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Do You Have Paralysis by Analysis?

This past week I saw a new client in my office who is a multiple high school state champion wrestler. This young man decided he wanted to work with me because he wants to overcome the one major problem he has during competitions. When I asked him what that problem was, he very clearly stated, “I think too much”. As we got deeper into the conversation, I found out that he has a very inconsistent mental preparation routine and often will get stuck trying to figure out how to not screw up or make a mistake during a competition. He has been able to win in a fairly consistent manner. He is totally committed to wrestling and has been competing since age 6. His dream has been to achieve a collegiate scholarship, and possibly compete on the Olympic team. He is very committed to his training and has an excellent club coach, as well as a high school coach. Although he has all of these very positive attributes going for him we discovered that his mental preparation, focus and thought processes are not very strong. In fact, they are basically things he will do in an impulsive way without much planning. Then, when he is in the midst of competing, he starts worrying about the “What Ifs”. Thoughts like, what if I fall behind, or what if I don’t feel confident before the match, will go through his head. These thoughts then lead to lots of negative self-talk and self doubt about his abilities even though he is a multiple state champion. Paralysis by analysis is the process of getting stuck in your thoughts to the point that you can’t perform. Over the 30 years I have been working in this profession, I have encountered many athletes and coaches who get stuck in this mindset. I have found that most of the individuals who have this issue are usually quite intelligent and focused on success in many aspects of their life. So how do you get out of it? One of the things that we usually talk about is writing down a “What If” list. I will have my client compile a list of what if this happens or what if that happens types of issues. Then we discuss a solution for each. I will have them write down whether they have control or no control over the what if. Usually, they will find that they have little or no control over most of the what ifs and consequently we discuss why they need to focus more on what they do have control over. We also come up with a plan for a “focusing cue”. This is a special word or thought they will think about when they notice they are thinking “too much” and is a reminder to focus on the moment rather than on the results. This typically can help them control their focusing and concentrate more on their execution and less on their thinking. Consequently, they will have a better chance for success and less of a chance of being stuck in their mind while the game passes them by.

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