The Presure Loop: A Look Within
by Caroline Silby, Ph.D.

Sports psychology has become the revolution of the millennium, compelling corporate executives, professors, artists, musicians and entertainers to jump on the bandwagon and learn mental skills to enhance their performance. Simply put, sports psychologists examine personal and environmental factors and apply techniques to affect the way one feels, thinks, and ultimately performs.

External Factors

To start your mental training, identify the factors—be it in sport, business, or your personal life—which cause you worry. Stress can result when you have concerns about the people with whom you interact with at home (spouses, children, parents, friends), at work (bosses, colleagues, employees, management) and in sports/fitness (trainers, workout buddies, competitors, judges, officials). Other stress producers are performance outcomes at home (completing errands, balancing childcare), at work (promotions, bonuses, deadlines, work quality, achieving goals), and in sports/fitness (weight, strength, body fat, cholesterol, achieving goals.) Notice that these concerns are outside of your direct control.

Internal Factors

Now, identify factors about yourself that influence how you perform. It sounds simple, but most people encounter great difficulty in recognizing how they contribute to their own performance outcomes. Your outcomes are affected by your thoughts, perceptions, reactions, feelings, focus, images, body language, confidence and goals—all internal factors.

You may devote a great deal of time thinking and worrying about the externals, which keeps you centered on the problem and leads you to feel stressed. Once you identify which is which, you can train yourself to use the internal factors to deal with the externals. The pressure loop diagram outlines the kinds of factors that fit into each category.

For example, instead of worrying about whether or not you'll lose weight (external), direct your energies to the following internal factors that when strengthened and applied will actually give you the best chance of getting the desired outcome.

Put Yourself In Control

   Force yourself to focus your attention on the process rather than the outcome. "I made it to the gym 3 days this week. I will try and do that again next week."
   Give yourself specific tasks to improve. "Today I will do five sets of fifteen reps on my biceps. I will monitor my thoughts. I will bring to life feelings of confidence, making sure my shoulders are down, chest is out and head is up."
   Give yourself "descriptive feedback" detailing how you created the positive result. "I made it to the gym three days this week because I monitored my thinking, avoiding negative comments about my body."

Put It In Perspective

   Ask better questions like, "What can I do to better my chances of losing weight?" and "How can I benefit from this situation?"
   Avoid setting the same standard for yourself every day. Choose from a variety of goals and tasks. "My purpose today is to do some form of exercise like walking rather than riding the elevator. Tomorrow my goal is to do an hour-long workout at the gym."

Put It Into Thoughts

   Identify the thoughts that distract you. "I'm overweight," "I need to lose weight," "I'll never lose the weight."
   Keep your thoughts directed to the present. Think, "I'm doing well. I just need to finish up these three sets to complete my goal for today." Versus, "I'm working out today but I skipped my workout four days in a row. I'll never lose the weight." Keep the end goal in mind and place your attention on what you can do right now to start achieving it. "I can't get to the gym today. In order to continue on the path to meeting my goal, I'll go home after work and do five sets of sit-ups and push-ups and walk the stairs ten times.
   Keep a journal about your feelings, thoughts, progress, goals and action plans.

Training the mind is about strengthening the factors about yourself that in turn affect how you perform. The most precious gift you can give yourself is to celebrate the qualities about yourself that help you to control your own performance.

About Caroline Silby

Caroline Silby, Ph.D., M.Ed holds a Doctorate and Master Degree of Sports Psychology from the University of Virginia. Her specialty is performance enhancement with adolescent athletes and she's worked with Olympic Champions in gymnastics and figure skating. As an elite athlete, Dr. Silby was a member of the National Figure Skating Team. She later served on the U.S. Figure Skating Association Board of Directors and Athlete Advisory Council.

Dr. Silby was appointed to the US Olympic Committee Athlete Advisory Council, Collegiate Sports Council and Finance Committee. Currently, she assists the Women's Sports Foundation as a member of their Advisory Council and is a faculty member of both the USA Gymnastics and the US Figure Skating Association training camps. Dr. Silby's first book titled, Games Girls Play is published by St. Martin's Press. She resides in Washington, D.C. and has an active national practice.