Checks, balances and the role of positivity/negativity



Recently I was talking to the manager of an international sports team who said an athlete should be able to ignore negative thoughts, put them out of their mind, and get on with it. my response was a sage nodding of my head while inside my head i was thinking, “wow!”. Not, I stress, at the insightful nature of the comment but at its simplicity.

No well rounded adult can ignore negative thoughts, they can only apply a simple analysis to see if they can overcome them.

297829_218577248192803_7474569_nImagine you wanted to buy something and went to the cash machine and looked at your balance. This gives you a decision to make:

1) I have the funds to cover this and my other responsibilities so yes go for it,

2) I COULD afford this but it will leave me no funds to cover an unexpected expense, so I will think about it,

3) I do not have the funds to cover this so I can not buy it.


Let us look at the third option, as it seems as cut and dried as the first. Surely any sensible person would look at the resources they have and see that they could not proceed, maybe deciding to save up to buy the item later. Similarly no sane person would respect the individual who went into debt to make the purchase. However, we are often being asked, as performers, to do exactly that. We are asked to just close our eyes and go into debt and ignore the consequences, being encouraged that it is the right thing to do and we should not worry about the way this makes us feel. In the example I have given the person who advised you to go into debt would not be viewed as wise or helpful, but in the performance sphere the glib, “go for it, you can do it” is counted as positive and useful advice. In fact the performer with doubts is told they are being negative and even cowardly and they must push on through this barrier. The more fantastic thing is that they are expected to continue to take the advice of the individuals who have helped put them in a situation they don’t want to be in. If it does not turn out well they are led to believe that, at best, it will be alright next time and, at worst, that they have failed when it does not turn out well. In this sense we are being asked to gamble with a precious and fragile commodity our self esteem.


The second option is a situation that many, well practised performers, find themselves in often:

“resources are tight, I could go for it or I could save up and buy it later”.

Here the performer is right at their limit and if anything unforeseen happens they will have no resources to deal with the situation but they can make an informed decision. It is unlikely that anything else will come around requiring resources and so they can cover it, “it might be tight but it is worth it.” This is the position that a performer can deal with, this is what they practice for and in goal setting terms, “it is an attainable goal which has an intrinsic value for the athlete”. I have also indicated that the individual, who is in option 2, in the original example may choose to, “save up for it”, this is when the performer goes “this is JUST too difficult and i will back out and prepare better”. This choice would be viewed as admirable and mature in the example I have given and takes great bravery, however in the performance sphere it may be viewed, paradoxically, as cowardly. Here the coach must be careful and understand their client, maybe they should encourage them and maybe they should respect their decision, it requires insight into the individual performers psyche and no one rule covers all, some need nudging and others will feel unnecessarily pressured and uncomfortable. Because the resources are available, but tight, it is all about how much the individual wants the thing.

The first option is the ideal that every performer should work towards: I can easily cover what I want and I am comfortable with that decision. When preparing a performance schedule the individual should always have some events that almost seem beneath them so that they can perform in this state, with plenty of “cash in the bank”. The results achieved allow the performer to “bank” some self esteem credit and allow them to perform better and to a higher level in more stressful situations.

To go back to original comment from the team manager, I hope that you can see that dealing with situations that induce a negative set of thoughts requires the performer to be able to see what sort of “balance” they have to cover the situation. This means that an informed decision is made and rather than ignoring the “negative” thoughts they are dealt with in a way which makes it possible to deal with the issues.

It should be obvious that pushing yourself or being pushed by others in a situation of negative equity is dangerous. Sadly in performance areas many people respect the risk taker, but would they respect someone who was running themselves into debt? Risk taking is useful in some situations but a long term future built on gambling what you don’t have is exhausting and dangerous, a culture of gambling everything, and more, on one throw of the dice is not going to give stability. The balance between, perceived, negativity and positivity is importantĀ  to get right as it allows the performer to exist in an exciting and challenging atmosphere from which they can learnĀ  and perform safely.

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