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How Your Thoughts Influence Performance — On or Off the Playing Field

And Positive Thinking is Never the Answer

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Updated January 02, 2013

Stillpower, by Garret Kramer

Stillpower, by Garret Kramer

photo (c) Garret Kramer
The missing link between the circumstances of an athlete's life and his successful performances on or off the field can be found in the athlete's thoughts. Those athletes who grasp that 100 percent of their sensory experiences are created via their own thinking will consistently thrive. Those athletes who attribute their sensory experiences to the world around them-their coach, teammates, opposing team, fans, contract, or home life-won't.

Now I realize this might seem like a broad and even peculiar statement. But, just for the moment, be open to what I'm about to say: All human beings form their perceptions from the inside out. Our thoughts generate our feelings; our feelings generate our moods. If people don't realize that this dynamic is always at work, they will have little choice but to attribute their emotions to their current circumstances. As an illustration, if a pro hockey player dislikes his coach, it will often appear that he has only two alternatives: request a trade or suffer. And why not? To him, it must be the coach who is thwarting his ability to perform. But the moment the player recognizes that his discontent is created via his own thinking, and not because of his coach's actions, options for his future abound.

My message is that it is essential for a person to recognize the arbitrary nature of his own thoughts. I'm certain that upon quiet reflection our hockey player will see that he doesn't always resent his coach. When his quality of thinking and mood is low, his perception of the world around him, including his coach, will suffer. Yet when his quality of thinking and mood rises, while he still might not agree with his coach's decisions, he will appreciate the coach's perspective nevertheless.

For performers in any field, this is an empowering understanding. Knowing that their thoughts establish their outlook prevents them from playing victim to any outside force. The golfer who understands the principle of thought, and its connection to feelings and moods, for instance, knows better than to try to fix a negative thought about hitting the ball into a water hazard. It is the thought that produces the errant feeling, not the hazard itself. So when the low thought occurs (using the feeling as his guide), the golfer instinctually turns his attention toward something else—like the center of the fairway—as opposed to waging war with his current mind-set.

Also see: Overcoming Performance Anxiety | Mental Focus During Sports (Centering)

The bottom line is that the answer to any performance issue can be traced back to this understanding: Since a person's thoughts, not circumstances, are what create his reality, the cure to a wayward performance will never be found in the world around the individual. The cure is found in the fact that when struggles occur, left alone the human mind will self-correct toward clarity, resilience, and determination, with no effort at all.

Understanding the principle of thought is what allows this to fluently occur.

Quick reminders:

The next time it looks and feels like your environment is bringing you down, consider these three powerful inside-out reminders. They will point you away from blaming life around you and toward your own natural understanding:

  1. You are not living in the feeling of your circumstance. You are living in the feeling of your thinking -- whose quality is constantly in flux. That's why, even when people struggle, they still find momentary glimpses of being okay with the same circumstance that appears to be troubling them.
  2. Negative thoughts (actually, all thoughts) are random, neutral, and powerless, unless you turn them into something that must be avoided, dealt with, or fixed.
  3. Just get on with it, or, as I say to the athletes with whom I work, simply stay in the game. If you do your job in spite of your errant thinking, your state of mind is on its way to clearing up all by itself. Answers to whatever life has in store will then become obvious.

Read more: Sports Psychology Tips and Tricks

About the Author

Garret Kramer is the founder of Inner Sports. His clients include Olympians, NHL, NFL, MLB, and collegiate players and coaches, and he often conducts seminars about his "inside-out" paradigm for performance excellence in athletics and business. Garret has been featured on ESPN, WFAN, FOX, and NPR; and in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Sports Illustrated. He is the author of the book, Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life, stillpower.com.

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