Each individual may have a different idea of what “performance” means to them. Some
situations of performing may include a concert, a play, a test, or a sport. Most athletes and performers of all types understand the physical nature of their tasks. There is a certain amount of practice, repetitions, and requirements that are needed in order for anyone to be their best and perform at a high level, right? This is true for the mental side of performance as well. Although there may be a solid foundation in the physical requirements of an activity, performers may find themselves not performing as well as they would like. There are several underlying factors that impact our ability to do our best.
One element that commonly impacts performance is confidence. It is easy to lose confidence at times. Maybe we think someone is a better athlete or musician than us, so we doubt our own abilities. Other times, we did not prepare enough, or missed a crucial practice, so we are worried we will make mistakes. Often, if we did not do our best during our last performance, we may carry that memory with us to our next performance, which can also greatly impact the level of confidence being brought into the game, concert, exam, or play.
Another common concept that impacts performance is attention. Similar to confidence, what we focus on can make or break a great performance. There are a two types of attentional factors to consider. The first is internal focus… this includes thinking about ourselves during a performance. For example “How do I play this note on piano?”, “How did coach tell me to kick the ball?," or “What was I supposed to do?” These types of internal thought processes can really distract us from what we need to be doing in the moment.
Attention can also be external… this includes focusing on things that are happening outside of ourselves. For example “Mom and dad are yelling to me from the stands,” or “Someone’s phone is ringing in the crowd.” These are external sources of distraction that we have limited control over. There will also be times when both internal and external events are happening, which causes attentional overload. In these situations, our performance will be impacted because mentally, we are no longer where we need to be.
Motivation is another common factor that correlates to poor performance. There are internal and external causes for drops in motivation as well. Internally there may be feelings or thoughts that pertain to the self, such as “Why am I here?” or “What do I want?,” while external factors may come from thoughts about others, such as “I do not want to disappoint anyone” or “They said I am really good at it, so I need to keep doing it” even if I'm interested in something else.
Ultimately, there are many reasons why performance may not be at its peak that could be improved by learning some new tools and mental skills. Many individuals who work within performance psychology focus solely on the teaching of mental skills, which is a major part of the puzzle. However, my approach as a mental health counselor is to also explore and address other relevant underlying factors that may be contributing to poor performance, such as family issues, relationship issues, school demands, life transitions, or other mental health concerns.
By working on the fundamentals of mental performance and having access to psychological intervention, we can work together to build a strong and thorough foundation for improving not only the competitive performance of a client, but also the life performance, in any role.
We are athletes, actors/actresses, musicians, students, workers, professionals, children,
teenagers, and adults. We have many roles -- some of which are competing -- that lead to internal and external pressures, which impact our ability to perform at our best. Working with a mental health professional can be beneficial in identifying the factors that are contributing to excess stress and help you better manage the process, both mentally and physically. Let’s work together to optimize your success!
Contact our office at 630.206.4060 to schedule an appointment today.