Getting out of your own way

Perfectionism Gremlin 2“We all have self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that undermine performance. I call them gremlins, the little invisible creatures that prevent athletes from performing at their best.” – Sports psychologist Gary Mack (Mind Gym – p42)

Shortly after the chapter Know Your NumbersMind Gym has a chapter called “Getting Over Yourself”. In it, Mack says, “Working in the field of sports psychology, I am fascinated by how many people defeat themselves and sabotage success. Athletes at every level often interfere with their own performance. They get in their own way with their fears, their doubts, and their self-condemning nature.” (p40)

Like me, you’ve probably seen (or yourself exhibited) this behavior outside of athletics, so the lessons are applicable in many aspects of life.

“You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself.” – Arthur Ashe¹

Mack lists ten gremlins that interfere with performance:

  • Fear: because of the fight-or-flight biological response, fear can be paralyzing
  • Anger: we must control our emotions or they will control us
  • Anxiety: undermines performance by getting us out of the zone
  • Self-Consciousness: no one performs well when they are plagued by fears of embarrassing themselves
  • Perfectionism: often fueled by a fear of failure or caused by over-critical parenting and poor coaching at a young age, perfectionists often have a very critical voice and that manifests as negative thoughts
  • Stubbornness: we have to be willing to change if we want to grow and evolve
  • Lack of Motivation: it takes drive to work hard, and it takes hard work to succeed
  • Competitiveness: an especially tricky gremlin; too much competitive can be negative, and too little can lead to apathy or self-defeat
  • Distractions: Afroman said it pretty well, and so did The Oatmeal
  • Lack of Persistence: we’re going to face knocks, and we have to take’m and keep going

It’s a worthwhile exercise to go through the list and honestly assess if you’re undermining yourself in any of these ways. The two I’ve personally had to fight are perfectionism and self-consciousness, and it took a very real awareness before I could take steps to overcome them.

Alternatively, if you’re a leader or a manager then you might want to keep watch for these tendencies in any of your team members so that you can help them get out of their own way.


¹There’s a great 30 for 30 Short called “Arthur and Johnnie” that talks about the two Ashe boys


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Books, Careers, Everything, Leadership, Sports
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