This week’s article is adapted from The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive by Dr. Jim Afremow. Dr. Jim Afremow is a sports psychology specialist, a licensed professional counselor, and provides individual and group mental training services across the globe to athletes in all sports, as well as to parents, business professionals, and all others engaged in highly demanding endeavors. His website is www.goldmedalmind.net.
There is an old Cherokee legend known as the tale of the two wolves. A grandfather explains to his warrior grandson that there are two wolves within each of us: One wolf is positive and beneficial, while the other wolf is negative and destructive. These two wolves fight for control over us. The grandson is curious and asks, “Which wolf will win?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”
If thoughts determine feelings, then feelings influence performance. That being the solid-gold truth, learn to think more positively about yourself and your life. That is, monitor what you tell yourself and always feed the good wolf, not the bad wolf! This is one of the most important life lessons you can ever learn. Understanding that this choice is yours alone is very empowering and important.
The first step in feeding the good wolf is learning to identify your own negative and self-defeating thoughts. Typical negative thoughts an athlete, student or professional can have include “I suck at this,” “I’m not good enough,” or, “I don’t belong on the team.” We all have these thoughts at times, so take a moment right now and identify some common negative thoughts about your athletic capabilities that run through your mind while you are competing, studying or working.
Now take the second step in feeding the good wolf and challenge these self-critical thoughts (such as “I’m not cut out for this”) with encouraging statements (such as “Bring it on now!”). Mentally beating on yourself does you no good. Instead, gain clear control of your thinking processes. Repeat these two winning steps to build mental muscle, improve your mood, and advance your performance.
When the bad wolf (or Big Bad Wolf!) rears its ugly head during work, stop it in its tracks. Self-talk (i.e., saying words or short phrases to oneself) should be positive: “I’ve just made a mistake. I’m getting anxious, I’m dwelling on it. Stop. Breathe. I’m pressing the reset button and deleting that memory from my mind. It’s over. I’m going to take a fresh, confident look at the next task in front of me.” Or, simply shout to yourself, “Next step!”
In a recent meta-analysis of 32 previously published sports psychology studies, Dr. Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis and his colleagues at the University of Thessaly in Greece confirmed that self-talk can produce significant improvements in sports performance. Hatzigeorgiadis says, “The mind guides action. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior.”
Although you probably cannot eliminate all of your negative thoughts, you do have the power to challenge these thoughts and replace them with more positive and useful ideas. The ultimate goal in the moment of action is to transcend conscious thinking so that you are fully experiencing your activity in the moment (i.e., you are in a flow or zone state). Seek to improve the quality of your thoughts and to quiet the mind. To perform at your peak level, always feed the good wolf in you!
References and recommended reading:
Afremow, J. (2014). The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive. Rodale.
by Jim Afremow