Anxious, fatigued, unhappy, uncertain? We’ve all been there, all known times when our emotional hot buttons take over. We swear to ourselves that this time we will overcome them and stay committed to our goal, but it doesn’t work and we react with indulgent self-gratification. “I had such a long day, and I just don’t feel like going to the gym today.” “I’ve already fallen off the wagon so I’ll just eat what I want and start again on Monday.”
Sound familiar? Making exceptions just this once gives us immediate relief from discomfort, but afterward, when we muster the courage to confront our actions, we become sad, disappointed and frustrated. What happens next? We further engage in indulgence and self-comfort!
Why do we self-sabotage despite our best intentions? We’re not alone—even professional athletes struggle with moods and emotions. So what’s going on? Many believe we have no real control over feelings, but with awareness and some handy tools in our mental toolbox, feelings can be regulated, managed and manipulated. That will be the focus here: showing you how to keep your emotions within your control so you can follow through with your goals and get results.
How Do Emotions Affect Performance?
Thoughts and emotions shape behavior. They trigger an activation response that, in its simplest form, falls into one of four categories: (1) unpleasant activation, (2) unpleasant deactivation, (3) pleasant activation or (4) pleasant deactivation (Karageorghis & Terry 2010).
As you can see from Figure 1, not all emotions we consider negative lead to poor behavior, and not all positive emotions enhance performance. For example, you may have had a productive 3-mile run while feeling tense, nervous, stressed or even upset. You may also have had an unproductive weight workout while feeling positive—for example, contented, serene, calm and relaxed.
In sports psychology, we often refer to the Iceberg Profile, originally created by psychologist William Morgan in the 1970s. Morgan focused on tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue and confusion (Morgan 1980; Morgan 1985). The consensus is that
- vigor enhances performance;
- confusion and fatigue reduce performance;
- anger and tension reduce performance for athletes already in a depressed mood; and
- anger and tension enhance performance up to an optimal point for athletes not feeling depressed. Past that optimal point, anger and tension reduce performance.
Even with this research, it’s important to understand that, when it comes to the relationship between emotion and performance, we are all individuals. Your goal is to learn how to control each of your emotions to the best of your ability. With this control, you can access whichever emotions work in a particular moment to help you achieve results.
Preparation: Creating a Mood Profile
To begin developing the psychological skill of emotional control, first reflect on the ways an optimal mood is your ally. What does this state help you to do? Are you more likely to find the motivation to exercise? Does it affect the type of training you do or how much intensity and effort you exert? Does being in an optimal mood make it easier to receive support from others and give it in return? Are you better able to get the results you’re looking for?
Next, create a mood profile to find your unique optimal emotional state for peak performance. For at least 2 weeks, each day before bedtime, journal four things:
- On a scale of 1–10 (1 = really bad and 10 = really great), rank your overall mood for the day as well as your mood just before exercise.
- Write down one word to describe your overall mood and your mood just before exercise.
- Rank how productive your exercise was.
- Record your greatest achievement during exercise.
As an example, your daily journal could look something like this:
At the end of the 2 weeks, evaluate your journal and highlight any patterns you find. Look for the rankings and emotions that facilitate high performance. Now you know your optimal emotional state for peak performance, and you can strive for it.
Next, act to keep your emotions in check using any of the following seven methods:
Visualize Emotions as Cartoon Characters
Did you see the movie Inside Out, where emotions were represented as animated figures? Similarly, picture your own emotions as cartoon characters separate from yourself—it will create distance and add objectivity, making it easier to deal with them (Wallin 2012). When they are cartoon characters temporarily taking up space inside you, you can work to calm them down, listen to what they’re saying and then take charge (like a parent taking a nonnegotiable stand).
For more information, please see “Control Your Moods, Achieve Your Goals” in the online IDEA Library or in the October 2017 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.