I recently went to St. John for a good friend’s wedding and a little vacation. When spending a week in a gorgeous location and celebrating a wedding with close friends, it’s not hard to have an optimistic outlook on life! However, when I get home to all the emails I neglected, the work that needs to be done, and the stressors of planning a wedding that is only three weeks away, the optimism I had just one week ago doesn’t come so easily!
There’s a reason for that! As humans, we tend to more readily notice and spend more time processing negative information than we do positive information. Although this is our brain’s way of protecting us, it typically gets so out of balance that it causes more harm than good! Research shows that optimism is a critical ingredient for performance and resilience. Therefore, if we want to perform at our best we have to start retraining our brain to make optimistic thinking our default, even on those days it doesn’t come so easily. This takes practice for most of us!
Numerous studies have shown that athletes with an optimistic thinking style do better in their sport and can perform better under pressure than those with a pessimistic style of thinking. One intriguing study looked at the UC Berkeley men’s swim team and how their thinking style impacted their performance. The coach had the swimmers swim their event in a time trial. He then gave all the swimmers false feedback and told them they swam much slower than they actually did. The swimmers were then told to rest for 20 minutes and swim the same event again. They found that the swimmers with an optimistic style of thinking did even better than their first time swimming the event, but those with a pessimistic style of thinking did worse than their first swim (Seligman et al., 1990)! Athletes with an optimistic style of thinking are able to look at setbacks and disappointing performances as a motivator to work harder and do better. They are able to learn from mistakes, focus on a solution and try a new strategy to improve their performance. Athletes with a pessimistic style of thinking tend to dwell on their poor performance, beat themselves up and feel that they have no control over getting better.
The good news is that no matter what thinking style you tend to lean toward, an optimistic thinking style can be strengthened and developed. An easy way to start is by recording three good things that happened during your day and reflecting on why they were good things to you. It seems too simple to be true, but there is research that shows that you can start retraining your brain in as little as three weeks if it is done consistently!
Contact us today for more strategies on how to strengthen or develop an optimistic thinking style and improve your performance!
Apply Optimism to your Workouts
In your training logbook, write down at least one good thing about that training segment. It can be something big or small. In addition to the good thing, include a sentence or two reflecting on the good thing. The reflection can be about why it was a good thing, how you or others contributed to that good thing or what you can do in the future to make it happen again. Even if it was a bad day, write down something you can learn from it such as “I learned that I need to drink more fluids in this heat.” Here are a few more examples for you.
#1-“I listened to the new songs I downloaded on my run”
Reflection-It definitely helped the run go by faster and pumped me up!
#2-“I ran my long run 10 second per mile faster than last week”
Reflection-Lately, I’ve had to do my long runs by myself, but today I got to run with the group. It’s so nice to have friends to run with and I proved to myself that my training is paying off and I am progressing toward my goal.
#3- “I pushed myself through the run even though I was tired and wanted to stop short.”
Reflection- I didn’t let myself off the hook even though I was tired. This will really help to make me stronger and push through those tough spots during my race.
Written By Ashley Corn: Ashley Corn is the Owner and Lead Consultant of G.U.T.S. Coaching Services, the only coaching company in the Front Range that is devoted solely to the training the mental side of performance. For more information or to sign up for G.U.T.S. FREE monthly newsletter, visit their website at www.gutscoachingservices.com.