral principles that are at the core of why you choose to engage in certain behaviors.
Do you ever find yourself continuing to do something that you don’t really want to be doing? Do you ever contemplate on why it’s so hard for us to change from one behavior to another? Without getting into all of the nuts and bolts about what s going on in your brain and body during this process, what you need to know is that ALL behavior follows patterns determined by consequences and the consequences of our actions will shape what we choose to do in the future. Your behavior is serving some sort of function that is filling a need. Even when you think the behavior is unhelpful and even detrimental – the behavior is serving you in some way.
Here are some sport specific examples of behaviors that you could be engaging in that would sabotage your performance:
- Not preparing optimally for performance
- Not pushing yourself to your limit
- Skipping your workout
- Second-guessing and not listening to your gut
- Not getting enough recovery or sleep
- Obsessively checking email (ahem – OK that one is I there for me)
Obviously there are a lot of different factors that could contribute to these scenarios, but sometimes you get stuck repeatedly engaging in one of these behaviors and logically know that you are just making things worse for yourself, but you just can’t seem to stop. If you feel like it’s important for you to engage in a certain behavior (like getting 8-9 hours of sleep most nights or making sure you’re getting your workouts in) and you can’t seem to find a way to make it happen – it’s time to dissect what your current behavior is doing for you.
When you are trying to change a behavior, you need to know that the current behavior is serving you in some way. Even if you feel like the behavior is dysfunctional and you don’t want to engage in it anymore, if you still find yourself doing it – it’s because the behavior is either reinforcing something you want, or allowing you to escape from something you don’t want. The consequence of your behavior is meeting a certain need and the problem is that you are butting up against conflicting needs.
For example, the consequence of hesitating and not listening to your gut during competition is that you don’t have to deal with the feelings of fear and anxiety that come with the possibility of failure. Not taking the risk provides you with security. Your desire for security is battling with your desire to have an optimal performance and you usually can’t have both. When you can really dissect your current behavior and give it a name, you can let it go and move onto a behavior that will now better serve your needs.
DO THIS: Pick something you are currently doing that you would like to change and write down your answers to the following:
- What is the current behavior?
- How would you like your behavior to be different?
- How is your current behavior serving you?
- How is your current behavior not serving you?
- What do you need to change in order to let go of the current behavior and adopt the new one?
- What is the first step you need to take in order to make this happen?
Don’t just nod your head and think “Yeah that’s a good idea – that makes sense…”, go right now and actually right out your answers. Behavior change doesn’t come easy or quick. There can be a long transitional period of going back and forth between the old behavior and the desired behavior so go easy on yourself, have patience, be courageous, and keep reminding yourself that you are ready to let go of the old and bring in the new!