I’ve given myself exactly twenty minutes to write this blogpost because I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a bit too long. Somehow humans seem to be able to conjure up motivation or inspiration when there is a deadline. It truly doesn’t make very much sense since it is all in our heads. The measurements of time that we use are completely made up as is the “pressure” of the moment. Despite their artificiality, they are effective. What would we do without these constructs? More than likely we’d only respond to our most basic needs.
By putting myself under this pressure, I’ve taken back some form of control that I had lost in moments prior. Although most people would say that they don’t enjoy pressure, it is one of those forces that coerces us to action. Historically we were not a lazy species but our lives of limited pressure and overt comfort have let that disposition spread. So modern living is more of a mental exercise than it is a physical one. We must contort and push ourselves mentally in order to induce action (either mental or physical). It’s a silly game but possibly necessary.
So what is it that you must do today that is not getting done? The next question becomes, what mental game do you need to play with yourself to make it happen? Are you going to use time, incentives, punishments, rewards, social pressure….? The list goes on and on but the realization that is hanging out there is, IT’S YOU AGAINST YOU! The battle is more than likely one with yourself and no one else. So be ready for the fight because if you’re anything like me, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the task will get done.
Whether you’re Christian Pulisic breaking through the lines at Stamford Bridge to score or a U9 goalkeeper defending a corner, the penalty area or 18 yard box can be a place of high anxiety. That’s why the best strikers are worth their weight in gold at the highest levels and goalkeepers who are consistently good play until they’re almost 40 years old. Proximity to the thing that you want or that which you want to defend raises the stakes of the moment. The people who cope with that pressure well are considered special or talented. The truth is that like almost anything else it is a skill that can be trained. Also, the players who cope well have just compressed the penalty area.
A few weeks back I blogged about the relationship between the lines on the field and daily life. There’s also a video but more people read than watched. I guess I need to hire an actor or an editor. Regardless of my video issues, the 18 yard box at each end represents anxiety. At the defensive end, the anxiety linked to something that is going to hurt your self-esteem. It could be anything from fretting about a poor grade on a test, denial of college admission, the negative opinion of a boss or a multitude of other situations that might cause a dip in your self-esteem. Recognize, this isn’t the thing actually happening. It is just the anticipation of it. At the other end it is a similar situation. The 18 yard box represents anxiety around something that you want, a goal of some importance. Again the examples are numerous but a few might be college acceptance, a date with a special someone, a promotion and the list goes on. Notice at both ends, the goal represents the actual event happening. The box just represents the anxiety around it. So I suggest that you compress the box.
The idea that I’m suggesting is that you develop that same skill that world class strikers and keepers have mastered: being calm under pressure. This is not easy!!!! However it is also not impossible. Each of us have a different sized penalty area of anxiety. For some it is the tradition 18 yards. For others, it reaches all the way to the center circle (read about it) or beyond. The people who are best at dealing with their anxiety compress it down to 6 yards or less. How? Like any other time when dealing with emotions, I go back to the triad.
Physiology – The way that you use your body is going to influence how you feel immensely. Breathing is a great place to start. Building a breath practice into your day can be a game changer. Habitual movement patterns are another place where huge changes can be made. Your body sends signals to your brain and vice versa. It is possible to move yourself in and out of emotions. If you’re feeling anxious, how are you using your body? You can train “calm states” into your brain by doing particular movements. It just takes practice. Don’t expect it to just happen.
Focus – The things that you focus on become your reality. In this particular case, I suggest trading anxiety for excitement. It’s not a huge step. Each emotion has the same basic component pieces of anticipation, desire, uncertainty, etc. but excitement drops the negative connotation around the possibilities. I can hear you now, “That’s great when going to goal (a positive) but what about when I’m anxious about something bad about to happen.” Excitement can still work because just like the field, being under life pressure allows for acres of space to move forward after the crisis. Once this attack has subsided, the event will have happened or not. At that point, you can move forward with renewed possibility. There is also value in reframing the situation. It is more than likely that you are not going to die from this situation. So actually deal with the worst case scenario mentally. If this bad thing happened, how could you get past it with letting it damage your self-esteem?
Inner Dialogue – The words that we say to ourselves inside of our own head are extremely important. I just finished Trevor Moawad’s book “It Takes What It Takes” and his points about neutral thinking could be game changing for many people. However one of the key things that he talks about is not saying negative things out loud. Although I suggest working on your focus, everyone has messed up thoughts from time to time. It is crucial that you don’t say those things out loud because saying it amplifies the message to your brain by 7 to 10 times. Keep those negative thoughts out of your mouth!
None of these things are easy but they can be practiced and therefore improved. Compress your penalty area as small as you can. That way no matter what comes at you, the ability to stay calm will be at your fingertips. The astronauts who are thrust into space go through all kinds of training on keeping their wits about them in pressure situations. Their lives truly do depend on keeping an even keel. Most likely you’re dealing with something that you’ve seen in the past and you can handle it!