A therapy that I have been utilising more and more in my day job in mental health is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In a nutshell this therapy is all about acceptance of the current situation, of how things are, and then committing to your values in life. Now what do I mean by "acceptance"? Well, it's not about condoning events, agreeing with what's happening. Instead, it's about recognising things as they are, that that is what is happening, whether you like it or not. For instance, a loved one may become terminally ill. This is awful news, terrifying for everyone involved, heart-breaking, but it is happening. Acceptance is accepting that the loved one is terminally ill and will die. It's not being happy that that is happening, but it is recognising that that is the situation at hand. Alternatively, one might accept that they are experiencing low mood. They're not happy they feel that way, but they do acknowledge that that is how they feel. Not accepting a situation is what happens when someone is in denial. Maybe they are starting to become reliant on alcohol after work as a coping strategy for their stress, rather than just enjoying a social drink. Maybe if you tackled them on it and suggested perhaps they are drinking too much they would react angrily and defensively. This is not accepting the situation. Accepting the situation would be recognising that yes, they are drinking too much and becoming reliant on alcohol to get them through their stressful life.
Once you accept something for as it is you can then choose to do something about it. An addict who recognises they have a problem can then decide to seek the appropriate help. The person who recognises that their eating has become too unhealthy and they have put on weight might decide to change their eating habits to lose weight. They are then committing to their goal when it comes to health and well-being - to lose weight and become healthier. Now, when that same person is faced with an urge to have a takeaway, they can either have the takeaway, or they can accept that they want one, but choose to commit to their goal of wanting to lose weight and become healthier, meaning they choose a different option for dinner.
The values that ACT looks at cover the topics such as relationships (with intimates, friends, family members, colleagues, etc.), health and well-being, work and education, and leisure. Here you identify what you goals are in these areas, what you value, for instance I value having good relationships with my closest friends and family and I make sure I make time for them, contacting them regularly. Once you know what your goals and values are you can then determine where you currently are in relation to achieving these goals. This will then highlight if there is work to be done to achieve these goals and then it's about identifying what will help you move nearer achieving the goals identified in each value area.
So now what you have is the recognition to accept a situation as it is, be it an emotion, an event that has happened, a thought you have had, or perhaps an interpersonal situation, but then re-commit to the goals you have identified. So, I'm tempted to go out drinking this weekend on a night out with friends, but I am committing to my goal of wanting to fit again so I am choosing instead to stay in so that I can go to the gym early in the morning. This will allow me to then commit to my goal of spending time with my friends by then meeting them for the rugby match in the afternoon as I have gone to the gym already that day.
So what has all this go to do with performance? Well, I was just thinking...someone who struggles with negative thoughts, maybe self-doubt, or a lack of motivation, could accept that that is what they are thinking and feeling, but they are still going to re-commit to their goal of training for the 1/2 marathon coming up and therefore will put on their running kit and go out for the run as planned. They acknowledge the thoughts but they choose instead to not focus on them and listen to them, but instead stick with the original plan, override their influence, and go out of the run. During a race/game/match, when those demons set in, the same applies, you can accept that the demons have appeared, but you can then re-commit to your goal of racing strongly, and that can help banish the demons, not giving them power, and you are instead striving further towards your goal with each step, pass, kick, swim stroke, etc.
Go on, try it. Identify what your goals and values are. Then try just accepting where you're at, even if it's unpleasant, and then committing to those goals you've identified as you're not going to move any nearer them if you don't commit to them!