What do you see in the picture? An old woman, or a young woman? Both are there if you look closely…
I regularly lecture on human perception and the impact perception has on our subsequent behaviors – both good and bad. Amazingly, two people can look at the same image or circumstance and come away with dramatically different interpretations of what they just experienced. At the end of the day, what we “see” around us in life really is as unique as who we are as people, and rarely do we agree on every last detail.
There are many reasons why we perceive the world uniquely and different from one another, including our level of alertness, what we expect to see, what specific thing(s) we attend to when we see something, and our previous life experiences. All of these factors color our judgement, and lead us to creating our own impressions and paradigms about the world.
The importance of perception
When it comes to success or failure in life, it might be surprising to learn that our natural talents and abilities often take a backseat to the importance of mindset, and our ability to “see” potential success instead of failure. For example, before each competition athletes get to make a choice about how they perceive the competition — as a challenge or a threat. Those athletes challenged by the competition will have better focus, confidence, motivation, and resiliency compared to those who are immediately threatened. In fact, otherwise built-in genetic advantages are regularly mitigated by a lacking belief, and otherwise average athletes often excel beyond their natural abilities based solely on belief.
Fortunately, we can train ourselves to see challenges in life — even if we have had a tendency to previously see threats in similar situations. Ironically, it might be a challenge to begin to see life situations as challenges, but it is also a choice we are able to make. Below are a few additional tips to help:
- Remember, you can focus and attend to whatever you want, so choose wisely. For example, instead of focusing on the winning record of your upcoming opponent, try to see the situation as an opportunity to play spoiler.
- Remind yourself of the importance of perception. When you see situations as healthy challenges, your mind and body will begin to work in synchrony, and your chances for success spike dramatically.
- Use a cue word as a reminder. A cue word is a word, phrase, or acronym used to remind people of specific thoughts, images, or mindsets. You can come up with your own cue word to help you see competition in healthy ways, and you can write your cue word on your hand, arm, shoes, or any other part of your equipment.
- Use various sport psychology mental toughness techniques to help with nervous energy. If you find that it’s difficult to “see” competition in healthy, challenging ways, try using anxiety-reducing techniques like deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and positive self-talk.