Last year at the Gorge Downwind Challenge, I had a really bad start. I was all in my head and I had gone down a negative spiral of feelings and emotions instead of just relaxing and enjoying a fun downwind run.
I'm back up here preparing for this year's event, and I came across an article recently about how researchers at Tufts are looking into the signals our brains give that lead us into negative emotions.
You can scope it out here: https://neurosciencenews.com/amygdala-emotion-20969/
I read the article hoping it would shed light on what causes our brains to switch to a negative state, because I think this matters for athletes. Unfortunately for me, that wasn't what the article was about! They hope to create a pill one day to interrupt those signals and prevent negative emotions. For those with an imbalance, this could be a huge breakthrough - but for me in a bad mood, I just need to cultivate discipline. I don't need a pill, I need tools and strategies to stop negative thinking from taking over. I need to stay mindful of my thoughts.
If we are vibrating in a negative state, then we will attract negative outcomes. We will manifest our reality. We essentially 'will' the negative into existence. So much so at times, that even if we were to “win” in a given moment, the same moment could be soiled by our own negative attitude. One thing I've found to be true - if you ever want to free yourself to perform well, you have to first be able to feel like you won even when you're dead last.
I've been losing races for years (I've lost far more than I've won), and instead of feeling like a loss or like a failure, I reframed the outcome and understood that every result was merely a part of the long-term process. It was vital for me to learn how to cultivate enjoyment and still be "loosing." Regardless of the outcomes I needed to enjoy the process, do it for the sake of doing, and keep a positive attitude. If you can't keep a positive mindset when you're a "work in progress" you won't have a positive mindset when you've reached your goal either. There isn't some magic moment when you achieve something and a switch flips in your brain and changes all of the feelings of insecurity and anxiety to a cool, calm, confidence.
Cool, calm, confidence is something you have to train. Just like you train your body with workouts and good food. Athletes need to train themselves to stop the signals that send them into a negative emotional state. How do we do that?
Here's another link to 20 journal prompts to interrupt negative pathways: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/428954
It was a good read, and gave me something I was searching for in the other article - tools to stop negative emotions from taking over. Practicing this in my journal enables me to perform (i.e. stay in a positive mental state) on the water.
“If we can learn to work diligently to weed out the barriers and clutter in our minds, it opens the gate for us to reach our true potential”
Here are three prompts from the above article that I used to reframe my mindset. You can try them or the others in the daily reflection section of your ATHLETE AGENDA today!
What unhealthy thoughts have been consuming me lately, and how can I move my mindset away from them? For me, in the particular race scenario I found myself in, I was consumed with thoughts about not performing well or at my best. There were circumstances outside of my control, and I needed to learn to let go and just enjoy my time. My place in a race is not a reflection of me as a human or an athlete.
How can I develop my mindset to set myself up for growth? Instead of putting on a frowny face and wallowing in self-pity and worrying what others may think, I should just let it go. When I catch myself having a negative thought, I will gently stop and try to redirect those thoughts to be more positive and think about the good in the situation. Win or lose, I might as well be having fun. Life IS short.
Do I let how other people's opinions of me prevent me from living my most authentic life? For the majority of my life, this answer is "no" but sometimes in paddling, I've let this slide. We have to be very gentle with our identity and ensure that we don't let how other see us (or how we want others to see us - the identity we present to the world) prevent us from living freely.