High performance is all about staying cool, calm and composed when it counts the most – and in so doing, delivering excellent performance in high pressure situations. This is the goal of mental skills training and is often what we talk about when we speak of mental toughness or BMT.
Mental skills such as focus, mental rehearsal, relaxation and confidence all form part of critical performance skills, but for me, the place to start for any athlete wanting to perform better is this: EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE.
EQ is all about understanding your own emotions (and the emotions of others). There are many parts to EQ, but one of the most important is called EMOTIONAL GRANULARITY. This is just a big word for emotional vocabulary; in other words, it’s about being able to identify and name different emotions. And I can tell you it’s a little harder than you may think!
I always tell the athletes I work with that much of what we will do together is develop insight into what and how they are thinking and feeling. Once you know that, well, then you can manage and change your emotions. If you are unaware of your thoughts and feelings, you tend to get yourself into trouble performance wise (there is a lot of research that shows how high EQ positively impacts performance both for teams and individual athletes).
Think of it like this: how many shades of the colour BLUE can you name in this photo?
Dark, light, turquoise?
If you’re an artist or decorator maybe you can name a few more: cyan, electric, cobalt, azure, aqua.
They are there if you know what to look for – subtle differences in shades yes, but differences nonetheless. To a trained eye there are literally hundreds of shades of the colour blue. How much more depth and interest must this photo have for those that can see the subtleties and beauty of the blues.
The same holds true for emotions.
There is a big difference between being angry or furious, peaceful or relaxed, happy or excited.
Being able to correctly identify emotions – rather than just a blanket ‘I feel nervous’ or ‘I feel bad’ – helps us manage them better.
But how do you know what furious feels like if you have never even heard the word?
Therefore, the first step towards greater emotional control is to increase your emotional vocabulary which will help you correctly identify emotions – and then you can learn how to manage them correctly.
Here is an exercise to get started. Under each major emotion list at least 5 other words that relate that that feeling:
MAD SAD GLAD
E.G. Angry Disappointed Excited