Worse things to do when you have a mental block

[Edited transcript below]

What are the worst things that an athlete can do when they have a mental block?

Short Answer: To focus on the mental block.

I would say there are 2 main challenges: 

#1 The first is saying "my mental block".

That is one of the key phrases every time I work with an athlete, one on one or even in groups, anytime I hear an athlete say my mental block, I stop and we talk about it.

Imagine this with me for a minute: Think of a mental block as this big, scary monster on a leash that you’re carrying around with you casting a shadow on every step you take. Now, I want you to think of your pet. You have pets, right? 

[Deryn] Yeah, a dog.

A dog? Okay, so your dog, what do you say? It’s like, oh, this dog. No! It’s MY dog. Right? … And you take care of it. You take it for walks, you feed it, right. There’s a lot of care that goes into it because it’s YOURS , there’s ownership, there’s possession over it. You want to take care of them, keep them safe and protected. 

So when athletes say “my mental block”, they’re owning it. They’re making it something that they’re going to carry around with them to keep safe and protect. And what happens is it becomes almost this weight and this burden. 

So every time they go into the gym, it’s not, “Hey, I’m Susie and I’m here to tumble and work on challenges and to work on improving my skills.”

It’s, “Hey, I have this really hard thing that I’m dealing with and I don’t know that I can beat it today.” It feels so big. And so I think just shifting from “my mental block”, which is this big, scary thing, to “a challenge I’m working through” is super helpful for athletes. Mental blocks are just a challenge because that’s what’s true.

A different way to look at mental blocks

For every athlete, when you go into the gym, you have 100% to give every single day, but your 100% does not look the same every day. If you’re sick, it’s going to look very different than if you’re sore or tired or you’ve got a bad grade on a test earlier that day.

And so, the term mental block carries so much weight. It feels big and scary like something being forced on you, that you have to deal with and can only HOPE will go away. 

Instead, shift and start saying “this challenge I’m working through” because challenges are good. Mental blocks are scary and only feed the fear causing them. 

Challenges are exciting. It’s like, “oh, I wonder what’s possible for me today.” It makes you curious about what is possible for you and the opportunity ahead. 

So the very 1st thing you want to do if you have a mental block is STOP SAYING “MY MENTAL BLOCK”. 

#2 Stop focusing on the whole skill

If you talk to athletes working through mental blocks and ask them “What are you going to do today? What are you going to work on?”

The most common answer you will hear is “I’m going to throw my back handspring. I’m going to do it today. I’m going to do my tuck today by myself.”

They are focusing on the big goal. The ENTIRE SKILL. Not just throwing it but doing it perfectly.  

But, if you are dealing with a mental block, you don’t have control over that. If you did, you would be doing it, right?

And so walking in every single day with that big goal, you’re going to leave feeling defeated more times than not. And the more times that you leave feeling like you didn’t accomplish your goal, the less confidence you have. Your confidence takes a hit. 

So you’re literally working on this big, scary thing that you have a lot of anxiety around. There’s a lot of pressure and buildup, and then you’re setting yourself up for failure and then you leave defeated. 

It’s like this negative spiral that’s just not healthy. 

Instead of focusing on the whole skill and just doing it, break it down into something that feels more doable, even if it’s still a little bit scary.

That's it! Now it's your turn.

Decide right now one way that you will use what you learned in this training to try something new this week at practice. What did you learn in this training that stood out to you? What will you do differently at practice this week to apply what you learned? I would love to support you and offer you a little accountability, so share that with us in the comments below. 

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Until next time, remember that a mental block is simply a challenge you are working through. You are strong, can do hard things, and have totally got this!

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