Fan favorite Scot Andy Murray didn’t make it to the semi finals at Wimbledon this year just on the strength of physical talent alone. Murray’s work with a sport psychologist has dramatically improved both his performance and his notorious emotions. While Murray is still susceptible to mood swings during a match, he has improved from his past behavior. Says performance analyst Emma James: “You have to be very aware of what your conscious thought processes are going through. If you start to have a thought process about what not to do, it will have an adverse affect… By focusing on what you do want to happen, that’s the way to make sure the body will follow through with it.”
James is describing a phenomenon in which our bodies tend to replicate the thoughts in our mind, conscious or not. Where this can have adverse effects in athletics is the tendency to remind ourselves of what NOT to do. For example, the point guard at the line at the end of a close game may say to him or herself, “Don’t miss this one now, we need to hold the lead.”
We’ve all heard of the famous psychological experiment – the one where the researchers instructed their subjects to absolutely NOT think of a white bear, then asked them what the first thing that popped into their minds was. Of course, the participants could think of nothing other than white bears.
Sports performance involves the same techniques – if we are constantly telling ourselves what not to do during competition, we will likely produce poor performance and negative mindset. That point guard at the line would do better to fill their mind with an image of the ball making a perfect arc through the air and swishing through the net rather than tell themselves not to miss. Since our bodies tend to act according to the thoughts in our minds, always try to envision the positive – and never tell yourself what NOT to do.