10 Cognitive Distortions In Athletics – Part 2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Afremow

Dr. Jim Afremow is a much sought-after mental skills coach, licensed professional counselor, co-founder of the Champion’s Mind App, and the author of The Champion’s Mind, The Champion’s Comeback, and The Young Champion’s Mind. For over 20 years, Dr. Afremow has assisted numerous high school, collegiate, recreational, and  professional athletes. Major sports represented include MLB, NBA, WNBA, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, NHL, NFL, and the UFC. In addition, he has mentally trained several U.S. and international Olympic competitors. He served as the  staff mental coach for two international Olympic teams, the Greek Olympic softball team and India’s Olympic field hockey team. He served as a senior staff member with Counseling Services and Sports Medicine at Arizona State University, and as a Mental Skills Coach and the Peak Performance Coordinator with the San Francisco Giants MLB organization.

// Identifying and Correcting the 10 Cognitive Distortions in athletics

When thinking about sports, it’s often physical training and performance that we fixate on. This disregards the fact that actions don’t exist in isolation. They’re preceded by thoughts, which lead to feelings. If you’re going to have any hope of optimizing performance outputs. Monitoring and improving your thought-level inputs needs to become a regular habit. This doesn’t need to become a full-time job. A few minutes at the start of each day polishing your mental skills is all you need. One place to start is by identifying common cognitive distortions in athletics that hold your athletes back.

“Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality.”
– Earl Nightingale

Noticing these cognitive distortions, and making the necessary corrections is just as important as physically preparing for a game. In the previous post, we took aim at cognitive distortions one, two, and three. Now let’s tackle the next four on the list. This way you can boost your cognitive distortions game, even as you continue working on your physical qualities.

Cognitive Distortion #4: Yes, But…

At the end of part one, we looked at what happens when you process, sort, keep, and regularly pull out every negative entry in your performance filing cabinet. An associated cognitive distortion involves an inability to accept compliments. Or without thinking, “They’re only saying that to be nice,” or “They just feel sorry for me because I suck.” Of course, you don’t want to let praise puff you up to the point that you become arrogant and narcissistic. Neither should you completely dismiss it. Or think that people have an ulterior motive for saying something nice to or about you. 

Another tendency when receiving a compliment is telling yourself something like, “Yes, but I missed that penalty in the first half.” In the relationship with your significant other, an apology that follows this “Yes, but…” model is half-hearted at best. And could even escalate the argument, depending on what follows the “but.” Diminishing or dismissing positive affirmation and appreciation from others can be just as destructive.

Your Title Goes Here

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Course Correction

Accept praise at face value and believe the person or people offering it are genuine in what they’re saying. Believe that their statements are true and valid, and feel good about yourself and your performance. You can even reinforce this through positive self-talk by saying, “They’re right, I was clutch in overtime. I come through for my team when the game’s on the line.” Then get back to working hard so that you deliver again in the upcoming game.

Cognitive Distortion #5: Jumping to Conclusions

This subhead makes me think of the idea for a new board game that crops up at a barbecue in the movie Office Space. But unlike that film, there’s nothing funny about this particular cognitive distortion. It occurs when we look at what’s happening and use it as a weapon against ourselves. So if you’re a tennis player who’s lost your past four matches, you think your slump will go on forever. Or if you’re out of commission with an injury, you assume you’ll never get healthy. Even Superman or Wonder Woman would struggle to put their costume on and go out to fight the bad guys if they saw themselves like this. 

Another part of this distortion involves believing that we know what others are thinking, and assuming that their intentions toward us are negative. So if you get moved down the batting order, you jump to the conclusion that your coach has lost faith in you, when really she’s just trying to give a rookie more playing time to boost her confidence.

Your Title Goes Here

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Course Correction

Stop getting ahead of yourself. Make an effort to stay in the present and let the future unfold in its own time. Examine the evidence and you’ll likely find some flowers among the weeds. Your present situation does not dictate what happens next. So control the controllables, improve where you can, and let the uncontrollable unfold, confident in the knowledge that you can handle whatever comes your way.

Cognitive Distortion #6: Magnification/ Minimization

This distortion doesn’t just apply to athletes, but to anyone who tends to procrastinate because they consider the full scope of the task list in front of them. For example, I recently read a tweet from a published author who wrote, “I have a mountain of writing to do tonight.” Maybe this was her way of psyching herself up for a monster word count, but more likely she was making things harder than they needed to be. It sure seemed like an example of magnification. For a sportsperson, the equivalent would be looking at an entire year-long training plan and becoming overwhelmed by the size of it. When you make a creek seem as big as the Grand Canyon, it can easily become paralyzing. 

The other side of the coin is minimization. This is where you dismiss everything you’ve accomplished as insignificant or meaningless. Rather than seeing how you contributed positively to your team’s success or finding the good in your individual performance, you look at what’s happened in a self-defeating way.

Your Title Goes Here

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Course Correction

Learn to think about things in proper proportion. When you’re considering a big goal, this means breaking it down into smaller milestones. If you’re racing in a marathon, it could be taking it a mile at a time mentally, or breaking the 26 miles into even littler chunks. To overcome minimization, recognize and celebrate the good in each performance. Even if the scoreboard shows that you lost, you can still choose to think like a winner.

Cognitive Distortion #7: Overly-Emotional Reasoning

It’s so easy to get caught up in the emotion of the moment, isn’t it? Think about a toddler who reaches their hand into a snack bag expecting there to be another handful. When she comes up empty, it seems like the end of the world and an ear-punishing tantrum ensues. While you’ve matured beyond that point, you can probably recall a race where you finished just outside the medals or a game where you missed a free throw in the final minute. I bet it felt like the roof had fallen on you. 

That’s perfectly natural. Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel. Just don’t let negative emotions pitch a tent in your mind. Sure, you might feel angry, upset, disappointed, and dejected for a few minutes after a setback, or maybe even a few hours. But after this point, you need to transition from being overly emotional back to a more rational mindset that will help you assess things more objectively and fairly.

Your Title Goes Here

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Course Correction

Acknowledge negative emotions and allow them to manifest themselves for a little while. Then flip the switch back to positivity by recognizing that you feel this way because you’re a determined competitor who wants to win and play as well as you can. This is a good thing. Now opt to put emotion aside and examine what went wrong and what went well with a calm, neutral perspective.

Check back soon for part 3, in which I’ll tackle cognitive distortions eight to 10 and share how to gain mastery over your thought life to unlock your best self

Want more training  content?

More coaches and athletes than ever are reading the TrainHeroic blog, and it's our mission to support them with useful training & coaching content. If you found this article useful, please take a moment to share it on social media, engage with the author, and link to this article on your own blog or any forums you post on.

Be Your Best,

TrainHeroic Content Team

HEROIC SOCIAL

TRAINING LAB

Access the latest articles, reviews, and case studies from the top strength and conditioning minds in the TH Training Lab

Share This