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  • Common thinking traps that affect athletes

    It is well known that athletes do their best to `maintain a positive mindset. They strive to stay focused on their goals and deliberately practice positive self-talk. However, even with deliberate focus and effort, they can still fall into certain patterns of unhelpful thoughts or “thinking traps.” Below are some of the most commonly experienced thinking traps:

    All or nothing (black or white) thinking.  You may have heard someone say, “The winner gets the glory” or “Second place is first loser.” Although these statements may feel motivating in the moment, they can lead people to believe they are a failure even if they are the second best in the world. This type of thinking leads people to view situations as one extreme or the other. Everything is viewed as either good or bad, right or wrong, success or failure.

    Catastrophizing. You may have heard the saying, “Making a mountain out of a molehill.” Catastrophizing is when you assume the worst or overestimate the size of a problem. These types of thoughts often start with “What if…” For example, “What if I ask a question and everyone knows I don’t know what I am doing” or “What if make an error and everyone thinks I suck” or “What if I don’t start next game and I never get to play again and this entire year is a waste?”

    Jumping to conclusions. This is the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of something negative happening. For example, you might see a text message from someone and assume it is bad news. Another example could be seeing someone yawn and assuming they are bored.

    Personalization. This is when you blame yourself for external negative events that are outside your control. A friend or teammate is in a bad mood and you blame yourself for how they are feeling. You might also think it is your responsibility to make them feel better. Personalizing involves taking 100% of responsibility for things that you might only partially involve you, or not involve you at all.

    Labeling. This is when you put a permanent and global label on yourself or someone else based on a specific situation. You might get a question wrong in class and think, “I’m an idiot!” A friend might forget to invite you to lunch and you think, “They are so inconsiderate! They’re a bad friend!” This thinking trap leads to defining someone based on a specific negative situation and ignoring all of their positive qualities and actions.

    Mental filtering. This is when you “filter” out all of the positive information and only focus on the negative information. For example, your coach says you have greatly improved in several areas and mentions that improvement is still needed in one area. Instead of celebrating your successes you focus on the one “negative” comment.

    “Shoulding” and “musting.” This is when you put rigid and unreasonable demands on yourself. You might think, “I should never have got injured” or “I should have hit that home run to win the game” or “I must always be positive.” This often leads you to feel frustrated, guilty, and disappointed in yourself. Stop “shoulding” on yourself!

    If you noticed that you succumb to these thinking traps, contact us to schedule a brief phone consultation to learn how sport psychology and CBT can help you.

    Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and all over California.