Toby, not his real name, was an elite New Jersey high school wrestler trying to finish the season on a high note. He had a strong regular-season with great accolades to demonstrate that he was a solid performer. He breezed past his district tournament, and was about to enter the regional tournament. He was in what I like to call, “The Waiting Place”.
Sometimes, in “The Waiting Place”, negative thoughts can creep in to disrupt our internal world. With time on your hands, a hallmark anxious thought that tends to be future focused begins with, “What if”. I have witnessed this numerous times across many individuals that tend to have performance anxiety. There are numerous ways to address this negative thinking pattern. In Toby’s case, his thoughts drifted to “What if I get sick or feel weak”. This thought pattern can lead to poor performance.
In any situation where there are increased demands to perform, it is natural to feel anxiety. As a matter of fact, a certain degree of nervousness is necessary for good performance. It’s a signal that you care and that you are ready, mentally and physically, to meet the demands in front you. We have to be able to recognize and re-label this feeling as positive through a few steps.
- Acknowledgment of the original feeling. Toby needed to understand this is a natural feeling to have before a big event. In fact, I couldn’t imagine moving on to a state championship without some degree of anxiety. Anytime his thoughts drifted to “What If”, Toby needed to understand that his mind was drifting into the future and he was taking himself out of the present moment. “What am I doing right now!” is a great grounding thought. An even better thought, was “One match at a time!”
- Trust the process that got you there. Toby was beginning to re-think his strategy for the upcoming matches. He didn’t get here by chance, he had a stellar record for the season and a great support system. A great counter thought—”I’ve put my time in this season , and it has produced a positive result” and “I’m right where I need to be”.
- Increase pleasurable activities. Toby needed to engage in relaxation and/or distraction while in “The Waiting Place”. Toby decided to engage in gaming and connecting with friends over the next few days.
- Toby and I reviewed his performance routine and identified a few more productive things he said and did that made him feel ready to wrestle tough before previous matches.
The result- Toby sailed through the regional tournament and went on to The New Jersey High School Wrestling Championship in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He wrestled tough and placed well in the tournament.
This situation can easily be applied to other performance situations in life such as public speaking, taking a test, or performing on stage. Our mind tends to get ahead of where we are presently. In these situations, it is important to recognize that “What If” statements do nothing for you if it creates negative feelings such as anxiety. When this happens, try to spot it and reel your mind back into the present. Additionally, trust the process that got you there. If you are able to do that, you’re one step closer to adapting to a demanding situation.