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The Star Mentality Post

  • Writer's pictureRifat Hussein

Beyond Positive Thinking: How Accepting Negative Thoughts Can Improve Your Game

Athletes are no strangers to negative thoughts. It’s natural for them to experience doubts, fears, and insecurities before training or competitions. Yet, many athletes are told to stay “positive” and to try suppressing these maladaptive emotions, thinking that they’re a sign of weakness or failure.

However, this approach is not only unrealistic but can also be counterproductive. Ignoring negative thoughts can create additional pressure, leading to performance anxiety and low confidence. In reality, accepting these thoughts can be a powerful tool for improving sports performance. By acknowledging and processing doubtful feelings, athletes can learn to manage their emotions, maintain concentration, and perform better under pressure.

What Does Acceptance Mean?

The concept of acceptance is based on the premise experiencing negative thoughts and emotions is a natural part of being a human. Thus, rather than trying to fight these feelings, we should embrace them as a normal part of life.

Acceptance does not imply you should dwell on unpleasant thoughts or let them rule your mind. It means acknowledging them as an involuntary mental process rather than trying to disregard them.

It involves developing a mentality that is open to experiencing any emotions that arise during certain situations, without needing to categorise these feelings as good or bad and letting them influence your behaviour.

The goal is to help athletes learn to observe their negative thoughts as simply fleeting mental occurrences that don’t define them or their performances. This can help them learn to detach from these thoughts and refocus on their objectives. It gives them greater psychological flexibility and resilience, allowing athletes to perform at their best even in the face of adversity.

Acknowledging Negative Thoughts Reduces the Power They Have Over You

Negative thoughts can be like a dark cloud hanging over an athlete’s head. They can drain their energy, distract them, and lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Nonetheless, when athletes recognize their negative emotions instead of avoiding them, they take away some of their power. Athletes can release the tension these emotions create by admitting that they’re feeling nervous, anxious, or doubtful.

To help athletes acknowledge their thoughts they can use a technique called emotional labeling. Emotional labeling encourages individuals to describe their emotions in a specific way and name them. For instance, an athlete may be feeling nervous. They can label this emotion by saying, “I am feeling anxious right now, and that’s okay. This is a normal part of the competition experience, and I can still perform at my best despite feeling anxious”.

Athletes can really benefit from this strategy as it helps them develop emotional intelligence. With practice, they can learn to maintain a healthy distance between their emotions and themselves, allowing them to observe their thoughts without being reactive. Enabling athletes to manage their internal experiences effectively and to make better decisions during competitions.

Processing Negative Thoughts Helps You Learn from Them

Negative thoughts are not always irrational or unfounded. Sometimes they can point to areas of weaknesses or improvement. For example, if an athlete is thinking “I’m not fast enough”. Rather than dismissing this thought as unhelpful, it can be an indication that they need to work on their speed and agility.

By processing such thoughts, athletes can identify underlying issues and take action to address them. This will not only help them become better competitors but also enable them to embrace failures and learn from their mistakes. Rather than beating themselves up for not performing perfectly, athletes can see setbacks as opportunities for growth. Each misstep then becomes a stepping stone toward progress and success.

An effective approach athletes can use to process negative thoughts is journaling. By writing down their emotions, athletes can identify patterns or triggers that may be contributing to their feelings. With this, journaling can help athletes understand their mental states in-depth and develop tailored strategies to manage them.

As an example, if an athlete notices they often experience adverse thinking before competitions, they can develop a pre-performance routine that helps them feel calmer and more focused.

Keeping a journal is a simple yet powerful tool that can help competitors become more aware of their thought patterns. It gives them the ability to observe their emotions from a distance and gain valuable insight into their thought process.

Accepting Negative Thoughts Helps You Stay Present and Focused

One of the biggest challenges athletes face is staying in the present moment and maintaining their focus. Maladaptive thoughts and emotions can be a major distraction by pulling athletes out of the present and into their minds.

Alternatively, instead of trying to suppress these thoughts, they can bring themselves back to the current moment. Instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, they can use their negative thoughts as cues to refocus their energy on the task at hand. In essence, their negative thoughts can act as a reminder to stay focused. This can help athletes make better decisions and react quicker.

To improve the efficacy of this strategy, athletes can practice mindfulness breathing. This technique helps observe thoughts without judgment or attachment. It assists in developing an athlete’s self-awareness of their mental state.

Mindfulness breathing involves athletes focusing on their breath and using it as an anchor to bring back their attention to the present moment. This is how to do it:

To start, find a quiet place to sit or lie down. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Notice the sensation of the air moving in and out of your body, and the rise and fall of your chest.

When your mind begins to wander and negative thoughts start to arise, it is important to acknowledge them without being critical or trying to fight against them. Simply observe them as they come and sit with them.

Then bring your attention back to your breathing. Repeat this process every time those thoughts pop into your mind and practice this technique for 5 to 10 minutes a day.

It won’t take up much of your time, but it is crucial to get the ball rolling. By committing to this practice, you will start to notice the benefits in your daily life and athletic performance. As you become skilled at mindfulness breathing, you can gradually increase the duration and frequency to suit your needs.

This approach offers athletes an opportunity to develop a new relationship with their negative thoughts. Rather than seeing them as a sign of weakness or a threat, athletes can instead view them as simply passing mental events. This shift in perspective will help bring their mind back to the present moment and facilitate an attitude of acceptance of their emotions.

Consequently, by becoming more adept at managing their feelings, competitors can reduce the physiological effects of stress and anxiety (increased heart rate and stomach butterflies), thereby promoting a sense of calmness and composure during matches.

By cultivating this skill, athletes can not only improve their athletic performance but also enhance their overall well-being. With mindfulness, athletes can bring a greater sense of clarity and focus to their training and competition, allowing them to give it their all. Learning to manage their thoughts can help athletes destress and promote greater balance in their lives. So, by investing in this process athletes can reap the rewards of a more centered mind.

Take Home Messages

Acceptance is a crucial component of mental training for athletes, as negative thoughts are a natural part of the sporting experience. However, they don’t have to be a hindrance. By processing and learning from negative thoughts, athletes can turn them into opportunities for growth and performance enhancement. By acknowledging their vulnerabilities and emotions, athletes can become more resilient, focused, and confident in their abilities.


Which acceptance strategy will you be practicing? I would love to hear them in the comment section below!


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