A chance to plan for the future

By Dr Phil Clarke

In last week’s blog we focused on developing our self-reflection skills by engaging in a range of different journaling activities. In this blog, I want to explore two specific mental skills that can be useful if you want to invest some time in self-development over the coming weeks.

  1. Sense of Control

Major causes of stress for any individual are the things that are outside of our control. One way to deal with this proactively is to channel our attention and focus on those things that are controllable and let go of those things that are outside our control and influence.

Over the course of this week, be mindful of where your attention goes during different situations. When you feel anxious, ask yourself where that feeling is coming from.

Examples of some aspects that are controllable in the current climate include: having a positive attitude; how you choose to respond to a situation; turning off the news; putting down your phone; limiting social media use; your own social distancing and being creative in finding fun things to do to entertain yourself.

Things that are uncontrollable include: how other people observe the rules of social distancing; the actions of other people; predicting what will happen next; other people’s motives and how long this will last.

Once you recognise your attention is going to something uncontrollable, take a deep breath and try and bring your focus back to something you CAN control.

  1.   Develop a challenge mindset

When we are faced with challenging situations, we may find that we act in ways that are not ideal, or unhelpful for our wellbeing. One tip for managing this is to explore your ABCs.

A refers to the Adversity, so this is the negative event or circumstance. B refers to our Beliefs and the thoughts we hold about the issue and finally, C is the Consequences which are the feelings we experience or the behaviours we exhibit.

We usually focus on A and C, but it is important for us to understand our beliefs and thoughts. There are several negative thinking traps that we can fall into, which can impact on the consequences, or outcomes, that we experience. Examples of these include:

  • Catastrophising, by blowing things out of proportion and thinking that the worst has, will, or may happen.
  • Overgeneralising, by applying your own thoughts, feelings and attitudes across all people and situations.
  • Taking positive events and twisting them into negative ones.
  • Making assumptions about what others are thinking and the negative repercussions for you.
  • Looking into the future and predicting a negative outcome.
  • Viewing the world in an either/or – black or white – way, with little scope for grey areas.
  • Viewing failures or negative feedback as a reflection of your own shortcomings.
  • Constantly reminding yourself of what you should or must do.

So, here are five tips to help you overcome these types of self-limiting beliefs:

Stop: Find a cue, or a trigger, to help you stop negative thoughts in their tracks. This could be as simple as saying in your head ‘Stop’ or even telling yourself ‘Don’t go there’; ‘Take control’ or ‘Wait a minute’. It is important to be assertive. For maximum effect use imagery to reinforce the statements, such as visualising a red ‘Stop’ sign.

Verbalise: When we listen to negative inner thoughts it can be very easy to believe and agree with them. But once we say them out loud, it can make us think twice about them. You can further expose your negativity by telling someone you trust what you are thinking. Ensure that you choose someone who will reinforce that you are being irrational and help you replace the negative thoughts with ones that are more positive and optimistic.

Park: ‘Park’ any negative or unhelpful thoughts by writing them down on a piece of paper or drawing pictures of what they represent, and either disposing of them or putting them aside in an envelope to be dealt with later.

Confront: If you don’t have anyone around to confide in, it’s important that you are able to confront these irrational thoughts yourself. It’s good to equip yourself with some powerful questions to help quash these thoughts. Questions can include: ‘Have I got all the information?’; ‘Is there another way to view this situation?’; ‘Is there anything positive I can take from this situation?’; ‘What is the worst thing that could happen?’ and ‘If I had a month to live, how important would this be?’. Sometimes, this is easier if you imagine (a ‘better’ version of) yourself, or someone you respect, asking such questions to you in a safe place. Another way of doing this is to imagine you are giving advice to a close friend who had a similar thought. What rational, supportive advice would you give them? At some point, however, it is likely that you will need to take ownership of your thoughts and focus on making choices that you have probably forgotten you have.

Replace: Once negative thoughts are eliminated, minimised or parked, you need to replace them with positive thoughts and images. These thoughts should ideally focus on what is in your control, on processes, the present, what’s positive, and staying composed. If thinking about your performance is proving too difficult, then distract yourself by doing and/or thinking about something completely different and thinking about your performance later.

Dr Phil Clarke is the Sport Psychology Lead at the Derbyshire Institute of Sport and Lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology at the University of Derby Online Learning. Through this website and our social media channels, he is sharing his thoughts on a range of topics as we travel through the current crisis together. 

DR Phil Clarke

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