In our fifth blog series, we will discuss Tal Ben-Shahar’s book, The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a RICHER, HAPPIER Life. This blog will focus on the importance of accepting the wide range of emotions we as humans inevitably feel. One way elite athletes perfect their sport is by compartmentalizing emotions that might “get in the way” of achieving success. While this might seem effective at the time, suppressing our emotions can eventually backfire.
When we “block” negative emotions, they tend to intensify and “leak” out in different ways, such as anxiety or anger. Expressing these emotions can help loosen their grip, which frees up mental energy for our performance instead. Ben-Shahar uses the analogy of a clogged pipe to demonstrate what happens when we suppress our emotions. Water expects to flow freely through pipes. However, if the pipe is clogged, the water has nowhere to go, and ultimately results in a burst pipe. Just like burst pipes might happen unexpectedly and at the worst time, our emotions might also “burst” unexpectedly. When we are deliberate in allowing these emotions to flow, they are less likely to build up.
Ben-Shahar states that when we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to experience painful emotions, we limit our capacity to experience positive emotions. He emphasizes that closing the “valve” on negative emotions also closes off the positive emotions.
When athletes engage in this, they often tell us that they feel “numb” or “don’t care about anything”. To feel and understand our emotions doesn’t mean we have to ruminate or dwell on our frustrations, it means we simply accept that emotions are part of being human. Perfectionists deny the flowing of emotions, while optimalists allow and move through their feelings.
Often, athletes feel if they express emotions, they will act impulsively on these emotions. In reality, being deliberate about finding time to express these emotions actually builds up our emotional endurance and improves insight into our own emotional functioning. Ben-Shahar stresses the Importance of emotional recovery. While there are times we must persevere and push through stress, we can’t be “machine like” for too long. We can typically handle intense bursts as long as recovery is near. Our course on Transition to College Athletics has a module specifically on how our emotions affects our sport performance and strategies to effectively address these emotions!
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