A bad start can happen to the best of us. It’s where we go from there that determines success or failure. Resilience is they key.
We start out feeling like we do any other day, but sometimes when it comes time to produce in competition, things just don’t work like the usually do. Mechanics don’t work right, we get behind, we become upset, and things just go from bad to worse. However, here’s a simple process for breaking that cycle when you see it starting to happen, to salvage a strong recovers from a bad start.
Step 1: Refocus
When we start to get frustrated over a bad start, a cascade of negative thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses tend to occur. We have to start by intentionally breaking that cycle.
In an event that allows you to, pause for a moment and breathe. (Be sure to check out my article on proper breathing for calm and focus.) If you’re in an event that doesn’t allow for this, you can still bring your mind into the here and now. Be intentional about getting away from the angry, destructive thoughts that are currently crowding your consciousness. Focus on the exhale, breathe into your belly, and focus your energy on recovering from whatever situation you’re in.
Step 2: Non-judgmental observation
Notice I said non-judgmental observation. This is key, and you need to do it in three important areas:
Your performance situation:
Stay away from judgmental commentary like “Man, I’m sucking today!” or “Why can’t I do this? What’s WRONG with me?” It’s easy to go there in frustration when you have a bad start, but re-framing that internal dialogue can help reduce the fight-or-flight response in your brain.
Instead, just observe the situation you’re in. “I’ve missed 4 free-throws.” “I’m running a slower pace than my average, and I’m in the middle of the pack.” This takes practice, but taking a just-the-facts approach will allow you to strategize a recovery without making things worse by tearing yourself down while still in competition.
Your emotional state.
If you’re mad, frustrated, confused, or whatever, name this to yourself, again, without judgement. Just be aware of where you are emotionally in the moment when your performance isn’t going well. This is part of self-compassion, and I’ll definitely write more about this later!
Stress in your body.
Do a brief body scan to make yourself aware of specific points of tension in your body. Lots of people feel stress in the neck, shoulders, or stomach, but it may be different for you. Just make yourself aware of where these points of tension are, without judging or evaluating them.
Step 3: Get curious
Now is your chance to analyze what is causing your performance to be different than you anticipated. Be sure to do this in ways that intentionally avoid a value judgement, especially about you, your ability level, or your worth as a competitor or person.
Examples of productive analysis include things like: “I think I’m dropping my shoulder on the release.”, “My follow-through isn’t what I practiced.”, or even “I’m not focusing on the moment I’m in. I’m focusing my attention on the last play, or thinking about what comes next.” These are simply facts, stated without value.
Step 4: Breathe and adjust
Continuing mindful breathing will help you stay calm and focused as you try to recover in performance. Emphasize and prolong the exhale as you can in the moment. Now that the last step has allowed you to step around your frustration and do some quality analysis about your physical or mental technique, you can make adjustments in a way that’s less likely to beat yourself up.
Pro tip: Conceptualize your adjustments in terms of doing something specific, instead of not doing something. So, rather than saying “don’t drop your shoulder”, say “keep your shoulder up, in position.” In the words of legendary baseball performance psychology expert, Harvey Dorfman:'The word 'don't' will not get through to the body. The word carries no functional image.'Click To Tweet
Step 5: Repeat as necessary
After you’ve adjusted, see how things are going. This takes you back to Step 2. If your performance still hasn’t bounced back, keep breathing, continue non-judgmental observation, be curious and analyze, and adjust some more.
This method will hopefully help you throw a stop sign in front of negative thoughts during a rough performance outing. Self-criticism, unchecked anger, and reacting will only make things worse. This simple method will hopefully turn your performance around. We all have bad days, so let’s make it a GOOD bad day!
What do you want to know more about? Breathing techniques? How to be non-judgmental? I take requests! Please contact me to let me know what you’d like additional content about. Of course, I’m always available for consultations too, to see if my my mental skills techniques can help you take it to the next level.
I hope to hear from you!