Have you ever been told that you think too much? Or feel anxious because you can’t seem to stay focused during a competition?
As a competitive athlete, you may already know the value of staying in the moment. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make the task any easier. Especially if you have been labeled as an overthinker. With each lost point or mistake another firework of thoughts is released making it harder and harder to focus on playing the game. Your critical voice gets louder and your confidence is progressively stripped away.
Although rapid thinking is a normal physiological response to stress, the overthinkers may start to worry about the fact that they are worrying. In other words, you judge yourself for thinking too much and start to feel a greater intensity of stress. And so the spiral of negativity continues.
In order to change this process it is important to first understand the emotion(s) felt at this moment. From experience, both personal and professional, I would like to discuss what I think to be the most influential – the feeling of alienation. This feeling is associated with the internal message that “There’s something wrong with me.” When you feel alienated, there is a sense that you don’t fit in somehow. So overthinkers start to believe that their mind is different, bad, or weak in some way. This judgment is detrimental to performance in several ways, including the following:
Lowered confidence in one’s mental skills.
In all sports you can divide measurements of capability into four categories: physical, technical, tactical, and mental. So how much do you trust in your mental performance? For those who are labeled as overthinkers, they often report lower ratings of confidence – around 50-60%. This means that you don’t really believe in your ability to focus, be optimistic, and resilient during a match. And without this belief, you are already set up to fail.
A sense of imprisonment to one’s own mind.
When calling yourself an overthinker there seems to be an external locust of control mixed with the idea that it is a disability. It’s as if I was born this way and there’s nothing I can do about it. When you don’t feel a sense of control over something so inherent – like your mind – there is a lack of autonomy, freedom, or power over its operations. So how could you possibly excel in sports when you don’t feel in control of your most powerful tool?
Heightened muscle tension and distraction from the competition.
When judging yourself critically, negative emotions are exacerbated, muscle tension increases, and thoughts continue to race. You become physically weaker and internally distracted from focusing on what you need to do in that particular moment.
When looking closer at the underpinnings of overthinking, there seems to be a mis-identification with what is actually happening. To be able to compete at a high level in sports you must be cognitively capable of outsmarting your opponent. This will require knowledge, strategy, analysis, awareness, decision making, etc. All processes which require an ability to think. So what if you could just reframe your perception towards thinking? What would it feel like to think of yourself as a heavy thinker? What if you viewed your ability to think as a power or a tool?
Most players will immediately claim that thinking is a bad thing, yet they are focusing solely on the quantity of thoughts rather than the quality. Aren’t there benefits to being analytical, thorough, or systematic in competition? Although it seems that thinking is your greatest weakness, it is also your greatest strength – if you can only view it as such. Self-acceptance is the ultimate key for heavy thinkers. It can help you to feel free and flow with the inner workings of your mind instead of fighting it and feeling imprisoned. And when you feel free then you enhance self-trust, which is essential for performance success.