Have you ever had the experience where you feel so good about your performance that you start celebrating in your head, thinking, ‘I’ve got this in the bag!’ . . . but then all of the sudden your opponent starts to rally and you end up losing?
When you experience success, it feels good. In fact, you continue to play the sport because it delivers these good feelings. However, the emotions you feel after a success can be just as difficult to manage as those after a mistake and require strategic mental training.
In this article I have outlined an organized way for you to connect your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors during successful moments and offer ideas on how you can change your thinking to harness the energy of success.
What does it feel like to achieve success?
Winning and performing well comes with intense feelings of pride, satisfaction, happiness, excitement, confidence, optimism, etc. This mix of emotions produces a flood of energy that makes you feel on top of the world and capable of anything. Yet, the match isn’t over and this high level of energy and emotion is not necessarily ideal to focus and perform. Some may simply think, ‘Don’t be excited,’ but the body responds naturally to stimuli and the reality is – you are excited!
So instead of denying how you feel, pay attention to your arousal level and determine your ideal state from 1 (relaxed) to 10 (energized). Every player will differ, so it is important to first know your ideal level, monitor if you go either above or below, and have strategies in place to adjust accordingly. For example, if I go above my arousal level because I am winning, then I will calm myself down with three deep breaths. This allows me to accept and feel the excitement for a moment, then re-calibrate to a performance-ready level.
How do you interpret that feeling?
With all emotions, there is a mental (cognitive) interpretation that is critical to how you proceed with the match. For example, when I feel this great mix of positive emotions while winning I may think, ‘I’ve got this in the bag’ or ‘I’m unstoppable.’ These interpretations are cognitive errors for two main reasons: they are generalizations and they are future predictions. In actuality, you don’t know if you will win and you are not unstoppable all the time.
Alternatively, you must develop statements that are situational assessments based on the present moment. For example, I would assess the current moment and think, ‘I am playing well right now’ or ‘I am feeling good.’ By staying present with your internal language, you allow yourself to accept the flood of positive emotions without getting distracted by the future outcome of the match. From there, you can determine if you need to calm down and re-calibrate your arousal state as mentioned earlier.
How may this impact your performance?
When making cognitive errors it causes you to make assumptions and take short cuts. For example, if I feel confident and assume ‘I’m unstoppable’ then I am more likely to rush and skip fundamental routines. Similarly, imagine that you’ve had this thought before the match even begins – maybe your opponent is ranked lower or you’ve beaten her handily in the past – do you prepare differently?
Now imagine that you start to lose. You feel shocked. And your body is forced to endure debilitative physiological consequences. Self-trust is an essential ingredient for success, however it is possible to trust yourself so much that you don’t do what is required to perform at your best.
In conclusions, if you want to continue to perform at your best, then it is critical to make situational interpretations to your momentary feelings of success. Then you can harness that energy to stay focused and disciplined in your preparation, as well as aware, determined, and resilient throughout the match.