By Dr. Jason Richardson – BMX World Champion
The Secret to High Performance Mindset: Radical Acceptance (Radical Acceptance is the practice of owning all of your emotions and doing the job anyway)!
The dirty little secret about high performance is that (drum roll) it is not about skill building, but rather instinct building. Once you have honed your skills to the point of mastery, the only thing left in your way of evidencing your mastery is you. More specifically, there is a tendency to believe our emotional state has to be optimal, whatever that is, for us to do our best. Notice, I didn’t say be at our best. We can do our best despite how we feel in the moment.
If you’re nervous or scared, you may not like how you feel. After all, who would? Think of your feelings as a cluster of gauges in an automobile. With gas prices fluctuating up and down, then back up again; most people probably have their eyes on the gas gauge. Add the fact that they might be late, the weather is foul, or that maybe it’ll be three cents cheaper tomorrow, stopping to fill up becomes even more of a pain. Nonetheless, that light comes on once we get past a certain point on the gauge. If we only focus on our negative feelings about our gas tank running low, what happens? We run out of gas.
Many of us try to ignore the feelings we don’t like. Anger, anxiety, sadness, fear—there are countless times a person has walked into the studio wanting to rid themselves of negative, albeit very natural, feelings. Paradoxically, trying to ignore the negative emotions only makes them grow from a distraction to THE distraction. Some feelings are easier to ignore than other feelings and you might even get away with it for a while. The gas gauge is urgent and something we want to take care of more immediately than a check engine light, depending on the type of car. However, those gauges are there for a reason, and if the engine light is ignored long enough, you may end up finding yourself stranded on the side of the freeway when you least expect it.
The cluster of human emotions works much like the gauges in our vehicles. Our emotions, good or bad, wanted or unwanted, positive or negative, are just telling us that something is important. They’re saying to us, “This matters.” Your emotions are there for a reason too. The reason it feels bad to lose is not to affirm some irrational belief that you suck or that they cheated! It’s to remind you, by way of pain, to motivate yourself to go out there and do something about it next time! Complaining about getting gas will not fill up your tank. The feeling you get from sitting on the side of the road will keep you from running out again. Accepting your circumstances and taking the time to change them will always keep you running with enough in the tank.
Radical Acceptance is the practice of owning all of your emotions and doing the job anyway! Being on the line at the Olympics is stressful enough. Hitting the new berm jump at the Training center is scary enough. Walking up the hill before your semi or main is stressful enough! Why distract yourself with the task of avoiding or fighting something that is going to be there anyway? In other words, the situation PLUS the importance you have placed on that situation can create an emotional environment of stress, worry, and possibly fear. Your emotions and feelings are going to be with you, whether you want them there or not, until you actually deal with the situation.
Once you accept your emotional states as real, those emotions cease to be the facts. This means that you may feel bad but doesn’t mean you are bad. Or the situation may be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Feeling nervous as you prepare for the Olympic final is an appropriate feeling, just as anger is an appropriate feeling when you get taken out in a turn or cut-off. Both emotions may be considered negative because most people don’t like to be nervous or angry. Yet both emotions carry with them just as much energy, and sometimes more, as do positive emotions. When we stop fighting ourselves, we are free to keep our eyes on the ball and allow the energy of our emotions to serve us in a positive way down the stretch.
It takes just as much responsibility to manage our wanted emotions as it does our unwanted emotions. Many competitors think confidence or excitement was all they needed. Yet, they came up short or didn’t qualify for the final. They were left wondering, “What happened? I felt great.” They were the fastest in practice and were doing things no one else could do. How could it be they were left watching rather than (still) participating?
Our emotions can be the distraction, even the ones we want. Rather than plainly accepting those positive emotions, some of us rely on them. Next thing you know, the fastest person at the race is slacking on the warm-up, a manager is not keeping track of time, and the genius garage start-up guy is possibly underestimating the competition. In other words, the athlete’s, or executive’s, or entrepreneur’s eyes are off the ball. All of us are sometimes blinded by our own elation. The control is in the acceptance of the emotion, any emotion, as you stay on task.
See ya at the finish! – Dr.JRich
Jason Richardson, PsyD, MBA
Author | Speaker | Psychlist