Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Stress and its Source (Part 3)

In this final entry on internal stressors, let’s examine these sources:

  • Unclear goals
  • Lack of resilience
  • Inflated sense of self and ability
  • Minimizing opponents

Note, again, that all of these stressors are really made up of beliefs and expectations within a competitive mindset. If these internal maps are clear, aligned, and connected to powerful sources of intrinsic motivation, stress is manageable and productive. For “just right” stress is required for growth.

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Unclear goals: Why do you do what you do and why do you want what you want? The clarity of these answers is the intention of your future self. Unclear goals provide unnecessary stress because they do not connect the present and the future in a precise and meaningful way. The source of unclear goals is unclear thinking and external influence. In other words, you haven’t figured out what you really want, why, and how to get there. The external influence is committing yourself to the approval or design of others in your camp. This will never work. Others can help you clarify your goals, but the goals need to be defined and owned solely by you.


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Lack of resilience: A mindset that accepts adversity and the ups and downs that are a natural part of growth and development will be more resilient than one that avoids, fails to adjust, minimizes or makes excuses in the tough times. Any competitor can be strong when all is going well. But history shows that momentum shifts and down follows up. A resilient mindset handles the pressure of challenge and actually becomes stronger, smarter, and more flexible within this downturn. Our ability to adapt becomes more diverse as we pick up more physical and mental tools for our toolbox, and widen our perspective.

Inflated sense of self and ability. This is closely tied to resilience because of a fixed mindset that ignores data that does not fit with your present identity. Chances are the people around you inflate you, make excuses with you, and have a sense of their own selves tied too closely to you. Chances are those who have been honest with you are no longer in your sphere of influence. And the stress you feel is from maintaining a false sense of self and fighting the forces of change, adaptation, and flexibility. The stress here is tied to knowing deep inside that you are not getting any better and have nothing in place to change this notion. In other words: denial.

Minimizing opponents. This is one of the biggest mistakes a competitor can make and informs the difference between confidence and cockiness. There are fewer factors within your control than beyond your control—and your opponent is a major form of the latter. The source of stress you feel from minimizing your opponent derives from a lack of respect, a lack of preparation, and a lack of awareness. In defeat, the catchphrase is “They were so lucky!”

Developing a mindset that allows an athlete to execute optimally during the ups and downs of competition is an active process—one that always needs to be reflected upon and refined. All competitive experiences are, in some way, new and unique ones. Being clear and untying the knots of internal sources of stress allows you to make the most of practice and play.


If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at

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