Practice During Practice
Regardless of how you train, there will be moments when you are attempting to perform at a high level where the outcome has significance to you. You care about what happens and you have an emotional investment in the outcome. This is exactly like competition where you must perform at a high level and you care what happens. These are the moments when you can use practice your emotional regulation skills to ensure that you’re performing in an optimal state.
The more you can practice these skills during practice, the more effective you’ll be at practicing and executing these skills during competition. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough competitions for you to get enough practice for these skills. You have to do it during training sessions. The more you can do it during training sessions, the more prepared you’ll be to execute these skills during competition, and the more effective that practice will be.
By consistently practicing with an awareness of your optimal level of arousal, you’ll begin to learn what your optimal level of awareness feels like, and what you have to do to achieve it. The more important a performance is, the more you’ll need to work to remain in control. The less important a performance is, the more you’ll need to increase arousal or just let it be.
Unfortunately, these are not skills you can simply read about and then immediately implement it in a competition. They are skills that must be learned through repetition, and training is the optimal time to learn these skills. You have to learn how to execute in practice. There are important parts of practice where performance is clearly a priority. These are the opportunities for you to implement these ideas and learn how to execute them, as well as what skills work for you.
If you believe you’re under-aroused, practice implementing the strategies described above to increase your arousal. If you believe you’re over-aroused, practice implementing the strategies described above to decrease your arousal. In both cases, consistent practice will allow you to find the strategies that work best for you. Once you’ve found the strategies you prefer, continue to try others with some regularity. You may find that you develop the ability to use these tools as well as your preferred ones.
Once you have dialed in your optimal level of arousal, simply shift your focus to what’s important. As described earlier, it may take some time to determine where you need to place your focus, and that may change over time as well. Whatever that focus is, make sure that is center in your mind, yet held loosely instead of attempting to force the skills.
After identifying and reminding yourself of your key focal point, remember to let go of the outcome. At first you may need to do this consciously. Simply remind yourself to just focus on what you can control and swim. Practice letting it happen. Practice accepting the outcome. Practice surrendering. Practice clearing your mind. Trust. Any of these strategies may resonate with you more than the others. Go with what works while continuing to practice the others.
Performance psychology is complex, and to manage that psychology, simple tools are most effective. It all comes down to having strategies to manage your arousal, learning to identify and focus on what is important, and finally letting go of the outcomes. We’ve discussed strategies to execute all of these tasks, with several different options to ensure that you can find the tools that work best for you. Practice plays a fundamental role in identifying which tool works best for you and learning to reliably implement that tool. If you want to execute in competition, you need to execute in practice. While psychology may seem daunting, you can learn to master yours by following and practicing the steps outlined here.