We had a wonderful time at Wimbledon last week and loved watching matches on TV too. It’s fascinating to see how much the players’ performance is influenced by their mental state. Ons Jabeur, who we saw play very well in the semi-final, could not repeat the same level of performance in the final, perhaps overcome by nerves. Djokovic lost his cool at one point and slammed his racquet into the net post – though he did regain his focus quickly.
People are emotional beings and managing your thoughts and feelings is as important for your performance as your technical skills. This is as true of work as in sport.
Performance = Potential – Interference
One of the first books I read about coaching was Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Work which drew on his experience in sports, especially tennis and golf. Gallwey suggested that
Performance = potential minus interference
– with the interference coming from our own thoughts and emotions. He wrote that:
“the opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one on the other side of the net”.
Sometimes our performance in a situation does not match our potential, because of interference caused by our own unhelpful thoughts. If you let FUD creep in – fear, uncertainty and doubt – this undermines our confidence and our performance.
Here are some tips for how to reduce the interference and manage your thoughts and feelings to perform better – at work or in sport!
Thoughts and Self-belief
We know that people perform better when they feel more confident. This is one reason why football teams usually play better at home than away – the support of the home crowd makes them feel confident and they perform better.
Kelly Holmes (former British middle distance athlete and winner of double gold medals at 2004 Olympics) believes the key ingredients of self-belief are:
• recognising what you are good at – being aware of your talent
• seeing others succeed and realising you can do it too
• attributing your success to things you can control (eg to practice or technique)
• learning from failures – having a growth mindset
• building forward one step at a time
What are your talents? What helps you feel confident in your abilities? What have you learned from your failures? What is your plan for progress?
We often have automatic negative thoughts, (ANTS), about our ability to do something. We can reframe these into more positive thoughts to be more confident. Here is an example of reframing thoughts prior to going for a job interview.
There’s a lot of competition, I haven’t got the skills for this role, They already know who they want, I’m no good at interviews
Replace with helpful thoughts
I’ve got as much chance as anyone, I’ve got skills in xyz, They want the best person and that could be me, I’ve prepared well
The unhelpful thoughts undermine confidence and can cause the interviewee to look and sound less confident. The helpful thoughts lead them to feel more confident, and behave more confidently – they stand taller, make more eye contact and speak more assertively. They create a positive impression on the interviewer.
How could you reframe something that you are anxious about to a more positive and realistic perspective?
Process vs Outcome Thinking
What often works is to think about the process (ie what you can control), rather than the outcome (what you can’t control).
An elite sportsperson cannot control the outcome of a race – other athletes might perform better than them on the day. However, they can control the process of preparing for and running the race to give themselves the best chance of winning.
Similarly, the person going for the job interview can’t guarantee they will get the job, but they can give themselves the best chance by how they prepare, and how they think and feel about it.
What is an outcome you want to achieve? What is your process for getting there?
Attribution of Success and Failure
How we talk to ourselves about our successes and failures – and what we hear other people saying about us – is important for maintaining persistence. If we attribute success or failure to things we can control – such as practice and skills – this leads to more helpful thoughts, rather than attributing success or failure to luck or other random factors .
What aspects of your performance can you control?
Managing Emotions – Beware of the BEAR!
It is often how we feel about something that makes us act, rather than how we think about it. This is why charities appeal to our emotions rather than our rational thoughts, to make it more likely that we will make a donation.
Neuroscientists believe that how we think and feel are “completely intertwined” . There is a chain reaction from our thoughts and beliefs to our feelings and actions, and to the results we get. Managing this chain reaction from beliefs, to emotions, to actions and to results, is a key part of sustaining your motivation and performance.
Beliefs → Emotions → Actions → Results
Think of a recent situation when you have experienced this chain reaction, when you didn’t get the result you wanted. What were your beliefs about the situation/yourself/the others? What were your feelings? What did you say and do? And what impact did your actions have on the result? How could you have changed your thoughts to generate more helpful emotions?
Being aware of our thoughts and feelings and able to manage them is a key part of performing well. The tips above enable you to eliminate FUD and be more confident, leading to better performance.
Perhaps Ons Jabeur’s performance was hijacked by her thoughts and feelings about the magnitude of what she wanted to achieve for her country and continent. Next year it might help her to remember that it is just a tennis match!