Trust Your Instincts

In order to play your best in games, you need to trust your instincts. Instead of trying too hard to control your movements, you need to quiet your mind, relax, trust your muscle memory, and allow your body to do what you've trained it to do. If you do this, you'll execute your skills much better than if try to take conscious control of your skills. This is because your motor skills are stored in the subconscious parts of your brain. Your conscious part of your mind doesn't know how to execute your skills nearly as well as your subconscious mind. If you try to consciously control your skills while under pressure, your movements will be clunkier and less coordinated, and as a result, you'll perform poorly.

For most athletes, this may seem like common sense. We've all experienced being "in the zone" at times, when we play our best without thinking too much. We know that overthinking and trying too hard hurts our performance, but we still do it anyways. This is because the pressure and the fear of failure that we feel in games is often too strong for us. Instead of trusting our instincts, we become scared and decide to take conscious control of our movements. In these cases, we lose trust in our instincts and we believe that we will perform poorly and fail if we don't take conscious control of our movements. As a result, we tighten up, our technique falls apart, and we choke under pressure.

As you may have experienced, trusting your instincts under pressure is easier said than done. We know we should trust our instincts and play looser in games, but we have a hard time resisting the urge to try too hard and take control of our movements. So how can we do a better job trusting our instincts under pressure? There are three main ways to trust your instincts more under pressure:

1. Gain more confidence in your skills by training hard and building your muscle memory.
2. Get used to pressure by practicing under pressure more often.
3. Improving your self-talk and concentration.

I've written about all three of these strategies in the past, but for now, I want to focus more on #3.

In order to trust your instincts more in games, it helps to simply remind yourself of the importance of trusting your instincts. Sometimes when under pressure, we aren't even aware that we're overthinking and trying too hard. In these cases, it can help to simply step back, and remind yourself to loosen up and trust your instincts. But like I said above, this is easier said than done. You can make it easier to trust your instincts by building up your muscle memory and confidence in practice, but no matter how well you trained and prepared yourself for a game, you can still be tempted to take conscious control of your skills while under pressure. This is because the fear of failure runs deep inside our psyches. No matter how well we prepare, we'll always feel at least a little bit of nervousness in big games. We can manage our nerves, but we cannot eliminate them entirely. This is why it's so important to not only train hard, but also develop a strong mental game by improving your self-talk and concentration. 

During pressure situations, you have two choices. You can either trust your instincts or you can take conscious control of your movements. In order to resist the urge to take control of your movements, you need to commit yourself to trusting your instincts. This requires courage/bravery, which is the ability to take risks even when you're scared. When under pressure, you need to rise above your fears and have the courage to go for it and play looser! You may not know what will happen if you trust your instincts, but you need to take this leap of faith anyways! To help build this courage, it helps to remind yourself of the fact that you're better off letting your instincts take over than trying to consciously control your movements. Even if you make a mistake after trusting your instincts, in the long run, trusting your instincts will pay off much more than it doesn't.

While this kind of positive self-talk can help you build courage, it is not enough. You also need to keep your mind focused externally. When we focus too much on our negative thoughts and anxiety, we become self-conscious and choke under pressure. So the more you keep your attention focused on something externally, such as the ball or the target, the easier it is to trust your instincts and let it rip! 

Here is a four step process to help you trust your instincts better in games:
1. Take a deep breath, clear your mind, and relax your body.
2. Use positive self-talk to build up the courage to trust your instincts.
3. Focus your mind on the target, not your technique.
4. Command yourself to trust your instincts and just go for it!

This fourth step is often the most difficult. When the moment of truth comes, you need to just go for it, and play as if you have nothing to lose! Stop thinking and just do it! Don't try to force the ball into the hoop. Let it happen naturally! Shoot your shot as relaxed and fearlessly as you can. If you stop worrying about controlling the outcome and instead put all your trust in your instincts, you'll be surprised at how well you can play! 

The ability to trust your instincts doesn't come overnight. It takes a lot of time and practice to train yourself to trust your instincts under pressure. If you keep working on your mental game and follow the advice I give in this blog post, you'll definitely improve your performance in games!

If you want to learn more about this topic, I suggest reading my book reviews on The Inner Game of Tennis and How Champions Think.