Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is critical for peak performance. We have to learn how to regulate the way we feel to control the impact on our actions, and ultimately our performance. Elite athletes learn how to identify and control various emotions to stay on target with their performance goals. What type of emotions can affect the way we perform? How do they impact our performance? What can we do to minimize this impact?

Before we get to those questions, let’s talk a little more about emotions. We all have emotions, but some have a better awareness of what they are feeling and why than others. Awareness is key to emotional regulation because it helps us understand why we react the way we do. Emotions are just feelings; they are neither good nor bad. They become positive or negative depending on how we interpret them. Some feelings like guilt, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, and sadness make us uncomfortable so we interpret them as negative emotions. Others such as joy, relief, and excitement enhance our mood so we interpret them as positive. These are all just feelings; they can’t actually do anything if we do not respond to them. Meaning, they cannot hurt your performance unless you let them.

Let me repeat that because this is important: emotions (including pre-performance anxiety) cannot hurt your performance unless you let them. Think about that for a little bit before you move on. Pre-performance anxiety is one of the most debilitating conditions known to athletes, and it is completely within your control.

So back to my original questions:

What type of emotions can affect the way we perform and what impact do they have?

All kinds of emotions can affect your performance either positively or negatively. I mentioned frustration earlier. Frustration is often a precursor to anger and an angry athlete tends to make a lot of errors. I also mentioned anxiety. When we feel anxious, we tend to over-think our performance or freeze up. If we are afraid of injury, we tend to perform conservatively or timidly. If we feel doubt or uncertainty, we may second-guess our actions and slow our reaction times.

Likewise, positive emotions can also affect our performance, although the impact is beneficial. Excitement helps us get pumped up to perform. Confidence often gives us the courage to take risks that can raise our performance to a higher level. Calmness helps us get in the “zone” for peak performance and mental clarity. Satisfaction and accomplishment keep us motivated to keep trying. Hope helps us overcome the obstacles and lets us aim higher.

How can we control these emotions to regain control of our performance?

First step is to know what you are feeling. Often our feelings come and go without our conscious acknowledgement. We respond with a learned behavior without evaluating the consequence of that behavior, and then regret joins the party.

We need to intercept the feeling with some thought to ensure that our response is beneficial or at least non-detrimental to our performance. Often, just by labeling an emotion we can diffuse its impact on our actions. So start to pay attention to the way you feel throughout the day and be aware of how you usually respond to these feelings.

We feel all kinds of emotions throughout the day as we come into contact with our environments and the people around us. If we let those emotions dictate our responses it would seem that we have little control over how our day goes. Likewise with our performance.

Performance management is about control. Physical training helps us control our bodily actions enabling us to execute specific technical skills. Mental training helps us control our cognitive processes that enable us to put our physical training into a specific sequence of action during a performance. The pressures of physical and mental training can make us feel all kinds of emotions, of  this we have little control. Emotional training is not to control these feelings,  but rather to control our response to these feelings because it is our response that impacts our performance, not the feelings themselves.

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