We are the stories we tell ourselves. About ourselves, about our lives, and about our reality. Although our thoughts and self-talk may seem like innocent background noise, those words and stories shape our beliefs and influence the way we live in all facets of our lives.
However, it is also imperative to understand that our stories are exactly that – a story. And we are the writer of our script, so we get to ultimately create what’s to come. But we also get to change our narrative of self-doubt, fear, and lack of self-worth in the present moment to embrace any imperfections and know we are completely worthy of being the hero of our story.
“You have two choices. Control your mind or let your mind control you.” – Paulo Coelho
Unfortunately, as human beings, we have this unconscious reptilian brain that magnifies the negative experiences and overlooks the positive ones. So much so, that at a human default level, 80% of our thoughts have a negative connotation and up to 95% of our thoughts are a thought we’ve had before (being creatures of habit).
We are built for safety, not risk. We are built for comfort, not growth. We are built to survive not to thrive. But for an athlete, sport is about taking risks, continual growth, and an environment to thrive. So it goes against our natural conditions at a default human level.
And this is where we need to remember that it’s our choices and not the circumstances that determine our destiny – not only in times of good fortune but in moments of adversity and challenges as well. It is our choices that determine our mindset, our emotions, our self-worth, and our attitude. And it is our choices that ultimately keep our emotions in check because our words trigger our emotions at an unconscious level. This means that we have complete power to control the thoughts and emotions that dictate our actions.
At a biological level, it is physically impossible to feel fear and feel calm at the same time. This is because the physiological feelings in the body are almost completely opposite. But because our thoughts greatly influence the way we feel, we get to decide whether we feel cool and calm or fearful and anxious.
“The one thing you can always control is how you react to the uncontrollables.” – Dr. Allan Goldberg
To first understand the feelings and the physiological response in the body when we are performing at our best, we first need to understand how we show up in a state of fear. It is recognizing in which situations we feel fear, and the triggers and physical response in the body that helps us move out of a fear state and into a more calm and relaxed state of mind.
The 3 most common stress responses are fight, flight, and freeze.
The Fight Response:
To fight is to confront the threat aggressively. Symptoms of the fight response may include:
- Tight jaw
- Grinding your teeth
- The urge to punch something or someone
- A feeling of intense anger
- A need to stomp or kick
- Crying in anger
- A burning or knotted sensation in your stomach
- Attacking the source of danger
The Flight Response:
Flight means you run from potential danger. Sign of the flight response include:
- Feeling fidgety, tense, or trapped
- Constantly moving your legs, feet, and arms
- Feeling restless in your body
- A feeling of numbness in your arms and legs
- Dilated, darting eyes
The Freeze Response:
When you freeze, you find yourself unable to move or act against a perceived threat. Signs may include:
- Sense of dread
- Pale skin
- Feeling stiff, heavy, cold, and numb
- A loud, pounding heart
- Decreasing heart rate
“Fear is often our immediate response to uncertainty. There is nothing wrong with experiencing fear. The key is not to get stuck in it.” – Gabrielle Bernstein
Recognizing the symptoms of the way in which we do fear, helps us to become mindful of what we are going through in real-time. And because we choose the thoughts and the words that created the stress response (even if we’re not aware of how we got to this point) we can choose the thoughts and words to aid us in feeling calm, free, and clear in the mind again.
A “performance mantra” is a short, positive, instructive, and actionable statement that directs us to what we want to think and how we want to feel. It enables us to stand tall through the challenges and moments of adversity rather than let fear, anxiety, stress and overwhelm control us. Remembering a performance when you were at your best and restoring the words that best describe how you were feeling throughout that moment can help you create a performance mantra that moves you from fear and anxiety into a more positive state of mind.
“The body achieves what the mind believes.” – Napoleon Hill
It can be as simple as “I’ve got this”, “Right here. Right now”, “This is what I came for”, or “I’m tougher than I think I am.” But in your own unique words that mean something special and powerful to you. Keep it short, positive, energized, actionable, and at the forefront of your mind.
- Dusty Martin uses the performance mantra “Strong, aggressive, unstoppable”.
- Professional Golfer Adam Scott keeps the mantra “Will over Skill”
- In Kathy Freeman’s record-breaking 400m gold medal run at the Sydney Olympics, she would tell herself “Do what you know.”
- Steph Gilmore says to herself “I love this challenge. Breathe in the energy”.
- Long Jumper Chelsea Jaensch uses the mantra “On and Up.”
So, the next time you feel anxious stressed, overwhelmed, or fearful in competition or in general life… What can you say at that moment that will reframe the story you’re telling yourself?
– 𝒞ℴ𝒶𝒸𝒽 𝒞𝒶𝓁.