Whether you are an athlete looking to compete at the highest level or a weekend warrior who is just tryna stay fit, CrossFit shares a lot of similarities with other sports with regards to performance and mental states. More often associated with professional athletes on the biggest of stages is the notion of competition anxiety, but it is not unique to professional competitors and it doesn’t have to be at a stadium with 50,000 fans watching in order to occur. I wanted to write a post that discusses what competition anxiety is, who it effects and how you can use it your advantage.
So, what is competition anxiety? Simply put, it is a negative emotional state that brings about feelings of nervousness, apprehension and worry. Without getting too scientific, there are a variety of stimuli that can cause anxiety to happen, but I am going to focus on the more common cause; fear of failure. This fear of failure is an athlete’s perception of their abilities related to the task (workout/competition) ahead. How do I size up? Am I strong enough? Fast enough? The list goes on. These questions derive from past experiences, the level of other competitors or the significance of the event as a whole and they cover a broad spectrum of situations that we could find ourselves affected by anxiety.
Overcoming competition anxiety is not necessarily something that will happen overnight, but there are ways you can begin breaking it down right away. I use three steps to begin working my way through competition anxieties:
The first step is to identify what it is that is causing you to feel or think a certain way. Do you think the weights are too heavy? Do you think there are too many pull ups for you to handle? Whatever the case might be, we need to first ascertain as to what the threat is so that we can then flip the script. “The weights are too heavy.” “There are too many pull ups.” Instead of letting those thoughts elicit a fear of failure, use them as an opportunity for growth. What happens if you are able to do the heavier weights? What if you can handle the increased number of pull ups? Use these situations as chances to surprise yourself and not allow the fear of failing to prevent you from even trying. Finally, it’s time to let it go. Maybe you were able to lift the barbell or do all of the pull ups, maybe you weren’t. Life isn’t over either way and you need to let go.
Competition anxiety is a an extreme emotional state, but it doesn’t have to be all bad news. The Inverted U Hypothesis (Yerkes Dodson Law), suggests that there is an optimal level of arousal that will yield our best performance.
The ideal range for an athlete is somewhere between being mildly alert and stressed. Too much arousal will lead us to a state of anxiety or even a panic, but not enough and we will experience similar results in performance. Using the steps mentioned above, we can learn to harness our anxieties and use them to our advantage. Competition anxiety will never not exist, but the way we respond to it will determine whether we are able to use the anxiety to our advantage or not. Identify what it is that is causing you to feel anxious (heavy weights, increased number of reps, big competition) and flip the script. Turn the negative connotations into positives ones. If we allow the anxieties to stay negative, we will experience negative results. But on the other hand, if we can turn our responses into positive ones then we can use it to increase our performances. At the end of the day, you have to let it go. A poor workout, a missed lift or an imperfect competition do not have the final say. They are just opportunities for next time.