Sport Psychology Special: Understanding the power of your thoughts

I am just about to finish teaching a Summer School unit at the University of Western Sydney in Sport and Exercise Psychology, and so I have decided to share with you some insights to help you obtain a peak performance in sport, exercise, work, or with any goals that you have set for yourself.

This is a post I wrote to help out my Kung Fu buddies, but the ideas can be applied to any performance setting.


This is Charlie, who seems to have an obsession with my left Kung Fu shoe. Every time i jump in the shower after training, he shoe-naps this and places it in random spots around the house.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes your mind is your worst enemy? In my 14 years working as a Psychologist with athletes and peak performers, I have not come across one person who does not, at one point or another, have self-doubts and self-debilitating thoughts.

“I can do that!”, “I’ll never get that technique right”, “what if I stuff this up” are common thoughts that enter our minds from time to time.  These negative thoughts have a bad habit of pushing us off our path towards goal attainment, and may make us question our abilities for the Kung Fu training we love doing.

What to do when you notice negative thoughts:

  • Try thanking your mind: “ah thanks mind, there’s another thought you’re giving me!” This helps you separate a thought from reality, rather than believing everything your mind has to tell you! Remember, your mind is not always your best friend, or based on reality.
  • Take a breath: Focus on taking a deep, nourishing breath in, and a slow, deliberate breath out. This type of breathing activates the relaxation response in your brain and helps your body relax.
  • Refocus: when we get lost in our negative thinking, we can become really stuck in our heads and lose focus for what we are at training to do. If you catch yourself getting stuck on a thought train going nowhere, gently refocus your mind on a technique you are doing, or give yourself a cue word or phrase such as “push/pull”, “relax my arm”, “ball and chain”.
  • Reframe: your mind has an incredible ability to make you believe it, whether it’s telling you the truth or just trying to freak you out! If you notice yourself saying things like “I’m so nervous”, reframe the thought into something along the lines of “I’m just feeling pumped up and excited!”
  • The Power of Positivity: our brain is hard-wired to protect us from danger, and as a result our brain is much better at looking for scary stuff in our environment, storing these in our long term memory bank, and remembering more negatives than positives.  Emerging research in brain neuroplasticity shows us that we can re-wire our brains to be more positive.  A good ratio to aim for is 3:1. This means every time you notice 1 negative thought, try to tell yourself 3 positives to counteract its power and build new pathways for positivity in your brain.  It helps if you create a success list so that you can readily draw upon some examples to help in pressure situations.  Statements could include things like: “I have come a long way since starting training”, “I feel my strikes becoming more powerful each week”, “I always put in lots of effort at training”, and “I love learning new usages”.

If you want some assistance with understanding the role that your thoughts play in boosting your confidence and self-esteem, reach out to me at: psyched4succcess[at]

Natalie Haider is a Psychologist, Health Coach, Workplace Wellness Facilitator, and University Educator with over 13 years’ experience helping people achieve their wellness and performance goals through a combination of sport psychology and holistic health coaching services.

About psyched4success

"Psyched4Success" encapsulates the 4 foundations for Successful living: Heart - Emotions and Relationships Mind - Psychology and Thinking Body - Physical Health, Movement and Nutrition Spirit - Personal Essence, Values, Goals and Motivation I am a Psychologist with a passion for Holistic Health and Wellness, determined to inspire personal transformation in these foundational areas for success. When i am not working as a Psychologist, Corporate Trainer, and University Tutor, i love spending countless hours in the kitchen creating nutritious organic meals, inspired by a whole foods philosophy, free of gluten, sugar and dairy. I intend to share my creations with you here, as well as my journey from adrenal fatigue to health through my own personal, health, nutrition and lifestyle transformations. I am based in Sydney, Australia, but am an intrepid soul who sets an intention to visit a new destination each year.
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1 Response to Sport Psychology Special: Understanding the power of your thoughts

  1. Pingback: Emotional intelligence series: Unlocking your realm of influence | Psyched4Success

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