Have you ever heard the term "you just have to get out of your head" or "you're just overthinking it"? I have listened to those lines more times than I would like to admit, but I never knew what to do about it or how to resolve it.
The first time I fully understood your mental state's power was when I read a book called "The Inner Game of Tennis." Now, if you are thinking, "I don't play tennis, this isn't for me," I challenge you to consider that we are all athletes preparing for something, whether it's a sporting competition or a presentation, meeting, or work assignment.
The book's main idea is that there is a self-one and a self-two within each one of us. Self one is the voice inside your head that works hard to tell you what you should have, could have, didn't do. Self-two is the one who executes the doing. The goal is to quiet self-one so that self-two can do its job. Have you ever heard, "I know what I need to do; I just can't seem to do it"?
I started playing pool (billiards) when I was 20 years old. At first, it began as something fun to do that kept my mind off of the nasty breakup I had just experienced. Ten years later, I played in WPBA tournaments and ranked in the world's top 50 women billiard players. Back then, I didn't spend much time thinking about the matches I lost or even that I might fail.
Fast forward to a time in my life where the ground I stood on felt shaky. I wasn't comfortable or confident in anything I did. My family dynamics had shifted, my role in it changed, and work wasn't going well. I was fired for the first time in my life and looking for a new job. I was thinking about failing. As you can probably imagine, my confidence was at an all-time low. It was then that I realized that my mental state determined more outcomes than energy and effort.
These are not novel theories. My guess is you've heard at least some of this before. That's why I want to focus on what you can do about it, and the first thing you have to do is find a way to quiet self-one. You hear yourself talk more than you hear anyone else. What you say matters, so stop talking down to yourself. Another way to think about it is, would you want your thoughts broadcasted to the entire world? Especially during troubling times? I think we can all agree, that would be bad.
A great example of quieting self-one is in the movie "For Love of the Game." Kevin Costner is a pitcher, and just before he pitches, he verbally says, "Clear the Mechanism," and the crowd and noise fade away, and all he sees is the catcher's glove. That is the first step to quieting self-one. The next step is to act the part. Your facial expressions and mannerisms need to represent the athlete you want to be. This is probably where the saying "fake it til you make it" comes. Next, you have to make sure that your skills match the challenge. If you are underskilled at the task at hand, anxiety might get the best of you. If you are over-skilled, you'll be bored. Finally, it would be best if you did not fight your bad habits. Handle success and failure the same way. Don't get upset with yourself when you make a mistake. Create a judgment-free zone. No energy or emotion goes into the error. Treat it like anything else. The only way to deal with bad habits is to create good ones to replace them.
Now once you've mastered quieting self-one, acting the part, aligning skills to challenges, and stop judging your bad habits, there's just one last thing to consider. Why are you doing what you are doing? You better have a good answer for this. Otherwise, it might be time to reevaluate what you spend time doing.
A couple of years ago, I lost my passion for playing pool. I continued to compete in tournaments, but I was losing matches that I knew I should win. For me, it came down to my why. When I got up the nerve to think about why I was still playing, it was clear that I played because I thought I should play. All the years I spent practicing and traveling to play would go to waste if I stopped playing. At least that's what I told myself. Ultimately though, my heart wasn't in it, and as hard as it was, I had to quit. I thought that was the only solution. It wasn't until a year later that I reread "The Inner Game of Tennis" and realized that I hadn't considered every aspect of my choices.
I challenge you to think about the last time you were worried about something. I bet that the thing you were worried about was something either in the future or in the past. We can't control the future or the past. We can only control the present. Finding a way to focus on the present means you can stop wasting time on things you can't control and focus on the things you can control. To take it one step further, set goals based on the process, not the outcome. I mean that practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect, and we can control how we practice. Set your effort on the aim, not the results. That is what determines whether we succeed or fail. That is also what brought me back to pool. I found a way to quiet self-one and focus on the task at hand, the thing I can control. In September, I played in the BCA Nationals tournament in Las Vegas, and I finished 17th in the Ladies Platinum singles, and my ladies team finished 5th! Not too bad if I do say so myself!