"It's all his fault!"
“Resilience is the product of agency: knowing that what you do can make a difference.” ~ Bessel A. van der Kolk, in The Body Keeps the Score
Take a moment to consider your response to this question: What parts of your performance can you control?
Look hard at those parts. Are there any others? How well are you focusing on those parts? Are you making the most of what you can control?
These tend to be surprisingly hard questions to answer. Hard to answer because the truth is often that we are thinking more about external factors that influence us than is beneficial.
A common issue I come across with athletes is their focus on controlling the parts of their performance that they really have little control over. For example, focusing on the fact that when you make a mistake your coach pulls you out of the game. This situation will easily lead an athlete to focus on a moment of time they have little control over *because the act of the mistake is in the past, so it is no longer controllable. *
If you have ever experienced this situation, you know how the thoughts then go...
I can’t believe he took me out.
My teammate made a bad throw. It's all his fault.
I’ll never get better.
My coach hates me.
She doesn’t trust me.
Keep in mind that our brain is inherently lazy. It likes to think in quick patterns to be able to respond to situations efficiently. This lazy, knee-jerk thought interpretation will happen – and it’s not helpful. It leads us AWAY from how we can make the situation better for ourselves. As our brain continues to think this way, the process is unfortunately reinforced. When the brain has a thought process that is reinforced, the process continues. Most of the time we don’t realize this process is occurring and the focus on lack of agency is being reinforced. The habitual nature of our thinking is often compared to the boiling frog syndrome. People don’t notice the small changes in focus of their thinking until they realize they feel miserable. By the time the thinking is realized, the habit has become so strong that it feels impossible to change.
When an athlete seeks out my help, they often tell me that they don’t believe they can change the way they’re thinking – because it’s been going on for so long. Clients are frequently surprised at the simple subtle changes can help. Specifically, I help to focus them on acknowledging the response, and then direct them to remember their agency (ability to create change) in the moment. Succumbing to the moment leads to lower resiliency, whereas grabbing control over the response to the situation is truly demonstrating resilience. Many of my clients’ report feeling increasing levels of agency because the effects of re-directing your focus tend to snowball into improved performance.
Again, take a hard look at the parts of your performance you are focusing the most mental energy on. If those parts are not completely within your span of control, then re-direct your efforts to make the most of your mental energy.