Playing sports can create a vast array of physical demands, mental challenges and emotional highs and lows. Although these aspects can draw you in, they’re also a big part of what makes sports such a physical and mental grind. While experiencing performance highs and lows should be expected to some extent, your view of reality—both good and bad—is actually developed through your own mental perception. In simpler terms, how you perceive a situation is your reality. So when it comes to our “mental game,” is reality something that happens to us, or do we have the ability to create our own reality?
If reality is perception, then you have the ability to affect your reality. But you must understand your own perception and how it affects your performance. Take adrenaline, for example. Admittedly, you’d have a hard time performing at your very best without some adrenaline pushing you. Think back to your last really great performance. Chances are you had a fair amount of adrenaline coursing through your body. However, athletes often perceive these feelings of adrenaline negatively prior to a performance. Why? If the feelings are needed to help you reach your optimal level, why are they not perceived as positive?
This is an example of where our perception of a situation affects our reality. If you perceive these feelings negatively, then the result will likely be the same. However, if you choose to perceive these feelings as positive, helping you reach your peak, then you will be much more likely to perform that way as well.
On a separate piece of paper, write a few examples of situations in your sport that you perceive to be negative. Then write a few examples of how those negative perceptions could be altered in a more positive way. Here’s the adrenaline example from above to help clarify:
Negative: Feelings of adrenaline and nerves
Positive: Feelings that can help me be my best; now I know I’m ready to go.
What did you notice about the situations that you wrote down? Were they negative because that’s how you were perceiving them? In most cases, the answer will be yes. You are in control of your perceptions, even though you might not always be aware of the impact that your perception is having on your performance.
The challenge behind perceptions as reality is not only to be aware of your perceptions but also to be able to transform negative perceptions into more positive ones. Like much of mental preparation and performance, this is a choice. In the heat of the moment, it’s a very tough choice, but a choice nonetheless. Taking opportunities to practice altering your perception will make an incalculable difference when you are looking for a positive reality shift in performance.
Try this the next time you practice—alter your reality by altering your perception. If your perception is your reality, then by changing your perception, you can create your own positive reality.
Christine Rickertsen is a mental training consultant currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. After receiving her master’s degree in sport psychology, she started a consulting business designed to help athletes. She’s had the opportunity to work with an increasingly diverse population of athletes and teams. Visit her website at selfmadeathlete.wordpress.com.