Fact: We don't always want to do the things we know we should. We have developed many habits of behaving and thinking over the years that don't always put us in the best position for success. So, we might want to go to the gym after work or stick to that pre-performance routine we know puts us in the best position to be successful, but we do the exact opposite. There are many reasons why this occurs, but I'll leave that discussion for another time. Here, I want to talk about what we can do in those situations where we need help aligning our behaviors with our intentions.
You likely have heard the discussion about external versus internal motivation where we know that things like rewards (money, trophy, praise from others, etc.) can be useful motivators in the short-term, but are less effective in the long-term than things like valuing the behavior/activity, enjoying it, focusing on the learning value or opportunity to challenge ourselves, or feeling like it's congruent with who we are.
What you might not yet have come across is the idea that how we frame things to ourselves and others matters. For example, you can view things in a way that highlights what you have to lose (called prevention focus) or in a way that focuses you on what you have to gain (promotion focus). To provide a very simple example: you could remind yourself that by going to the gym you will be improving your health (a win) or if you skip out on that sweat session you'll be wasting the time and money you've spent so far (a loss). Many people tout the notion of always being positive, but things are more complicated than that and sometimes it might actually be better for you to focus on what you have to lose by doing or not doing something rather than what you have to gain.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind to help you decide which focus might work best for you:
1. Behavior needs to be understood in context. So don't just decide to go with one or the other (always focusing on the win or always focusing on the loss) all the time.
2. Yet, we all have tendencies. There are some people that will generally be more motivated by focusing on what they have to lose and others what they have to gain.
3. We are built to self-protect. We do more to avoid pain than to get pleasure. Further, we are more more motivated to do something about a minor loss versus a minor win. So, focusing on a loss may at times be the better choice. However, this self-protection also works the other way. Since we are motivated to avoid pain (even the thought of it), we might protect ourselves from thinking that something bad could happen to us (think about the commercials that try to scare smokers into giving up the habit, studies show that many smoke during or right after watching those horrible stories about other smokers). So make sure if the right choice is to focus on the potential loss that it is personal to you, not just something that generally could happen.
4. We think and respond differently to things that are happening now versus those that could happen in the future. If a goal is long-term, we will be more motivated to avoid working on it now (yes we are all built to be procrastinators). This then has to be taken into consideration when you are choosing what to focus on to try to motivate yourself to do or not do something now.
5. We prefer certainty. If an outcome (the result of us doing or not doing something) is a sure thing, then focusing on what we have to gain might be the better choice whereas if the outcome is less certain a loss frame might work better.
6. We like to take risks and get out of our comfort zones sometimes and not others. When we are focusing on what we have to gain, we might take more risks and be energized by getting uncomfortable. Alternatively, when we are focusing on what we have to lose, we may be more cautious and less likely to try new things.
7. We have a default negativity bias. So be careful with your use of the loss frame. Studies have shown that once people focus on a loss, it is harder for them to switch to focusing on a gain.
8. Finally, we need different things when we are starting versus trying to maintain something. If you are trying to get started on doing or not doing something (it's new, challenging), then focusing on what you have to gain will likely be the better choice because it's going to prompt feelings of enjoyment and accomplishment. However, if you are trying to maintain a behavior, focusing on what you have to lose will likely be more motivating because it will remind you about not wasting all the time and effort you have already invested and you will enjoy what you're doing more because you will appreciate and feel good about all the distractions and obstacles you've overcome while sticking to your goals and new habits.
"Your focus determines your reality." - Leo Babauta
The second round of the Masters is underway, and there’s already been some great insight related to the mental game. Here are a couple of standouts thus far:
Jordan Spieth – “Once you win here, you have an advantage over anybody who hasn’t won here.”
He is partially right in his statement. One of the biggest things that feeds confidence is having done something before. But confidence is very tricky. Sometimes having accomplished something previously can lead to expectations for the next time we do something. And expectations can really get in our way, for example, by making us more tuned into noticing any discrepancies between what is happening versus what we expected to happen or by increasing the pressure we feel for having to perform well. We can maybe see this being the case for Jordan with his double bogey on the opening hole this morning after sitting atop the leaderboard after Round 1.
Tiger Woods – “I fought hard to get it back in there, and I’m back in this championship. It will be fun the next 54 holes.”
Speaking of expectations, no surprise all eyes are on Tiger Woods and his return to Augusta after finishing top 5 in his two previous events. Perspective really is everything and we can see from his quote that he might be working not only on his strategy but also on managing his perspective (interesting read here about him and his approach:
https://www.golfdigest.com/story/masters-2018-tiger-is-good-with-his-opening-act-at-augusta). He also gives some insight into a great strategy…contingency planning. His approach seems to characterize critically thinking about what could happen and what he’s going to do if it does happen. This is great not only for planning ahead but also being able to navigate our emotional reactions.
Sergio Garcia – “I don’t know what to tell you, it’s one of those things. I feel like it’s the first time in my career where I made a 13 without missing a shot.”
Sergio’s first round and comments about it are good examples of what happens to us sometimes when things go really bad. First, usually when a downward spiral starts happening and our emotions are high we may be more likely to experience a crash and burn versus a slow fall from grace. Second, we see in his comments about the round that he’s really focused (and maybe he was right from the start) on things outside of his control, like pin placement, and actually taking the control out of his hands, it was the ball that did that not me. Especially when things aren’t going our way it can be easy to start focusing on the uncontrollables. We also have a strong inbuilt self-protection mechanism so we may start to attribute things to stuff outside of our control rather than what we can control…quite simply it helps us not feel so bad about what’s happening. No matter what is really going on for Sergio, one thing is clear; right now, and maybe not even for the benefit of this event, he’s got to focus on resilience. Not just bouncing back but rather trying to become better for having experienced this adversity. He can’t undo what’s been done, so now he has to find a way to finish strong and find the lessons that can be learned to take forward.
Rickie Fowler – “I think it’s more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge this week. I need to make sure I’m in the right frame of mind and trusting what we’re trying to do and not second-guessing anything.”
Coming into the Masters, Rickie was talking quite a bit about his focus on the mental side of the game this year after having some near misses in the past at this event. His comments highlight things like his motivation, focus and routines, confidence, perspective, and commitment to shots. All important parts of creating a well-planned mental game approach to performance.
It will be exciting to see how things progress for these four as well as others, especially heading into the weekend. One thing is for sure: the mental game will definitely be visible and play a role throughout the rest of the event! As Arnold Palmer once stated, “The whole secret to mastering the game of golf – and this applies to the beginner as well as the pro – is to cultivate a mental approach to the game that will enable you to shrug off the bad days, and keep patient and know in your heart that sooner or later you will be back on top.”