by: Lindsey Wilson In this article:
Great athletes are great liars. It’s the unspoken superpower of top tier performers. When I played, I was full on Pinocchio. Whether it was during practice or during a competition, I’d lie to myself constantly, saying things like:
While it didn’t work all that well for Pinocchio, lying is a necessary tactic in athletics. In a new book, “Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind,” by Dr. Ajit Varki, he contends that our unique ability to deny or deceive reality may also be the key to our success on the evolutionary ladder.
Varki goes to point out several examples of the fact that, “humans employ denial on many levels — political, social and religious”. Furthermore, he said, “In some case the denials are actually good, because they help us get through the day and get things done.” Ironically, the better you are at self-deception the more likely you are to be successful because let’s face it, we all face overwhelming challenges that seem unbeatable. Yet time and time again, we manage to overcome and even excel against overwhelming odds.
Willpower is about having a stubborn resilience that ignores the facts of a situation. If you believe in your abilities, despite all odds, you have a better chance of winning. When you are down, getting crushed by your opponent, you cannot get up and triumph without lying to yourself that you can win this...
that you will win this. Of course, there is a down side (and not just the obvious examples of people like Lance Armstrong). Even for people like myself who relied mostly on self-deception to succeed, I sometimes had to suffer the ill consequences of such an approach:
I love having a strong will (e.g. occasionally lying to myself). I think all the great feats in history have been accomplished by someone who was able to believe in something that wasn’t real or wasn’t true or wasn’t easily obtainable. But I also think it’s important to take a broader look at self-deception and realize that it is neither good nor bad—it’s both and neither—and, like any great superpower, it’s all about how one applies it.
For whom does self-deception work?
Self-deception isn’t for everyone, but we’ve found these three guidelines work well in determining if it will work for a particular athlete:
1) It has to fit close to an athlete’s or team’s current viewpoint. You can’t change perspective through self-deception if what you’re imagining is radically different from the existing reality. Practice visualization and affirmations beforehand to expand the current viewpoint.
2) It should come in small doses, not large ones. For instance, if you have trouble with fundamental skills, it will be difficult to believe you will be a superstar in the future. However, you will probably be able to imagine having success, even if you can’t do it today. Smaller, more believable steps are much more convincing than huge leaps and bounds.
3) It has to be practiced. Don’t expect to surprise your team with this! Implement self-deception during practices with visualization and positive affirmations. This is not a method to be introduced in high-pressure situations.
Take a look at your athletes’ view of themselves. Do they believe they are capable of coming back, overcoming a big deficit, etc.?
Self-deception requires a particular series of actions in order to be successful. Athletes’ limited performance is often due to the view they have of themselves, not their physical fitness or actual skill level. This happens time and time again with athletes, but the hindering mental state can be easily overcome by use of a simple process that I have broken down into four easy steps.
For this example, we had a football kicker who had never made a field goal from past the 35-yard line, but was physically capable of making the goal from farther away.
1) Specifically identify the athlete’s self-imposed limitations. In this case, not being able to make a field goal over 35 yards.
2) Have the kicker visualize kicking from 40 yards. It is critical that they actually see and feel the whole process of being successful at it. Increasing the yardage by only five at a time is a small dose of realistic improvement and less intimidating than if the kicker was to imagine kicking from 50.
3) Practice visualizing for a week. Click here for an overview of our easy visualization technique.
4) After a week, have the athlete attempt a 40-yard field goal. It might take a few tries keep a positive and reinforcing attitude. In this case, by the 5th try, the athlete kicked a beautiful goal right down the center of the uprights. We could see right away what a huge block this had been and what a relief he felt.
5) Follow-up with further reinforcement to establish this new state. Continuing to foster further success will lead to more and more confidence with this “new reality”. Additionally, this confidence translates into a higher likelihood that they will push through other mental barriers.
No, of course not. Reality can’t exceed someone’s physical or skill limitations; you can’t force miracles to happen. But, if it doesn’t work the first time, keep at it. Try making self-deception a regular part of practices to see where it will lead you.
It can take two or three attempts of using the self-deception process but, it only takes one success for an athlete to create a new self-image, thereby propelling them to perform in ways they never before imagined.
I've spent 10 years as a mindset coach. And I've learned a TON (made a ton of mistakes as well) building up a 6 figure a year business. In this guide, get my behind the scenes steps on how to start or build your profitable, passion filled business.