Counteracting Self-Sabotage in Sport
Correct your faulty mind and challenge others to accomplish your potential to become the best you can be
There are a plethora of reasons why someone might self-sabotage. The feeling of discomfort success can bring may cause confidence issues and anxiety in some. They feel that they cannot handle such expectations. Maybe the enjoyment of the process to a point where the resolution brings a bittersweet feeling with no next step assigned scares people. Maybe the goal is achieved but there is no motivation to challenge again. Or maybe it’s a personal issue.
Take two-time heavyweight world champion boxer Tyson Fury who was at the top of his game when he fell into addiction, depression and weight gain. Being a sufferer of depression myself, I out of respect can’t pick out what it could be as it is of a personal nature (and wish others did the same too). I could say that this was due to a loss of defined purpose, having lost motivation in his field after winning the world titles but he said himself that his downfall had nothing to do with his fighting.
Whatever the reason may be, and whether it can be stopped, sabotage needs to be addressed however much hurt it may cause. Just imagine dedicating your resources (maybe your whole life) to something, moving towards greatness but at the key times you falter or when you do succeed your momentum stops or you regress. Having an awareness of sabotage and not addressing it is only going to plant a seed in your mind that for the rest of your life you can look back upon and think what if(?)
Thoughts of pressure at being at the top aren't redundant either. Many athletes at the pinnacle of their sport say that staying at the top is harder than getting there.
Former world number one tennis player Angelique Kerber said about being at the top of her game, “It’s a new situation. Of course, you have always the goal for years to go there and to reach the top, but then if you are there, you actually don’t know what to expect. You have to get used to everything. You have to schedule your day, plan completely different and it’s for sure tougher to stay on top.”
For the vast majority of us, we aren’t at or near the pinnacle of our profession or chosen endeavour along with the responsibilities that come with it. There may be people who can’t give any more to be in the position that they are in and achieved all they could with their time. Then there are people like me who in one form or another hold themselves back in fear of progress.
This fear isn’t always laziness or a lack of preparation that limits an individual. It’s often the opposite — someone who is well prepared and proactive. However in execution there’s a lull in performance, which can be of varying extents in the mind, from actively sabotaging their efforts knowing fully well that their actions aren’t correct to having a subconscious mindset that is conducive to defeat.
This self-limiting behaviour is a habit. Habits that are practised over and over become effortless and to some they don’t realise their actions are destructive. To those who believe that they are aware of their destructive habits, it’s so easy to overlook the less direct parts of their life that disrupt progress. However difficult it may be, identifying as many aspects of life that affect us in this way is paramount to making changes for the better.
Simple things like making your bed (even if you don’t spend a lot of your time in your room) to swapping white bread for wholemeal improves the likelihood of success in ways that are immeasurable when it comes to overall success. I truly believe that their is a snowball effect when it comes to this matter. Therefore being successful as soon as is possible from rising from slumber is key. Make your bed, do a seven-minute workout, choose your food wisely, make that difficult phone call etc.
You may say that’s all well and good, and is within my abilities to live a lifestyle of success but it’s at the key moments of my sport where I falter due to sabotage.
To give you a personal example (in tennis); I have match point being 2 sets to zero up, five games to two in this set and am 40–15 up serving. (If you don’t know your tennis I’m winning comfortably.) I think about having already won the match and the feeling of the bittersweet feeling of the game being over. Therefore I go into this energy preservation mode where I try to dominate the rally from the baseline and move at only seventy-percent of my usual output. I know that I can finish this game easily by serving and volleying as my opponent can’t handle my volleys and positions poorly to counteract this but I don’t see the challenge in that and respect my opponent that I don’t want to see them lose in this way. I think it might be time to try my new racket. I think it’s time to try that trick shot I saw yesterday on the ATP tour. I also want to see my opponent succeed by winning a few more games because I like him/her. What am I going to eat afterwards. No one at my tennis tennis club thought I could beat my opponent. Look at me now. I’m a winner. Even after they all mistreated me and made me wait an hour before being allowed to play doubles with them then not shaking my hand. I hate that guy at my club who always calls my serves that are in wide… ALL OF THIS IS SELF-SABOTAGE! I ended up losing, my opponent felt as if they had miraculously made an outstanding sporting comeback. I felt worthless.
In these moments forget about everything other than your actions needed to succeed. If you don’t need to think about your actions of success as they are natural continue this way. It’s easier said than done but muting your inner voice is essential to success. All you need to tell yourself before the game is I know my abilities, I know my surroundings (e.g. bad teammates that don’t rate or respect me not allowing me to affect the game) but if I am disrespected in anyway by myself (giving myself doubt) or by my teammates (not playing to/with me) I WILL DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT BECAUSE THIS IS MY TIME!
If we can’t flourish because of destructive actions of others we simply need to assess if any more can be done. There is only so much you can scream and shout at or address your teammates who don’t respect you and who don’t allow you to progress until there’s no more you can do. At this point for the sake of your own health leave. Find a different club, hopefully one that plays against your current teammates (or team enemies) and show them defeat and disrespect.
Often it’s not that we don’t have enough time for success, if anything we have too much time so we allow sabotage in. We do everything right; from eating correctly to training new skills and practising but then we have and give time for our destructive habits. By setting up our day with success early, having true belief in our abilities blocking any afterthoughts (positive and negative), ferociously challenging other people’s misdemeanours in key moments of our game and assessing if we are in the correct environment we can truly flourish in our chosen endeavour.