As a certified mental performance coach I speak to young competitive athletes about their desire to be the ‘best’ as a form of black and white thinking. The concept is, when we think in terms of black and white we develop a rigid perception. Meaning, if I do not perceive myself to be the ‘best’ than I automatically feel as though I am the ‘worst.’ This drastic bounce is depicted with a critical internal message that ‘I am not good enough,’ and coincides with uncomfortable feelings of anger, guilt, regret, and humiliation, etc.
So if it is true that our desire to be the ‘best’ is unavoidably accompanied by the sensation of failure, then it is sensible to adjust the language of our goal. In order to do so we must first understand and challenge the idea of being the ‘best.’
As humans it is no secret that we are pleasure seeking and pain avoidant. So for the competitive and motivated amongst us, we are highly driven to experience the euphoric mix of emotions that come with being the ‘best.’ However, in my own experience with this goal, I have found that the same mix of emotions can be accomplished when one perceives their self as being special or ‘distinct.’ The difference is that being the ‘best’ produces feelings of stress and anxiety, whereas being ‘distinct’ feels more controllable and achievable. There is also no definitive image to adhere to when one is ‘distinct,’ which allows athletes to explore their strengths and personality to a greater potential.
Now even if I modify my desire to be ‘distinct,’ I am still faced with the question of how to measure my achievement of this goal. The simplest and most common indicators include awards, praise, and statistics – all of which are uncontrollable outcomes. Although outcomes have great value to the elite, a focus that is too heavily skewed in this direction is victim to the black and white paradigm – where all experiences absent of external proof that ‘I am distinct,’ are perceived as failure. For example, if an athlete performs well in a competition, but does not receive praise, this is experienced as a failure to be ‘distinct.’
With that said, external measurements must be balanced with intrinsic reminders. To better illustrate this practice, consider the idiom, comparing apples to oranges. Internally, we cannot be practically compared to determine who is the ‘best,’ yet we can distinguish who we are by developing a deep connection with the traits we have, and also aim to possess.
For example, I identify myself as being passionate, committed, intelligent, creative, sensitive, etc., whereas you will identify yourself in a distinctly different way. Furthermore, each of my traits has various degrees of intensity and many of which I am continuously working to strengthen.
More importantly, sport psychology teaches us that there are tangible ways to maximize potential and achieve your goal. In this case, the simple act of remembering your list of character traits has proven to be a powerful way of reconnecting with what makes you distinctly you in your pursuit of achievement. Especially in the event that you under-perform or fall short of your goal, instead of feeling like a failure, you can accept your shortcomings and maintain a strong internal drive.
In summary, there are three important tools to helping you achieve your goals at a highly competitive level:
- Shift the language of your goals from being the ‘best’ to being ‘distinct.’
- Make a comprehensive list of character traits that you identify with to be used as an internal measurement of being ‘distinct.’
- When you fall short of your goal to be ‘distinct,’ call upon your traits to maintain motivation and desire.