“One of these focuses is going to be the right thing for you to take the next step”

When it comes to overthinking, there is only one answer: you cannot apply your mind to the game and the situation around the game at the same time. You need focus. But focus doesn’t come from effort alone. Often it comes because you become comfortable accepting the things you used to spend all your time thinking about.

In competitive sports, your mind can be your greatest ally or your best opponent. Overthinking can clutter your mental space, leading to a paralysis that hampers performance. Here are 4 focuses you can use to clear the mental fog and enhance your results.

Focus 1: The Stoic Athlete Stoicism teaches us to differentiate between what’s within our control and what isn’t. By adopting a stoic mindset, you learn to detach from outcomes and focus on the process. This doesn’t mean emotions are ignored; rather, they are acknowledged but you still act in your best interest.

Example: realizing you cannot control how much playing time you get. Then you will tend to thinking more about your practice, preparation, and performance and less about what decisions your coach makes. 

Focus 2: Action Over Emotion Motivation can come and go. Waiting to ‘feel like it’ can result in missed opportunities. The elite athlete understands the power of action. Even when you have doubt, commit to what you believe will work for you. Most often, that means training when you don’t feel like it. Stop thinking about training. Thinking is not training. Thinking is also not resting, so you aren’t going to get more ready to the next practice worrying about the last.

Example: realizing you are down about your performance (and hopes for the season) but still doing what you know will help.

Focus 3: Emotional Connection While being rational has its place, connecting with your emotions and motivations is equally important. Use your passion for the game. Use your frustration. Use your unique motivators. To do this, you must stop to realize what your emotions are telling you.

Example: stopping to realize how important it is that you meet the big goal you have set for yourself, so you remind yourself that you have to keep learning about how to be successful because you don’t feel like you’ve made it yet. 

Focus 4: The Power of Negative Visualization Negative visualization, a concept borrowed (again) from stoicism, involves mentally simulating worst-case scenarios. This practice can be surprisingly liberating. Try visualizing setbacks. It helps you mentally prepare for them, reducing their impact and helping you maintain composure if they do occur. If they don’t, you’ll be even more grateful for your success and good luck.

Example: Visualizing spending the season playing on the 4th line for 6 minutes a night. Realizing that you want more and also that even if this happens you will be okay. 

One of these focuses is going to be the right thing for you to take the next step. It is only critical that you try something to help combat your overthinking. The tendency to think about things never goes away for anyone. Read that again. Everyone thinks, for their entire life. So you might as well start using your positive and negative thoughts to get what you want in life.