Alexandra’s teammates were shocked to see her smiling as she stepped into the batter’s box. There were two outs, and the winning run was on third base. If she got a hit, Alexandra’s team, the Angels, would make their third consecutive playoff appearance. Everyone wondered why Alexandra was grinning when all the pressure was on her to win the game? It didn’t make any sense.
Alexandra was smiling because of what she learned to tell herself in such situations. Despite feeling plenty nervous, instead of blocking out the negative voices in her head, she actually spoke directly to them. Sarcastically, she said “to the doubts” in her mind, “Welcome to the party!” Alexandra knew how preposterous it sounded to actually invite her worries in at this moment in time, which is exactly why she could crack a smile during such a pressure-cooker type moment.
Earlier in the season, Alexandra had tried increasing her confidence by telling herself to just stop being nervous. She knew that strategy worked for some of her teammates, but it never really helped her. Alexandra knew on the inside that she couldn’t force herself to feel something she didn’t really feel, and so she was open to trying a different approach.
I taught Alexandra that having an inner critic isn’t necessarily a problem. We agreed to call the doubt-filled conversation she usually had with herself “Mind Chatter.” I explained that as much as she would like it to be different, the truth is that we have less control over our thoughts than we wish. Alexandra came to learn that “Mind Chatter” is part of the competition picture; not a sign of personal weakness or cowardice. Even Mikaela Shiffrin, gold and a silver medal winner at this year’s Winter Olympics, acknowledges that she still has fear when she ski races, and those who don’t admit it are not telling the truth.
Once Alexandra began “making room” for her “Mind Chatter,” she began welcoming her doubts as if they were old friends making their usual, scheduled visit. Ironically, the more she anticipated, predicted, and “welcomed” their arrival, the less effect they had on her performance.
Like Alexandra, you too can become a MASTER OF THE MIND CHATTER. It’s all in the preparation. Mental preparation, that is.
Written by: Dr. Mitchell Greene is a clinical and sport psychologist, located in Haverford, PA. For more information on Dr. Greene, please go to www.greenepsych.com.