As an athlete, everything relies on your performance. You’ve always got to perform at the top of your game; you and your team depend on it. This is a lot of pressure, but it comes with the territory when there’s competition involved. To train for games or races, you must prepare your body and your mind, not just your body. Because if your mind isn’t ready for the challenge, you’ve lost before you’ve even started.
- A sprinter at the starting blocks who’s anxious jumps the gun and false-starts, getting instantly disqualified.
- A soccer goalie jogs onto the field nervous, misjudges a leap, and lets in a goal.
- A football quarterback has a disagreement with a teammate before a play, and he caves under the pressure of the defense, fumbling the ball.
- A swimmer’s stress before a race leads to shortened breath. As a result, they struggle to keep their breathing pattern and fall behind the pack on race day.
Before a game, your head needs to be clear and ready. And handling performance anxiety in a practical, empowered way takes practice. That way, you can keep your eye on the prize and keep your mind in the game when it matters most.
Read this post to learn a quick tip for handling performance anxiety, whether you’re an athlete or a high-performer in business or school.
To Finish First, Get in the Last Row
Imagine being in a movie theater and the movie playing on the big screen is the movie of your life. While sitting in this theater, you see events in your past play out, and you can see your reactions, your responses, and maybe even recall your feelings and thoughts in those moments.
Now, as that movie of your life plays on the screen, imagine your inner critic sitting in the 15th row. Of course, this observer is you, but it’s your judgemental, skeptical, cynical, and critical side. It’s the side of you that watches the movie and picks out everything you do wrong, everything you say that’s wrong, and every mistake you make. It’s your inner perfectionist, your inner self-hater if you will.
Everyone’s got a 15th-row inner critic, and it will never go anywhere. It’s got a lifetime membership!
Now, in that theater, someone is sitting in the last row. That observer sees your 15th-row critic and your movie and looks at both with friendliness, care, and compassion. This observer is also you, but it’s the highest version of you. From this last row perspective, you see the movie (which plays the past or the present in real-time) with kindness, empathy, and nonjudgement.
Now, you can’t shut up your 15th-row inner critic, nor can you control every aspect of your movie. But, what you can control is your response to it, and that response can be with love and kindness if you choose it.
As an athlete, all these perspectives are a part of you—conscious, unconscious, and subconscious.
If you try to deny or suppress your inner critic, you’ll never win. It’s an uphill battle and will cause unnecessary stress and strain, especially when the stakes are high. So instead, recognize it and integrate it into your mental practice with acknowledgment and a gentle, intentional movement into the last row.
How to Get in the Last Row
First, notice your anxiety, your stress, and your negative thoughts before a game or race. Ask yourself:
- What is happening in my movie? How do I feel it?
- Am I relaxed, or stressed, or both?
- How’s my posture?
- How’s my breathing? That’s very important; keep breathing.
Then, let those feelings and thoughts have a voice. Be your 15th-row inner critic.
Finally, move to the last row to see those emotions and thoughts from another perspective. Accept your movie and your critic, and express love and gratitude for that critic, who is just fearful and your mind’s attempt at protecting you from harm. Breathe.
This last row perspective is the master key that opens up all the doors to your inner wisdom, your inner success, and your best performance. This is where you shift the script and love the movie again; love to practice and face the challenge of your stress, competition, and fear. It’s all part of the game.
To learn more techniques for handling performance anxiety as an athlete and/or high performer, check out our course, Less Stress Now.