The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.

~Chinese Proverb~

The mental game of gymnastics and relationships

August 4, 2012

The mental discipline that gymnasts demonstrate is amazing. They have a fair amount of downtime waiting for their turn on an event, and that is when anxious thoughts easily erupt.

It takes guts to put so much time and training on the line, especially a line that is stretched around the world. That goes for those who take home Olympic medals and those who don’t.

The source of most athletic performance glitches is anxiety. No athlete wants to fail and let themselves, the coaches, and teammates down. After all the training, athletes naturally want to shine. That is why many turn to sport psychologists or counselors for help. Managing anxiety is the crux of sport psychology. 

Managing anxiety is a crux of non-sport mental health counseling as well. Not all anxiety is performance anxiety though, or is it? This question might prompt someone to stop and think about our everyday fears in terms of performance, particularly our fears of opening up to one another. 

Anything we share is a presentation of ourself. Our emotions, feelings, opinions, ideas, likes and dislikes, are fodder for failure, rejection, or ridicule if we are honest about them. So, rather than risk being authentic we perform a routine of our self in front of others, or try to. 

Sometimes our fears are owed to actual danger but much of our anxiety comes from self-talk, or self-thought. People have inner conversations with themselves at the rate of about 200 words per minute. The self-talk is frequently, sometimes predominantly, critical and anxiety producing.

Performance anxiety needs mental management. We make ourselves anxious by how we think, and like athletes, most of us think about results. Much of the emotional pain people suffer daily is worry over results, and the consequences of results.

For some people, human interaction is a balance beam and just thinking about being on it is terrifying. If one toe is wiggled the wrong way down you go, so why put yourself out there? The performance is everything for others, and it typically goes well until after the dismount. Then comes the anxiety of believing they have nothing else to offer.

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