- Learn the components of your Performance Mindset.
- Use your focus to direct the thoughts and emotions you experience before, during, and after competition.
- Use your focus to optimize moment to moment decision making and behavior.
The Performance Matrix
Our mind and body go through a sequence of responses between the presentation of an event (which grabs our focus), and the outcome of that event (our performance). This sequence is represented by the graphic below, which we call our Focus to Performance Matrix.
What we FOCUS on leads to what we THINK about. What we THINK about dictates how we FEEL emotionally. How we FEEL emotionally leads to what or how we feel physically. How we FEEL emotionally or physically leads to how we behave; and how we think, feel, and behave will ultimately determine how we will perform.
When we consider this chain reaction of causes and effects, it becomes clear that focus is the primary driver of our performance mindset. If our focus gets “hooked” on unconstructive thoughts or feelings—like remembering a missed shot, or anticipating the outcome of a poor play or bad decision, or noticing that our legs feel weak or our hands are shaking—it sends unproductive signals down the chain that can negatively impact performance. If our focus locks on constructive focus points—like the present moment and the task at hand—it brings our mindset into alignment and encourages positive performance outcomes.
Distractions are an inevitability in competition, particularly in high pressure situations. Negative or unconstructive focus points will always be available to us, and sometimes they’ll slip into our focus no matter how mentally disciplined we become. Our goal is simply to recognize when our focus has drifted to an unproductive place, and re-direct it back to the task on command. This takes time and practice to master, but doing so will optimize your mindset sequence, and lead to more consistent performances.
Directing Your Focus
Each second, our brains are rapidly assessing hundreds of thousands of bits of information streaming through our stream of consciousness. While this can give us the impression that we can focus on multiple tasks simultaneously, we know that it isn’t truly possible. As you’ve been reading this text, your mind likely has not focused on your left foot – until, maybe, now – even though your foot has been sending signals to your brain this entire time.
At all times, information flows through your Focus Window. It is that information on which you choose to hold your present-moment focus that matters most during competition. If you are focusing on negative thoughts that could potentially hinder your performance, then you cannot also be focusing on constructive information that can enhance your performance. Fortunately, the opposite is also true: if you’re holding your focus on positive thoughts and relevant information, you cannot also be focused on something negative. It is important to be as intentional as possible with your focus. This means locking performance-enhancing foci into your focus window, while allowing performance-inhibiting foci to flow right through it and down the stream.
Russell Wilson Case Study
Russell Wilson’s mindset focus is a great example of how important it is to focus on the task you want to perform, and the kind of athlete you want to be. Multiple studies have proven the importance of focus training to performance outcomes. One such study had two groups of athletes run a routine speed drill. The first was asked to focus on what they wanted to do during the drill, and the second group was told to focus on what they didn’t want to happen. The athletes in the first group not only performed the drill faster than the second group, they made fewer mistakes, despite the second group zeroing in on potential missteps and focusing on avoiding them.
When it comes to your sport, you will perform best when you focus on information relevant to the task at hand. This means focusing on the target, not the obstacles, and the precise actions you need to take to reach your targeted objective. Just as you would eat a healthy diet and ensure proper rest to keep your body operating at an optimal level, you’ll want to make sure that you deliberately focus your attention (or refocus it when distracted) on what is relevant in that moment to give your mind what it needs to perform.
Performance Matrix Exercise
We’ll now be taking you through an exercise we use with many of our clients to analyze their mindset sequence and customize their mindset training. To do this effectively, you should take a few moments to recall two distinct experiences you’ve had as an athlete: a peak performance when you’ve performed at your best; and a poor performance when you just couldn’t seem to get over the hump. Your recollections of these experiences will be useful to your training in subsequent sections, so take your time.
Peak Performance Matrix
Below is an example of what we call a performance matrix, which allows us to map an athlete’s mindset from focus through performance. In this first example, we’ve mapped a peak performance of a hypothetical track athlete.
Poor Performance Matrix
Now let’s move on to a poor performance scenario for our hypothetical sprinter, and map it onto its own matrix.
What we tend to find among athletes reporting on poor performances is a focus on uncontrollables. These include external sources like fans or the perceptions of their coaches, teammates, opponents, or internal influences like their feelings or emotions—nervousness or doubt are common feelings of note. Similarly, their focus tended toward past events—a missed shot, a dropped pass, any of a variety of mistakes or miscues—and future outcomes—the inevitable loss of a game or personal prestige, a dip in statistics, a missed opportunity for a scholarship or future playing time, and so on. When it comes to controllables, like behavior, we predictably see performance-inhibiting results. Head-hanging, negative self-talk, and angry behaviors are only too common.
On the other side of the continuum, athletes reporting on peak performances tend to note a focus on the task and the present moment. When asked to recall what they were thinking, many have difficulty, or even report that they weren’t really thinking. Now this, of course, isn’t true. We’re always thinking. But what it tells us is that their thoughts were likely simpler and more sequential—unlike the frenetic, colliding rush of thoughts we have when we’re anxious. It also tells us that their thoughts were backgrounded—their thoughts were positioned behind the task, not in front of it. The same is true of their feelings or emotions. Athletes performing optimally aren’t feeling any fewer emotions than those who are performing poorly, they’re just not focused on them. If how they feel is irrelevant to the task, it’s removed from their focus window. Controllable behaviors during peak performances are overwhelmingly performance-enhancing: vocal or leadership behaviors, chest-out “power poses” and postures, intentional, controlled-breathing, and the like.
Far be it from us to predict the results of your personal Peak and Poor Performance Reflections, every athlete is unique, but what we encourage you to do is to isolate those focus points in your Peak Performance Reflection that are controllable—these are likely present-moment foci, foci related to the task, and foci related to your actions and behaviors—and to practice bringing these focus points into your performances with intention. These are your personal performance boosters. They won’t bring about a peak performance at every turn, but they can be used to stabilize and direct your focus during times of drift or difficulty, and maintain your readiness during times of calm. Begin slowly before or during practice—you can even practice conjuring these focus points at home—and incrementally work them into your gametime performances. We’ll continue to help you broaden and develop these skills in future modules.
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