Psychologists claim human performance is largely dependent on how we perceive and understand the world around us, and the behaviors we choose based on our unique interpretations. An example in sports might be two athletes on the same team being yelled at by a coach — one athlete might choose to interpret the message solely for content and instruction, while the second elects to perceive the coach’s message as an affirmation that the athlete isn’t very good, and that the coach doesn’t like the athlete personally. As you might imagine, these very different interpretations will lead to two very different responses — the first athlete will likely use the feedback to improve mental toughness and get better, while the second athlete will probably experience unnecessary pressure and stress trying to please the coach.
The “A-B-C’s” of success
Many years ago the psychologist Albert Ellis developed a popular therapeutic approach to helping clients called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), a system that is still very much used today. Ellis broke down human perception and behavior into three basic steps:
(A) The event that occurs. Events are not good, bad, right, or wrong, but instead simply the things that happen to us in life. In the example above, the coach yelling could be categorized as an event.
(B) Our cognitive interpretation of the event. While we don’t always control for events (or things) that happen to us, we do, according to Ellis, completely control how we cognitively appraise events. Similar to the saying “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure,” REBT allows for unique human interpretation when it comes to how we view things in life. Using the yelling coach example, one athlete will use the yelling as a means for the coach trying to motivate the player, while another athlete might see the yelling as nothing more than intimidation and evidence that the coach doesn’t like the player.
(C) The behaviors that follow our interpretations. Depending on the appraisals made in “B,” different outcomes will occur. For the athlete that used the coach yelling as motivation, he will likely play harder, and maybe even appreciate that the coach “got into him.” On the other hand, the second athlete might see the yelling as evidence that he isn’t very good, and could even prematurely quit the team as a result!
How we think impacts how we play
In sports, similar to life, the way we understand the world around us has everything to do with our focus, motivation, discipline, and resiliency. Unfortunately, we sometimes fall prey to distorted interpretations that prompt our emotions to cloud our logic and judgement — as was the case in the example of the athlete who took the coach’s yelling personally rather than seeing it as an attempt to motivate the athlete to perform better.
When we minimize distortions in our cognitive appraisals, we also experience less stress in life as a result. And when we stress less, we gain confidence, and confidence is a great thing to have when trying to maximize human abilities.
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