By Martin Perry
It's the Irish Open Squash Championships. Two young players are battling it out in the early stages of the competition. Both are talented. Both can play. Both are of equal capability. But one player is walking away with the game. The difference between the two is that one is managing his emotions. The other player, the loser, isn't.
His emotions are getting the better of him. Everytime he makes a mistake, he reacts. Banging his racket. Cursing. Getting frustrated. Curiously, this doesn't seem to make him play better. Why? Because he is struggling to handle a contradiction. The contradiction between how he expects to play and how he is playing. Or, how he believes others expect him to play and how he is playing. The crushing pressure of expectation.
He has an image or feeling of how he should be playing. And that contradicts with how he is playing. I should v I am. The I Should is based on what he expects to do, the I Am on what he is doing.
The cursing and racket beating is done to try to galvanise the I Am into action - in the hope that if he creates enough 'energy', then the gap between expectations (I should) and performance (I am) will be instantly bridged.
The anger though doesn't serve to help the 'I Am'. It has the opposite effect. It makes the 'I Am' feel inadequate, incapable of matching the demand it is feeling. The I Am will answer that it is doing it's best but it senses that it's best isn't enough.
This evokes a host of troubled feelings in the 'I Am'. Feelings of not being good enough; feelings of blame; inadequacy. And it leads to negative self-talk; 'You're **** at this!' 'You'll never succeed'. 'I want to give up'. Psychologies of bleakness and despair. The pressure of the should is proving hard to handle. The I Am is measuring itself against the I Should and coming up short. It looks within itself and cannot find the answer.
A gloom then descends over the I Am. A gloom which causes the I Am to feel that things will never change. 'I will never break through'. 'Everybody else succeeds - but me'!
Negative thoughts and feelings tumble over each other to declare themselves. It's happy-hour in Bleak City. Small emotional explosions are set off. Psychological triggers that load the mind with a negative self-view. A gloom that feels permanent. A gloom compounded when those expectations are yet again, not realized.
The first step in handling the shortfall between I Should and I Am is to be aware that you are having a reaction to it. It's not the gap which is the problem. No - it is the reaction to it. It's the reaction that triggers the feelings of guilt, despair etc. The reaction that impacts upon our confidence.
If this happens to you, then try to be aware that you beat yourself up when things go wrong. Be aware of what triggers this psychology, and the consequences of it; aware of when it tends to happen; aware of what it feels like. And, importantly, aware that you no longer want to be subject to this kind of feeling. This kind of mood. This kind of response.
It means developing a more gentle response within oneself. Less frustration. More understanding of the fact that you are doing your best. Recognition that expectation is creating more pressure than you need. And coming to a quiet agreement within yourself, that when you feel the demand of expectation, you will simply try not to react to it. You don't try to fight it but you remain steady.
Thus the young squash player - instead of beating himself up to get a response, he could encourage himself; quietly and gently. It's not the I Am's fault that expectancy is so high. The I Am is innocent. Encouragement; warmth; support - qualities that will give it confidence. Let the I Am know that it is OK. Tell it what it is doing well, that it is not it's fault, so that it feels supported and not alone.
Confidence is the state of trust between you and you. A quiet state. It's not about being perfect but about knowing yourself. The feeling you have about yourself. And how you respond to certain situations. Build that feeling of trust and quiet agreement within yourself and your natural confidence will flourish.