The Power of Not Knowing

Sports Psychologist

Wanting to know more is a normal part of human behavior and is also a defense mechanism of the brain. This is why many athletes find it so difficult to perform well under pressure. Especially, during those moments when athletes feel like there is something more to lose. But almost every athlete who struggles with pressure also practices this one bad mental habit that keeps them mentally trapped. This habit is wanting to know more.

When athletes perceive a situation as more important, their brains often go into safety mode where they find their minds racing trying to figure out every possible outcome in order to increase the likelihood of future success. For example, some athletes will find themselves researching other athletes or teams on websites or social media such as Instagram, trying to see how they compare to their competition. They search to see how that player or team did against an athlete or team that they too have faced.

Another example is when athletes are in constant search of that perfect technical change. Always making adjustments with their swing or movement. But unfortunately, these anxious behaviors rarely ever resolve their fears and almost always end up leading to more anxiety and worry. You see when athletes are searching to figure out more and more about future outcomes, it replaces the enjoyment of competition with worry. This is why top athletes like, the number one golfer in the world Brooks Koepka do so much better under pressure. These athletes do the opposite of what their fearful mind tells them to do. Instead of trying to figure out every possible outcome to somehow keep them safe when it matters, they are okay with knowing as little as possible so that their mind can be exactly where it needs to be, in the present. 

During an interview at this year's British Open, a reporter asked Brooks Koepka what his strategy and mental approach was to one of the biggest tournaments of the year. In hopes of some elaborate response, golf enthusiasts were stunned when they heard his answer. Brooks responded with, "He (his caddie) tells me where to go and I go. I"m okay with not knowing much." This answer perplexed many who thought that he must be kidding and there must be more to it. After all, Brooks is accomplishing something that few golfers can attest to. He has qualified for 92% of all Majors in his young career (22 of 24) and has already won 4 majors in just over 2 years. 

This simple approach is one that all athletes need to work on. Instead of trying to figure out as much as possible to be "prepared enough" for the upcoming competition. Work on subtracting as many unnecessary distractions and behaviors as possible. The less you try to figure out about the future, the calmer and more present your mind will be, and the better you will perform when it matters the most!

Below are 6 areas that you can start eliminating to reduce the worrying mind:

  1. Sports Websites: Any sports website that focuses on ranking, statistics, athlete performance, and level.
  2. Social Media: If you find yourself researching your competition or checking in to see how they're doing remove this by simply deleting the apps from your phone. A tough habit to break but well worth it.
  3. Over-training: Over-training is often a result of anxiety where the athlete is worried that they're not prepared enough and end up doing more harm than good to their performance.
  4. Comparing: Stay away from checking in on how others are doing and instead focus on becoming a better version of yourself every week. 
  5. Negative People: Negativity is already a challenge within one's everyday life. Being around others who are negative makes it that much more difficult to relax the mind. 
  6. Stop Chasing Your Past:Many athletes get caught up in trying to get back to where they "used to be" or try to make up "lost time" that they felt they've missed out on and deserve to have back. In this situation, it's far better to accept your current situation and what's in front of you.  

There are far more than just these 6 areas which we teach athletes at SPMI and help them overcome. But these 6 will definitely help get you on your way to performing better and more importantly enjoying competition more.