What’s one of the worst aspects of losing? The disappointment in yourself? Or, perhaps, worst of all, finally accepting the possibility and really believing that you CAN win, but then it doesn’t work out?
I was working with a young squash player yesterday who admitted to me for the first time (and to herself) that she was scared to believe that she could win. “I’ve seen other players lose all of their motivation and just quit when they lose,” she told me. I don’t want that happen to me. I think I protect myself and don’t really believe or expect that I can win because I don’t want to be disappointed.”
This is not the first time I’ve had a player bring this up to me. I’ve seen it quite a lot actually–the fear of really believing, trying to win, but then it not working out. What not working out? The outcome, of course.
Another older player said the same thing. “I just feel like it would confirm that I REALLY can’t do it.” She acknowledged feeling at times that maybe she just wasn’t THAT good. She feared that playing a particular tournament might expose this weakness. In other words, she was scared that her private belief (not being that good) might actually be true after all.
This fear is not uncommon and it can keep us stuck for years until we challenge it.
It’s as though we run around on the court scared of our own thoughts about ourselves. But, it is for this reason, of course, that I’m writing this. That which we are unaware of we cannot do anything about. So let’s look at this player’s internal dialogue from a few angles:
This thought (maybe we’re not that good) is FIXED with no room for growth and improvement. In other words, if we have the thought it means that it is true and set for life. There is no escape. We play badly, lose to someone we “should” beat and now we are relegated to mediocrity for the rest of our life. Wrong. It’s all about self-mastery and what we can accomplish after and while we learn to manage our internal stuff. Maybe you are THAT good but haven’t figured out how to shake thoughts like this. So, I say SPAM this thought.
But, like all thoughts, it’s not the actual thought that is the problem. It’s your REACTION to this thought. In other words, does it actually make you not try or give up before you even give it a chance? It’s when the thoughts and feelings we have (based on false assumptions often) actually prevent us from living the lives we want or in this case be satisfied with less than what you are capable of.
You don’t like to lose? Me neither. Worse though is feeling like you didn’t give it your all because you were imprisoned by your self-defeating thoughts. Why? Because you didn’t challenge the thoughts. Or perhaps the bus has been driving itself for awhile and you didn’t realize it. So, I ask you, who’s the designated driver? You or your thoughts?
Pretty heady stuff I know. But, certainly food for thought. Or, maybe we should start “feeding” ACTIONS that are in service of who you are and what is important to you even when fear tries to protect you from disappointment. When you take the wheel rather than your thoughts how does that feel? Be aware. There may be more satisfying moments and wins waiting for you. Not long ago a player asked me what is it that I actually do under pressure that helps me win. “Maybe I’m a rebel at heart and stubborn,” I said. I just refuse to let my thoughts run my life.”
Playing it safe because of the score and fear of missing and losing is the easiest and most obvious thing to do. I simply try to do the opposite. My thoughts takes a backseat while I establish my intention and assert my will. Of course, I don’t always win this game. It’s a percentage thing for sure. But you can win far more of these inner battles when you assert yourself and establish your intention beyond the score and your thoughts that are designed to keep you safe. You have a lot of chances to practice this both on and off the court. Tell me how it goes when you choose to spam your thought and do the opposite. Remember our brains are not very good predictors of how we will feel in the future. So, don’t let them run your show for too long.
What negative thoughts or beliefs have kept you stuck? What has helped you overcome them over the years? Would love to hear from you!