If you’ve read any of my previous posts you may have noticed that I like to observe themes that come up for me or my athletes and then write about how they tie into the psychology of sport and athletic performance. My most recent experience of this occurred when I was presented with an opportunity that had a fast approaching deadline and I had to decide relatively quickly whether or not I should go for it. In sport, if you have a gut reaction and you hesitate, the opportunity is gone. There is a time for calculated decision making and a time to listen to your instincts. So why do we hesitate? Why do we sometimes hold ourselves back from seizing an opportunity?
Often athletes hold back because they aren’t sure if listening to their gut will lead them to making the right decision. The thought process goes as follows: what if I go for it and I’m wrong? The other dynamic I have observed is that athletes might hold back if they have stumbled onto new territory. They don’t trust their gut because they have never been in that situation before. If any of you have heard me speak, then you have probably heard me say that our ability to learn is directly related to the feedback that we receive. There are many ways for us to receive feedback and one of them is through the mistakes that we make. Mistakes help us refine our skill. If you never risk making mistakes you’ll never perform to your potential. You have to push through the walls that hold you in your comfort zone in order to reach the next level.
WE THINK TOO MUCH
If in the midst of compeititon you are weighing out the options before you and just aren’t sure if you should listen to your gut, that means you are up in your head analyzing and by the time you get out of your head, the moment is gone or the options have changed. When you have that feeling in your gut that tells you that an opportunity might be presenting itself, that instinct doesn’t come out of nowhere. You have read into some external cue and your brain has quickly run through your past memories and experiences and presents you with a feeling in your gut to let you know that something’s up. During a race or a game, you don’t have time to weigh out the pros and cons of a decision. If you are a novice in your sport, you might not know the right thing to do in that situation so you pause and question yourself. Athletes who over-analyze the situation will hesitate and miss the opportunity. As you gain more experience in your sport, you will start trusting your instincts. Elite athletes with more competitive experience are more likely to tune out irrelevant distractions and go with their gut. If we didn’t have the capacity for a gut reaction, we would weigh out the pros and cons forever and never be able to take action. The fact is you may one day seize an opportunity and watch it fail miserably, but as an athlete, being able to trust and listen to your instincts is something you have to be prepared to do.
The other aspect to consider is that we are simply out of practice when it comes to listening to and trusting our instincts. In fact, when we hold ourselves back, we are practicing not listening to our instincts. Some of the greatest moments I have had working with athletes have come from listening to my gut. I get a feeling about a question I need to ask or a homework assignment to give. I might hesitate for a moment and think, “What if I’m wrong about this?” – but then I trust my gut and go for it and it turns out to be the exact question that needed to be asked or the exact assignment that needed to be done in order for that athlete to move forward. Of course sometimes I go for it and it wasn’t the golden moment I thought it would be and I say to myself, “Well that didn’t work out”, and I just have to move on.
So with my recent situation, I seized the opportunity. Maybe it pans out and maybe it doesn’t – but it definitely wouldn’t pan out if I didn’t seize it. When you seize the opportunity, at least you have given yourself a chance for it to be great. Sometimes you just have to take the leap and see where you land.