Let’s set up the scene here. Let’s go out to the 9th hole of a beautiful green golf course. This hole is a longer par 3 with a pristine pond on the left and the hole lies directly in the center of a large green. There are 2 sand traps on the left of the green and one on the front right. Now, I hope you can imagine this scene in your mind and as you read this I would like you to take yourself to the tee box behind your ball and line up your shot. At this point, you have a few different strategies that you could set in your mind. You could go for the center of the large green, which is technically what you SHOULD do, however, a creeping doubt enters into your mind regarding the pond on the left. You look at the pond and you think to yourself, don’t hit it left! As you approach the ball to hit it, you put a little more attention on that doubt and think again, don’t hit it left!

Now, at this point, I bet you can imagine what is likely to happen. You see this happens all of the time and it is a classic act of an athlete with little control over their mental game. Having said that you can always do something about it!

You see this happens all of the time and it is a classic act of an athlete with little control over their mental game. Having said that you can always do something about it!

Let’s go after an applicable example here of what we can do about it.

A few months ago I asked a group of elite swimmers what they needed to do to swim their absolute fastest in practice and in competition when it comes to their strategy or approach. Answers came in from the field:

  • I need to focus hard
  • Don’t slip on the walls
  • I need to push myself
  • Kick hard right off the blocks
  • Don’t go out too hard on endurance events
  • Don’t breath in and out of the wall
  • Sprint to the finish
  • etc…

The answers were very typical for athletes at this level and they all made sense. Now, take a look at your own sport and think about the strategy or approach you use to perform at your best.

Let’s take a deeper look at these strategies the elite swimmers use. You will see that a lot of these strategies use the word DON’T (DO NOT) in their strategy which is really interesting to me as a mental skills trainer. Why in the world would you want to focus your strategy on NOT doing something rather than what you need to DO to accomplish your peak performance? Again this is completely common among athletes as a whole. We get focused on things that we don’t want to do which pulls power away from the things that will help us most.  However, just because it is normal does not mean it is effective thinking by any means!

So, what do we do about this ineffective thought process? We make sure we change it!

I have said this before and will say it again, ‘It is ok to find yourself in a place of ineffective thinking, it is not ok to stay there if you are aiming at peak performance!’

If you have any strategies that include what you should not do on your paper, I challenge you to change flip flop your thinking and write what you will DO rather than NOT DO.

In the comments section below, write down your major DON’T self-talk and then the DO self-talk that you can replace those ineffective thoughts with!