A lot of times we are our own worst enemy. You miss a shot or lose a game and often times athletes beat themselves up about it. A lot of people fear if they aren’t hard on themselves they will become soft and not try as hard. However, studies have shown that carrying frustrations or engaging in negative self-talk can have detrimental effects on your game.
So how do you learn to let the past go? By engaging in what’s called self-compassion. One of the foremost researchers on the concept, Dr. Kristin Neff, defines self-compassion as, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.” (Click HERE to read more)
In many levels of sports, the expectation of perfection creeps in. The first step of practicing self-compassion is realizing that no one is perfect, not you, but not your opponent either. The fact that anyone can beat anyone else on any given day is what makes sports exciting. That means no person can be perfect. You need to learn to forgive yourself when you make a mistake.
Sure, it’s easy to say, but how can you do that? Turns out it’s just as easy in practice. When you make a mistake, take a deep breath and simply say to yourself, “I forgive myself.” Say it out loud, in your head, however you need to, just take a moment to say it and let it sink in. You’d be amazed by the weight it can lift off your shoulders.
Another way to practice self-compassion is to take the things you are telling yourself and turn them around. Imagine taking all the things you are saying to yourself, but instead, you are saying them to a teammate or friend. Think you’re being a bit harsh? That means you need to dial it back. You need to learn to treat yourself with the same love and understanding you show to others.
A third path to self-compassion is listening to your body and respecting what it’s telling you. Eating healthy, getting plenty of rest, and staying active are all ways to keep your body in great shape, but they’re also great ways to respect what it’s telling you. If you’re finding yourself tired during the day and getting through by relying on caffeine. Maybe there’s a better way. Try a sleep meditation or a mindfulness exercise that will help you fall asleep earlier and sleep better. Do you have an injury that you’ve been attempting to ignore? STOP! Take care of your body. It is the only one you get.
At some point in life almost everyone falls into the trap of expecting perfection from themselves, but not from anyone else. Take a deep breath, know you make mistakes, then try and show yourself a little self-compassion. It just might give you a clearer head next time you compete.