What is positive psychology and why?
Having a background within applied positive psychology and sports science, athletes often ask me what is the connection between both areas and how do they link together to optimise peak performance?
The centre point of positive psychology is to stop the focus being on the negative and turn it to the positive side of life!
Positive psychology emphasises well-being, human strengths and positive emotions; and how applying these factors into everyday life to help facilitate optimal functioning. Thus, positivity will enable individuals to feel good and flourish using one’s natural characteristic strengths to bring out their best possible self.
Peak performance is a hot topic which overlaps both positive psychology and sport, associated not only with physical aspects of performance, but with mental performance as well.
For example, marathon runners will require not only physical training but also psychological training and will need positive psychological strategies to deal with intrusive negative thoughts, performance anxiety, pain, and boredom.
Athletes can sometimes find it hard to remain positive as there are many stressful factors which arise, whether this be maintaining fitness levels, keeping up enjoyment, competitions, or weight control.
It can be especially hard for athletes training for prolonged endurance events such as marathons. This is due to the repetitive nature of running, which can often cause the individuals mind to wander and lose attention to their proper running technique, making it hard to identify poor running form.
Training for a marathon, or other intense endurance events, can be known as a mentally tough sport, as it can be a stressful experience due to high training demands in all types of weather and external or internal expectations.
Being able to positively reinterpret setbacks or stressors and remaining calm under pressure whilst maintaining emotional control may be essential to the ability to cope with the different demands of the sport.
These elements are characteristics of mental toughness which are mainly developed through a positive outlook!
Positive psychological skillsets create a brilliant tool kit for athletes to use throughout training, during performance and post-performance. Developing a positive mindset can take time to master. However, positive thoughts can be enhanced rather speedily using different training techniques:
1) Three good things (recommended for 1 week)
Record three things which went well that day with a causal explanation (eg I reached a target during training tonight, this was good because I have been training hard for the last three weeks in order to reach this goal and now I feel a sense of accomplishment)
2) Best possible self (recommended for 4 days)
Record for 10 - 20 minutes per day your ideal future life where everything has gone the best possible way, you are where you want to be, and all goals have been accomplished (bullet point key aspects which pop up in your mind)
The use of ‘imagery’ is a similar strategy, so instead of recording your best possible self just imagine it!
3) Self-talk (can be done anywhere at any time)
Use your internal dialogue to keep yourself positively motivated and to keep your mind from wondering (use encouraging quotes eg I can do this, I know I can complete this marathon, I have trained hard)