Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Don’t worry, be happy

I have noted a worrying trend in recent years, particularly in my younger clients, that, in the pursuit of excellence, they seem more and more to be losing their enjoyment of their sport. They get to a point where they feel it is time to take their sport seriously and something changes in their approach. Instead of taking a carefree, curious and open-minded approach to learning new skills, they start focusing on results and status. As a consequence of this, they develop a belief that they should only be happy as a reward for achieving a particular goal or as a consequence of good results rather than enjoying playing for the sake of playing. They feel they should be hard on themselves, they will beat themselves up when things go wrong and scrutinise their performances for errors. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t work very well.

The thing is, we are much more resourceful when we are happy than when we are focusing on our faults and chastising ourselves. I often ask my clients what it was like performing in their sport before they took it seriously, and pretty well everyone I have asked this question has spoken positively, almost with a glow of nostalgia. There was no fear of failure, they played instinctively, they focused on the process of learning rather than the consequences of their actions and they had complete trust and belief in themselves – essentially all the things you want from a sports performer.  And yet they would still put off happiness until they achieved something rather than use it as a means to help them achieve.

Being positive even has a profound effect on our ability to use our senses. The Russian psychologist Krikor Kekcheyev found that, when thinking pleasant thoughts, test subjects could see, taste, smell and hear better and, more significantly for sports performers, could detect finer distinctions in their sense of touch. 
Personally, I see this as a win-win situation. If you go out purely with the intention of enjoying performing, you will actually perform better than if you are hard on yourself and take it too seriously.

So why wait to be happy?  Go and have fun!

Andy Barton
Performance Consultant