Your Brain on Optimism: 9 Secrets Every Athlete Needs To Know

athelete mental optimism effect performance skills strategy Sep 01, 2022

Every athlete, professional or amateur, shares the same problem: the desire for success and results. So, you ascribe to the motto, work hard play hard. Which feels completely overwhelming and honestly the motto does not clarify the skills that you might need to achieve success/results. But you do it because everyone else is doing it.

You've tried everything pop culture has hinted as the skills to overnight success. But, instead you get results that don't reflect your effort, which impacts your confidence. Leading to burn out and/or giving up, when you're on the brink of results, which leads to resentment, anger, and frustration. And it's not until too late that you realize all of this could've been avoided. Because there is another way. A way that is scientifically proven to provide fast and effective results. 

The thing is, you have to understand that there will always be challenges. Because challenges help us evolve our skill set. With every progression in our sport it is necessary to progress and expand, but we can't have expansion without challenge.  We need that discomfort in order to learn and finesse our skills. But the thing is, no one teaches you the mental skills necessary to help you overcome the challenges that are essential for you to excel. 

Life is more mental than we ever give it credit. Statistics on happiness demonstrate this, with more Americans experiencing anxiety and depression at shockingly high numbers. Which is really an indication that they don't have the skill sets to support themselves when they need it the most, to overcome challenges and get results. Seriously, how optimistic are you? How happy are you?

Statistically, I already know the answer. It's not looking pretty.

Roughly only 14% of Americans consider themselves happy. WTH? That means most of you reading this don't consider yourself happy. That's honestly insanity to me.

Clearly, you are looking for happiness in all the wrong places. And when you're not happy, you're not living your best life which reflects into your performance. You're not showing yourself what you are made of. Not because you can't achieve things, but because you have some bad habits that you've picked up over the years that keep you small and unhappy.

But it's not your fault. You can't blame yourself. In all truth, don't waste your time blaming anyone. Instead, the thing you can do is start educating yourself. And the other thing you must realize, is that no one has taught you skills to hold a positive outlook. No one has taught you ways to be satisfied, content, and living in such a manner that makes you happy while achieving your dream results.

But let's get back to the most important question, your level of happiness/optimism/satisfaction. It's the most important question, because it's the crux to being talented.

The science behind the umbrella of “happiness” is powerful. It's not going to just be enough for me to tell you to be happy. There is actual science demonstrating that an important secret to our performance and functioning optimally in this world is our ability to control our happiness/optimism levels. It's a skill required to help us uplevel. Here are the 9 secrets! 

1. The Optimism Effect: Martin Seligman, Ph.D. spearheaded the world of psychology into researching happiness. In one of his studies, he screened 15,000 newly hired salespeople at MetLife using a test he developed to measure optimism over a three-year period. The salespeople who scored in the top 10% for optimism performed a whopping 88% better in sales than the reps in the top 10% for pessimism. This held true across other professions. The results highlighted that optimistic people perform an impressive 20 to 40% better than their pessimistic counterparts.  

2. Go Long: To make something meaningful although it's highly demanding requires you to make the sacrifices that go against short term happiness. When you make something so important that you sacrifice a certain amount of happiness for it, that is when you will see optimal results and extraordinary living because you're trading in short term happiness for opportunities in obtaining growth awakening, meaning, unique experiences, and results. 

3. Prioritize Your Dream, Not First Place: Having a dream, a vision, or aspiration is essential because it keeps you looking forward and into the future. But not all things are created equal. If you're just looking for money, or the blue ribbon, or the win, you will ultimately lose. Why? Because you've lost focus on the journey. Emphasize the journey and your growth, and you will get through all the challenges that are inevitable and come with pursuing goals. 

4. Turn Up “Your” Volume: The other big thing is that you must prioritize your voice over others. Everyone is going to have an opinion. And perhaps they're all valid opinions. But they are not you. And you have a unique signature that you must listen to. 

Ultimately at the end of the day this is easier said than done. Why? Because it's become so ingrained in us since we were little that people's opinions matter. But, that deters your performance. This isn't just about when you are. critiqued, but also about when you receive praise. Every time you give someone the power to build you up you also then give away your power. And every time you give someone the power to critique you and pull you down, you give away your power.

5. Fuel Your Soul With Your Calling. If you want to become extraordinary you also have to make your dream something that you live for. It doesn't mean giving up the job or not paying your bills. It means fueling your soul with your calling, so you become ready for the opportunities that will lead in their learning literally feel like magic. That's having an optimistic outlook. 

6. Be Happier, Be Smarter. There was an experiment done at Northwestern University that showed that you can improve your performance by priming yourself into a positive mood before completing important task. Yes, give yourself permission to watch funny clips on social media, before you go into competition and consequently boost performance.  

In a study, they conducted FMRI scans to watch how people's brains worked as they tried to solve problems. Obviously or not so obviously those who were positive showed an increase in activity in the region of the brain that is associated with decision making and emotional control. Those who were negative showed little to no activity in this brain region.

What does that mean? Under pressure, if you're happy or optimistic, you will make better decisions, perform better, and get results.     

7. Avoid Unhappy People. Here's a study for you. High-performance cyclists were shown happy or sad faces on a screen as they cycled at top speed. The faces were flashed for literally less than a second. They were flashed so quickly that they could only be recognized by the subconscious.   

Can you guess who performed better? Yep, the ones that received the happy faces. Granted you can't control everything around you. But the lesson is--who you surround yourself with matters. 

Next time you're around someone that's pulling you down, just make up an excuse and walk away. It can be as simple as saying you have to take a car or run to the restroom. By removing yourself you are protecting your brain. 

8. Focus On Strategy, Not Mistakes. 99.9% of the time people erroneously focus on fixing the mistake. And when you do that, you decrease your ability to perform. When you focus on what you want to avoid doing, in this case the mistake, you pay so much attention to it you reinforce it in your brain.  

So, if you take that philosophy and do the reverse and focus on what you do want, you create opportunities to achieve that outcome. It's quite simple really, always work to reach for what you want to accomplish. 

9. Your Brain On Optimism. Scientist have found the optimism literally changes your brain structure. I won't bore you with the structural changes. But, you need to know that optimism reduces stress by dropping the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that makes us happy, promotes motivation, innovation, and for all of us the courage to take risks. It also protects us against anxiety, depression, and getting physically sick.

Remember it's not about faking a smile all day and every day. It's about having a strong outlook that challenges in your life will always work out in your favor. Simple exercises like gratitude list can change your brain. 

Every day write down three or more events or things that bring you appreciation and gratitude. Make it a habit by keeping the list alive and you will feel and see changes.


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