Magazine article Talent Development

PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGY Isn't Just for Athletes: Perform at Your Best by Mimicking What Elite Athletes Do to Regulate Their Emotions

Magazine article Talent Development

PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGY Isn't Just for Athletes: Perform at Your Best by Mimicking What Elite Athletes Do to Regulate Their Emotions

Article excerpt

We all have days when we are in a bad mood or have things on our mind. Maybe someone has annoyed you, or you're excited about going out after work. But are those days still productive, and are you still able to perform at your best? The reality is that most of us have not learned how to effectively regulate our emotions to do this.

For elite athletes, their sport is their job--a job that is mainly focused on training and preparation for competition. Indeed, athletes spend about 90 percent of their time in training and 10 percent in competition. What if we took a similar approach in business, where we spent 90 percent of time developing not just the technical skills but also the human skills such as regulating emotions that have a direct impact both on performance and well-being? What if we took notice from the sporting world and in business placed more focus on the emotional side of our human experience?

The importance of emotion regulation

Emotions not only include our thoughts and feelings but our behaviors and physical sensations too, so it follows that emotion regulation involves intentionally deploying skills to regulate three components--the thoughts we have, our behaviors, and our physical experiences--so that we can reach our goals and perform well.

The intentional use of skills to drive optimal performance requires a basic understanding of how emotions--and their three components--affect our performance and, more specifically, which emotions are most functional for us to reach our goals.

It is a misconception that people must be happy to perform well. For some individuals, anger or anxiety helps them to function well; for others, the need to feel relaxed, centered, or even happy is key. It is unhelpful to think of emotions as negative or positive. Rather, to reach optimal performance in whatever setting, you need to find the emotions that are functional for you.

Besides driving optimal performance, another reason for regulating emotions at work is emotional contagion, which is the idea that the emotions we experience may be infectious and positively or negatively influence others' emotional experiences.

Take a board meeting, for example. If a colleague running the meeting is late and arrives flustered and stressed, then these emotions may be infectious to the rest of the people in the room, setting a tone that is not conducive for a successful meeting. If the individual is aware of the emotional state he is in and how that may negatively affect others, he can then proactively place himself in the optimal mental and emotional state for that meeting and, as a consequence, have a positive impact on others.

Given the highly pressured environment in which athletes and sports teams perform, we can learn a lot from the sporting world on emotion regulation. To understand how high-performing athletes go about regulating their emotions to consistently perform at their best and determine whether some of these techniques can help us in business, Insights Learning and Development interviewed sport psychologists across many different sports globally to gather their insights.

Know thyself: Self-awareness

Before anything else, high-performing athletes develop self-awareness. They know and understand how they respond in pressurized situations, what kinds of emotions arise, and how this affects their performance.

Sportspeople can also identify which emotions they need for success and those that are harmful, often by working with a sports psychologist to identify the emotions associated with best and worst performance, so that they can understand which triggers cause a functional or dysfunctional emotional state.

Workplace application: Consider what performance is for you. It may be presenting, attending a meeting, writing a blog or article, or getting through all the appointments you have to make. The key to performance for you is that you have a desired goal you want to achieve. …

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