by Jeff Greenwald, M.A., MFT; sports psychologist
Reprinted with permission from Fearless Tennis
It’s natural to assume that if you have feelings of low confidence, anxiety, or anger, you can’t do anything about it. Many people feel that emotions are simply part of their make-up. In the world of cognitive psychology, it’s called emotional reasoning—that is, we label ourselves based on our emotions. However, in reality, just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean it is true.
One player I work with lacks confidence in tournaments but plays incredibly well in practice. Literally, she is like two different players. This problem has been going on for the past three or four years mainly because she hasn’t ever entertained the idea that her feeling of insecurity is caused by her thoughts in the first place.
Helping her recognize that her negative, irrational thoughts can, in fact, be changed has paved the way for new emotions to emerge. Because thoughts happen in our mind so quickly, without self monitoring or observing our thinking patterns, we can become entrenched in negative emotions that actually have very little validity.
The key is to begin checking in with yourself when you notice you are feeling anxious or down about your game. Usually, if you pay attention, you will be able to notice that your mind has taken a turn down the negative track: I am so sick of practicing. I hope I play well today. I have not been feeling good on the court lately. The thoughts come quickly, but you should gradually be able to catch yourself thinking negative thoughts when you notice that a particular emotion has descended upon you.
My client recently went out and won a string of three-set matches, having faced multiple match points in her tournament and ended the season number one in her conference. Once she realized that she didn’t need to be victimized by her feelings and that she had a choice over what she could think at any given moment, she stopped labeling herself as a player who had no confidence. Be careful of the labels. Our emotions are not always based on the truth.
Next time you notice you are feeling low on confidence, panicky, angry, or impatient, ask yourself, What am I thinking right now? Once you identify the thought or stream of thoughts, ask yourself if what you are thinking is, in fact, true. Ask yourself if there might be another perspective. There is always an alternative perspective that is available if you take a moment to challenge what you are thinking.