Mind Over Sports

Archive for August 2015

I was once watching a television interview with Bob Dylan and the announcer asked him what plans he had for the future. Dylan replied that he couldn’t share that information with him and his audience because if he did, it wouldn’t happen. Dylan was way ahead of his time and instinctively knew what would (or wouldn’t) happen if he shared his goals and intentions.

It’s not uncommon for athletes and coaches (and others) to set goals for themselves, but an article written by Derek Sivers (sivers.org) has pointed out the importance of not revealing those goals/intentions to others since it could have the opposite effect of what you may have intended. Here’s a brief summary of what Derek wrote:

Shouldn’t you announce your goals, so friends can support you? Isn’t it good networking to tell people about your upcoming goals? Doesn’t the “law of attraction” mean you should state your intention, and visualize the goal as already yours?

Not at all. Tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions (goals) are less likely to make them happen. Announcing your intentions (goals) to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed. In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a “social reality”, even if the solution hadn’t actually been achieved.

NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer has been studying this since his 1982 book “Symbolic Self-Completion” and recently published results of new tests in a research article, “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?”  Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions (goals) private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.

Once you’ve told people of your intentions (goals), it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.” You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

It may seem unnatural to keep your intentions (goals) private, but try it. You’ll be amazed at the results.


USA TODAY columnist Nancy Armour wrote a great column in today’s USA TODAY about Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker James Harrison giving back his sons’ “Participation Trophies” because they hadn’t earned them, something Ms. Armour was in complete agreement with. As am I. After reading the column it reminded me of something I had written in my new book, “Psycho Self-Imagery” about how the Self-Improvement Movement in this country was heading in the wrong direction. Here’s what I wrote:

“The self-improvement movement in America is heading in the wrong direction, exploiting needs of people who want a quick fix. One of the founders of the positive thinking movement built an entire industry based on a false premise: You can affect behavior in people through positive affirmations; that is, by standing in front of a mirror and telling yourself how wonderful you are. Or by rewarding school children with gold stars for mediocre work; or by engaging in positive self-talk to turn your life around. Best-selling books speak to us of The Personality Ethic, Unlimited Power, Personal Power, Cognitive Behavior & Success Triangles.

Self-proclaimed experts tell us how to reach peak performance, how to master the art of selling, how to deliver superior customer service, how to tap into the power of focused thinking and how to be a great communicator. But none of these approaches takes into consideration the self-image, or self-esteem, of their audiences. Individuals take action and respond to situations based on how they feel about themselves – and this is something they seldom address.

People have grown wealthy in this country by posing as motivational speakers, but I don’t believe you can motivate anyone. Inspire, yes. But not motivate. Motivation must come from within, and the higher an individual’s self-image, the greater his or her motivation.

It has often been said that certain coaches are great motivators. What really is meant is that these coaches create an environment for their athletes to build their own self-images and then motivate themselves.”

While watching the Red Sox – Tigers game last night on television a fight suddenly broke out in the Tigers dugout between catcher James McCann and short stop Jose Iglesias…and it was caught on national television. Tigers Manager Brad Asmus tried to smooth things over saying such things as “It shows that they care” and “this is not uncommon on any sports team.” I’m sure Brad Asmus is a nice guy but he must not know anything about how to create positive team chemistry and team bonding. If he did, that fight would never have happened. I won’t go into detail now, but I’m an advocate of teams becoming support groups and talking about their issues in private rather than having them show up on national television. Manager Asmus should call in a sport psychology consultant to help him. Notice I didn’t say “sport psychologist” because a sport psychologist is not allowed to help athletes with their personal problems and if he/she did he/she could lose his/her license since that’s the domain of the clinical psychologist. The field of psychology is very territorial. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers have a team meeting, get some things off their chests and clear the air, and start winning games. That’s how it works.

Let me go on record that I am a big Tom Brady fan and when news came out that he was aware that his team’s footballs had been deliberately tampered with, I couldn’t believe it. And now, a knowledgeable sports reporter from the Washington Post says that he was deliberately mislead by Commissioner Goodell. Here’s an excerpt of what Dan Steinberg wrote:

“Still, that’s mostly trivia and fact-checking. Being deliberately misleading about whether or not Brady openly admitted to discussing the allegations with the assistant during those conversations is not. This isn’t about whether or not anyone took air out of footballs, or whether or not a quarterback knew anything untoward was happening. This is about whether the commissioner of the NFL cares at all about accuracy, and whether he can be believed when he belches out his 20-page decisions. Last week, I made the mistake of assuming he could. I’ll try not to do that again.”

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