05/14/2013 03:49 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2013

Thinking You Can Win

Are you convinced that in order to succeed at anything, you must think the right types of thoughts? As a result, do you often try to fix your thinking? If so, what you're actually doing is thwarting the success you want so badly. Why? Because there's no direct connection between what you think and winning.

You're not alone in this misconception. Even most performance experts are missing this essential perspective. What, for example, do the majority of sports psychologists suggest to help their clients overcome their struggles? They give them techniques or things to do to fix their thinking -- state affirmations, forgive, accept, remain calm, or visualize good outcomes -- that will only makes them think and struggle more.

The truth is that every person (to varying degrees) already grasps the insignificant nature of what pops into his or her head. To illustrate, let's say you're food shopping and you think about stealing a candy bar from the supermarket. The reason you, like most people, don't steal is because you know that doing so is just a random thought. And believing or following your thinking is not a requirement.

Here's an example of this principle involving my daughter, Chelsea, a high-school lacrosse player. A good scorer, in her last game Chelsea completely missed a perfect pass fed to her right in front of the other team's goal. It was an unusual error. At dinner that night, she admitted that right before that play she was thinking, "Oh my God, I'm wide open; I hope I don't mess this up."

I asked Chelsea what she did about that silly thought, and she replied, "I told myself to chill, but it obviously didn't work!"

And it never will. If a person has a lot of thinking going on in his or her head, sure, the person will feel uptight (like Chelsea at that moment). But trying to fix this overload of thought requires more thinking, which only increases the level of nervousness, eventually lowering awareness and reducing one's field of vision. Even adding in positive thinking (like trying to chill) further jams the system -- a system, by the way, that's destined to clear and make sense of things on its own.

So, what was my advice to Chelsea the other night at dinner? Simply this: "Remember, kid, you can win (and score goals) no matter what you're thinking. When you feel insecure about anything, never add more thought into a head that's got too much thought in there to begin with."

"I shouldn't try to fix things when I feel that way?" Chelsea asked.

"No. Just go play; let your instincts take care of clearing the clutter."

She then wondered, "Will that help me catch the ball?"

"Maybe," I said, "But, for sure, it will help you see that whether you catch the ball or not, or whether you win or lose, you'll be just fine."

Chelsea concluded, "I'm feeling better already, thanks, Dad. Can we go outside and take some shots? The state tournament starts next week -- I just got an idea that might help us win!"

The clutter was clear.

For more by Garret Kramer, click here.

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