Emotions and Performance: What do we know?
Competing in sports provides a wide variety of emotions and experiences. We know our ability to focus and process information quickly impacts how well we perform. The question we need to ask ourselves, is what constitutes peak focus? The first place to start is to understand what is detrimental to our ability to process information. It starts with Cortisol.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that has several impacts on our body physically and cognitively. When we prepare ourselves to compete, our stress activation levels will always rise. The difficulty becomes, what is the right amount? When our activation levels are too high we cross a threshold. Our ability to clearly focus and make quick decisions becomes impaired. Cortisol blocks memory and recall when it becomes too high. So, what causes cortisol to rise? The answer. Our Emotions.
Our activation levels are a very useful tool and we become activated with positive emotions such as excitement or negative emotions such as frustration or anger. The difference between the two is that positive emotions do not raise cortisol the same way negative emotions do. Therefore, when you experience frustration, irritation, or anger for heightened or extended periods of time that is when cortisol gets spiked. So, what can we do?
Step #1: Identify the situations the cause you to become frustrated or annoyed
Step #2: Recognize that when you become frustrated or annoyed it is because you are giving permission to the person or situation to mentally control you
Step #3: Have a strategy in place – During practices implement a centering technique such as slow breathing, followed by a verbal or written cue to accept that you are upset and re-focus on something specific in the moment. Make this a habit and it will help you keep the negative emotions in check and cortisol at bay.
In summary, because we are human we will always run into situations where our ability to stay composed and focused will be hindered. Therefore, recognize the emotions you are experiencing and if you find yourself spending more time being negative, utilize a centering technique to ensure you stay in control and are performing as quickly and consistently as you can.
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