Young athletes have a similar experience. For example, I have learned that many young players fixate on being praised by their coach. Although natural, if this fixation is strong enough the player will experience demotivation in the absence of praise and therefore underperform.
Another example is when my clients have a disproportionate focus on being recruited to collegiate athletics – they are often paralyzed in their ability to perform while college coaches are watching. They tend to exacerbate every little mistake, worry that the coach will not like them, and fear that they will never achieve their goal.
Tangible outcomes can certainly be great motivators and are valuable in distinguishing a desired pathway. However it is even more important to focus on how to get there by staying in the moment and working hard to perform and progress.
How to strengthen a process focus:
- In order to achieve this shift in mentality you first have to be aware of when your mind wanders to the end result – or outcome that you desire. This requires you to be mindful of your internal dialogue before, during, and after performances. What are you focusing on? Which emotions are you experiencing? And how does this relate to your measurable goal?
- Once you develop good internal awareness you can now work on actively shifting your attention back towards the present moment. One way to do this is to focus on your role and responsibilities and helping your team win. And if you are an individual sport athlete you can have a similar approach by focusing on your strategy and doing what is needed to compete against your opponent.
- In order to successfully stay in the moment, you must learn to be skilled at moving with the ebb and flow of emotions. During a competition there is quite a range of emotion moving from disappointment to pride to anxiety then confidence, etc. These are natural responses to what the environment entails, however many athletes will fight the fluctuation whereas they must learn to ride along with it. Those who are successful in doing so will not freeze up after mistakes or upon seeing a college coach in the stands. Instead they will embrace the momentary emotion and move along in their performance.
- Finally, you must remember that whatever it is you want to achieve will happen if and only if you can accomplish the tasks of the present moment. No matter how badly you want something, you still have to do the work to get there. So why not focus on that work and let go of controlling your future by living in the present.
Through my personal experience as a professional I can understand how easy it is to disproportionately focus on outcomes (rewards, titles, praise, etc.). I also know that with a bit of awareness and mental strategies you can learn to manage your focus and emotions for optimal performance and success.