Are you paying attention to where you are parking your thoughts?

Oftentimes your biggest competition (whether we’re talking sports, business, or life) is yourself. Your own mind. You unknowingly sabotage yourself with your own beliefs and internal dialogue.

From On Top of Your Game: Mental Skills to Maximize Your Athletic Performance:

“There are times when you may not even realize that you are engaging in self-talk, but there isn’t a day that goes by without some thought entering your mind. This constant chatter has a big impact on our lived experience. Athletes experiencing constant chatter before a game that whispers to them their biggest doubts and greatest fears undoubtedly see a detrimental effect to their performance. Imagine for a moment that on one shoulder you have a little monster that sits and talks about all of your worries, doubts, mistakes, and fears. Now imagine that on your other shoulder you have a little athlete that sits and talks about your hopes, dreams, goals, and strengths. You have a little monster on one shoulder and a little athlete on the other; which one are you feeding? Do you spend most of your time feeding the monster or feeding the athlete? Whichever you choose to feed the most is the one that will become stronger.”

Think about it this way:

It’s a hot summer day and you’re looking for a place to park when you spy two different parking spots. One spot is under a nice shady tree (with no birds in sight!). You notice that just in front of that parking spot is a sign that says “Today’s Parking Special! Free Car Wash and Detail When You Park Directly in Front of this Sign!”. Then you notice that up on the sidewalk there is a lemonade stand offering free lemonade, which happens to be your favorite beverage to drink on a hot summer day. You also see that across the street there is another available space to park. Since you are a thoughtful and discerning type of person, you do your due diligence and check out the other open spot as well. You notice that this spot has no shade, is littered with glass and nails, is directly next to a fire hydrant, and there is a police officer parked right in front of it. No shady tree, no free car wash, no lemonade. Both spots are available– which parking space will you choose?

Stop choosing to park your thoughts in the red zone.

It’s a no-brainer right? Why would I CHOOSE to park in the spot that I know is just going to cause anger and aggravation– leaving me with a guaranteed flat tire AND a parking ticket– when I could just as easily park across the street and get a free car wash and some lemonade? This isn’t valet parking– you’re not handing someone the keys letting someone else choose– YOU get to decide where to park. You wouldn’t choose to park in a spot that was guaranteed misery when it could have easily been avoided, yet we choose to park our thoughts in those spots all the time.

Sometimes we find ourselves parking our thoughts in a “Red Zone” because of a little thing called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is basically your tendency to both seek out and interpret information and events in a way that confirms what you already believe. When you think to yourself–

  • I’m not smart.
  • I’m not talented.
  • My coach doesn’t like me.
  • This is too hard.
  • I’m going to lose this match.
  • Nothing ever goes my way.

–your confirmation bias means you will tune into the information that upholds your belief, instead of seeing the whole picture or seeing things objectively. Sometimes it shows up in the form of “selective hearing”– where you somehow choose only to hear only what you want to hear (or what you fear).

The reason this is important is that sometimes this bias will cloud our judgment and prevent us from being able to see something objectively. Where you choose to park your thoughts is important. The choice you make is going to have an influence over your future thoughts, emotions, decisions, and behavior. Do a little reflection and ask yourself:

  • Where have I been parking your thoughts lately?
  • Am I choosing to park my thoughts in a place consumed with obstacles, or am I choosing to park my thoughts in a place filled with opportunities?
  • Is it time to choose a different parking spot?