The THINKING – BEHAVIOR link – How Thinking Affects Performance

The psychological aspects involved in sports performance and training is as important as the physical aspect. THINK you can do something. BELIEVE you can do something…and sure enough you’ll not only be able to do it, but probably better than you thought you could in the first place.

The link between the mind and body is well-established, but until the 1970s-80s, the focus was primarily on behavior, not on the inner workings of the mind. Interest in thought processes and how these interact with, and influence behavior became the focus during this time: cognitive psychology was born. Thinking affects not only our behavior, but how we feel. For example, if you’re on your way to a job interview and the thought “I’m going to do a really bad interview today” pops into your mind and you listen to and believe this thought. How are you likely to feel? Happy, motivated? Or nervous and unsure of yourself? If you feel nervous and unsure of yourself, how is this likely to affect your behavior? Will you come across as confident? Will you speak up, speak clearly and “sell” yourself?

The point is THINKING is KEY. It affects how we feel and this, in turn, affects how we behave. A negative reinforcement feedback loop develops where behavior influences thinking and feeling. So using the example above, the thought “I’m going to do a bad interview today” may cause the person to feel nervous and is likely to affect their performance at the interview. They may not speak clearly or “sell” themselves. These behaviors in turn feedback and reinforce the thought “I’m going to do a bad interview”. In effect, this type of thinking becomes stronger and stronger. The person believes these thoughts even more strongly than they did before and the link between that type of THINKING and BEHAVIOR is strengthened.

This THINKING-BEHAVIOR link occurs in ALL aspects of our lives and has been used to treat a range of psychological disorders including depression and anxiety. It has also been used in occupational settings, to enhance job performance, leadership and team management, as well as in performance in sports and fitness. As mentioned above, the psychological aspect of training is as important as the physical aspect. It is KEY to achieving fast and long-lasting results.

As with the job interview, performance in areas of strength and conditioning, training and sports is affected by how we THINK. The THINK-BEHAVIOR link is crucial to enhancing performance and helping the athlete reach their full potential. If someone believes in themselves, their ability, their trainer and their training program, this will affect their BEHAVIOR. As with the job interview, if the person doesn’t believe they can achieve results, they are unlikely to put in the effort, train with the same intensity or focus and are much more likely to give up along the way. The athlete who believes in what he is doing and believes he can reach certain goals, is likely to put in more effort and “fight” until he achieves these goals. We work harder when we believe in what we are doing.

Understanding the link between THINKING and BEHAVIOR is vital to success in any field, including sports-related performance. Remembering this link and knowing when and what thoughts to “listen” to is a skill that requires practice. When times get tough and things are not going as planned, the ability to use this skill becomes harder, but is such an important skill. For example, an injury may either be used to motivate an athlete to achieve even better results, or may cause them to give up completely, based on their THINKING. Listening to the thoughts “I’ll never be able to come back from this injury” and “My season is over” are likely to cause someone to give up, stop training and quit. Listening to the thought “I’ll overcome this with hard work and dedication to my rehabilitation program” is likely to accelerate the recovery process and help the athlete get back on track.

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