In our work with student-athletes, we often hear about how fear, doubt, and self-judgement get in the way of optimal performance. Living in the Sweet Spot: Preparing for Performance in Sport and Life by Amy Baltzell, PhD, gives readers a variety of tools to prepare performers to think more effectively on the way to achieving big goals. Specifically, Baltzell discusses reconnecting with the joy, passion, and love for your sport or performance area in order to be your best. The book offers tools to build a championship approach, prepare for performance or competition, and how to approach competition day. Over the next six weeks, we will tackle different concepts and strategies to help you to find your sweet spot. In our next blog of this series, we discuss the importance of understanding and working with our negative emotions.
While most of the book is about shifting our thinking to be more positive, negative emotions exist and we need to have a plan to deal with them. According to Baltzell, “we look at how to work productively with the negative emotions that are inevitable in our lives. In fact, negative emotions can be a gift, a clear and readable sign to us to make changes that need to be made. If we can learn to recognize, accept, and shift our negative emotions, they can actually help us flourish.” Baltzell identifies two ways that negative emotions can help us. One is to signal that we have a real problem that needs our immediate attention, like an injury or needing some rest and recovery. We also need to be more aware of non-urgent signals, which are harder to see but still need our attention, like fear, doubt, or frustration.
Based on the research of Barbara Fredrickson, John Gottman, and Marcial Losada, performers need between 3-5 positive emotions for every negative emotion in order to continue to thrive. Creating positive emotions is critical, but we also need to manage the negative emotions as well. Baltzell identified three options to work through or with our negative emotions. Step one is to recognize potential problems and act if necessary, this could mean we might need to take some time off or make a significant change. If the problem does not require a big change, step two is to shift the negative emotional state to a more positive one. Here we might reframe our reactions towards a more positive direction. For example, we can choose to see pressure as an opportunity and get excited instead of label the feeling as fear. Finally, if steps 1 and 2 don’t apply, step three is accepting the negative emotional state and working with it. “If we cannot shift out of the negative emotional state, we must learn to tolerate it. When we are not in danger and our emotional system is over-reacting, learning to accept, tolerate, and carry on are highly important skills. During such times, we must learn to minimize the impact of such negative emotions so we can focus on what will ultimately help us perform to the best of our abilities.” One example here is to learn to view negative emotions like a storm and plan to watch the storm pass. Top athletes and performers know they have the resources to accept and work with negative emotions during their training and competitions. They are ready for anything and know that they will still be able to execute.
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