Friday, March 2, 2012

The Power of a Positive Mental Attitude

In our articles and blog, we often talk about "championship characteristics" such as confidence, leadership, focus, playing at a high level (while minimizing errors), and experience.  Interestingly, many of these championship traits can be linked to having a "positive mental attitude."    

Cognitive psychologists suggest that an individual athlete's "explanatory style" is a significant factor in influencing sports performance.  Individuals with an optimistic explanatory style consistently outperform those with a pessimistic explanatory style. [Seligman, (1990);  Hanrahan & Grove (1990)].  Their work is based on 'attribution theory' - ie. on how people explain 'good' and 'bad' events that happen in their lives.  An individual's explanatory style can be used to determine their level of optimism or pessimism - and as a consequence, their performance potential in sport.
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Here is a less academic look at sports psychology and how Jack Nicklaus used mental imagery -- for every shot!  Jack Nicklaus wrote:

"I never hit a shot even in practice without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It's like a colour movie. First, I "see" the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I "see" the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there's a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short private Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball."

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And from a NASA blog -- on positive mental attitude:
Some years ago I took a survival course; the instructor asked us all to guess what might be the most valuable tool to have in a survival situation.  Matches, compass, cell phone, water -- all good guesses, but the right answer:  a positive mental attitude.

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There is also growing evidence of the power of positive thinking and healing.  Medical practitioners and doctors cite "good results" -- for serious cases and older patients -- especially for people with positive attitudes.  

From Bernie Siegel, MD:

To induce self-healing, love your life and body... 

Do what you love and what makes you happy. Eliminate the “shoulds” from your life. Prioritize humor in your life—see if you can laugh out loud a few times each day. Think about things that have made you laugh before. Sometimes just bringing those times back to mind is enough to enjoy another good laugh. I have been saying that laughter really is great medicine for a long time now, but recently more studies have shown that the immune system really does benefit greatly from humor...

Surround yourself with positive people...  Be good to yourself and nourish your life with positive, supportive, loving thoughts...

We thought we would end this article on some approaches that champions use to gain an optimistic and positive mental attitude.  

What do champions feel? How do they use their emotional states to generate excellence in themselves? What champion feelings do they choose? I've listed some below that I've identified in peak performers. Perhaps you can think of others. Why not choose, right now, to experience one of the following champion feelings :
  • Joy - a feeling of intense happiness
  • Enthusiasm - a feeling of being fully alive and energised
  • Purpose - a feeling of certainty and direction in your life
  • Determination - a feeling of being fully committed to a task or goal
  • Courage - a feeling of strength in the face of adversity or risk
  • Focus - a feeling of pinpoint concentration
  • Love - a feeling of caring, and giving of yourself
  • Adventure - a feeling of excitement and challenge
  • Momentum - a feeling of moving to a destination
  • Belonging - a feeling of connection to others
  • Timing - a feeling of being in perfect sync with outside forces

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