Friday, 27 November 2009

The power of lightening up

One thing that sports performers very often start to do when they get to a certain level is take their sport too seriously. The thinking behind this tends to be that if they want to get to a very high level, they have to take it seriously. Now, I'm not saying that sport shouldn't be important and I'm not saying that sports performers shouldn't strive to reach a high level - far from it. What I am saying is that taking sport too seriously (or anything for that matter) can have a real impact on performance. One thing it does, for instance, is it affects our physiology. When we take things too seriously, we tend to frown more and become more inward looking. The mere act of frowning will then impact on other muscles throughout our bodies and will also have a significant impact on how we think and feel. You can test this out for yourself. Put a frown on your face for a couple of minutes and notice how it affects your mood. Then put a big smile on your face and notice the difference. When we smile we increase the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin which makes us feel happier and also reduces levels of anxiety. It is no coincidence that you are seeing more sports performers smiling when they are in competition. It is a noticeable change in the Chelsea team who seemed to have been playing with a smile on their faces since Carlo Ancelotti became coach (notably bringing with him the eminent psychologist Bruno Demichelis). Even Nicolas Anelka has been smiling. You may have noticed that Andy Murray has lightened up over the last year or so, as has Padraig Harrington with great results. The likes of Usain Bolt, Ronaldinho, Tom Watson and Luke Donald seem to have always performed with a smile on their faces. So if you want to improve your performance, first of all, make a commitment to lighten up, smile and enjoy yourself.