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How The Stories We Tell Hurt Our Performance!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #173 - Watch or listen HERE.

Once upon a time, there were a bunch of athletes who liked to tell stories.

These stories were full of colorful words, images and themes but were not always based on facts. These stories often included lots of “should’ves”, “ought tos”, “musts”, “need tos”, “if I don’ts” and more!

Take my public speaking class and you’ll hear time and time again that the ability to tell a story is a gift! The VERY BEST presenters are master storytellers!

Want to connect, persuade or sell? Perfect your storytelling skills!

Want to perform better? STOP TELLING YOURSELF STORIES!

In a recent session with one of my DI softball teams, we talked about the stories we tell ourselves. “Tell me about a time in the last week when the story you told yourself ended up being very different than reality” was our prompt! EVERYONE HAD AN EXAMPLE!

And guess what? There was not one example of “my reality was way worse than my story”!

That means all the stories told were inaccurate…on the negative side of the scale! Thank you, negativity bias! You make life so much fun! 😊

This is our M.O. Think about what we need to do. Think about all the ways we can’t meet the expectation, aren’t good enough to do it or don’t have enough time or resources to get it done! To make it even better, we turn into a “more on”. We add more to the story by thinking about how we will let others down or will be judged by people who aren’t even paying attention to us! (How do I know…because my dad told me so!

“They aren’t paying attention to you”, he said. “They are too busy thinking about themselves” …and their stories! 😊).

Not only do we think we are constantly being judged, we are also constantly judging our thoughts, feelings, actions and outcomes…and the “bad” stuff gets most of our attention. As my coach once told me, “J, you do something 10 times and in that 10 times you do it wrong once and all you remember is the 1. Remember the 9!” Nine should have been much easier to remember since it was my number, but that’s not how we are wired naturally!

Aside from our stories heavily favoring our negativity bias, they also favor one of our amazing, yet often unhelpful brain’s tendency to overestimate threats. Thus, our hardwiring sets us up to tell marvelous stories about what might happen and retell the most emotional stuff that happened in the past. And since those things that evoke the most emotion seem to include “should’ves”, “would’ves and “musts”, we retell the stuff we wish didn’t happen or wish we could change…the “bad” stuff!

But what is good or bad? A strike is awesome to the pitcher, horrible for the hitter and the umpire doesn’t care one way or the other. He just makes the call. One pitch. Three different meanings.

I ask teams to raise their hands if they like to run races. Except for my track athletes, of course, I see very few hands. A vast majority of these athletes think races are no good. I, on the other hand, enjoy running races.

I then ask them how many people like Starbucks. Hands shoot up all around. And yet I think Starbucks is a waste of time and money. I don’t like coffee and have no idea why people wait in such a long line for overpriced garbage-flavored water. 😊

The point. What is good to one is not to another. Most things are neither good nor bad. They are what our stories say they are!

As we tell ourselves the stories of what might, must or should have happened, we are not dealing in reality…or real-time. And not being in real-time is a problem for our performance.

In his book, Golf Beneath the Surface, author Dr. Raymond Prior talks about the ways our thought habits distract us as we try to perform. I love his notion of being “off time.” Stories take us WAY “off time”!

They paralyze us. They distract us. They keep us in a threatened state and when we perceive threats, whether real or imagined, we slow our ability to get the signals needed from our cognitively constipated brain to our muscles to perform with precision and accuracy!!

Our musts, shoulds, can’ts, and what-ifs create a very rigid and inflexible mindset. “I have to hit the first shot of the game or the rest of the game will be a disaster.”

“I must get a hit, or I’ll get taken out of the lineup.” “If my first touch isn’t perfect, they won’t believe I deserve to be here.” “I can’t make that shot. I missed it yesterday and I didn’t have enough time to practice last night.”

Stories. Not based on fact. Only based on fear!

As I was watching an episode of Quarterback as I was thinking about this Tip, I thought about the stories Kirk Cousins could have been telling himself about what he “had to” do to get the naysayers off of his back about his performance in big games. Was he thinking about that when he was under center or was he thinking about what he needed to make the play?

We don’t like to admit it, but trying to do two things at once doesn’t work! We like to think we are amazing multi-taskers!

In fact, in a study out of the University of Utah, authors Watson and Strayer found that only 2.5 percent of people can multitask effectively….so that leaves most of us, including Kirk Cousins (presumably) out of our wheelhouse!

This means that focusing on our stories takes us away from focusing on facts and accepting our reality! The fact that we tell ourselves a story about why we should have or shouldn’t have done something doesn’t change the reality of what happened, but it does cloud our ability to do what needs to be done now!

When we catch ourselves in storytime, what can we do to help our performance…and well-being?

First, we can acknowledge that we are adding “more on”, should-ing on ourselves or falling victim to our creatively negative mind!

Once we are aware, we can do silly things and/or come at it from a fact-seeking approach.

What are the silly things? We can tell the story in a Sesame Street voice to remind ourselves that it is make-believe. We can take one word and repeat it 20 – 30 times – like “suck” or “should” and realize at the end that the word has no meaning. Because after 20 times, it becomes noise! Although these are short-term strategies, they shift us from make-believe to reality!

Don’t feel like using your playful side? Use Dr. Martin Seligman’s disputation approach…the ABCs.

What Activated my need to tell a story?

What do I Believe about the story, rationally and irrationally? What are the Consequences of my beliefs?

Then comes the Disputation. Is my story true? Is it useful to me? Is it good?

"If I don’t make my first shot, will I have a horrible game? Can I find instances when people missed their first shots and went on to play well?" "Are there times that I have, too?"

How does focusing on that first shot affect my ability to perform at my best? Does it help me?

And finally, what other factors contribute to me having a good game? What other facts need my attention to be where I want to be?

It’s time to describe facts…not feelings. What behaviors do I need to exhibit to meet the reality of what is in front of me?

Facts ---> Confidence Feelings ---> Stories

What stories do you tell yourself about what might, should or may not happen if you don’t ___________ (you fill in the blank)?

We are all storytellers. Our brain loves them. Not all stories are bad, but when they are we aren’t firing on all cylinders and often make things harder than they need to be.

Being aware of the stories we tell can help us rewrite them. We are, after all, authors of our storylines!

Writing stories that include “musts”, “should haves”, “if I don’ts” and “I can’t becauses” restrict us. They keep us focused on the past or they get us looking too far in the future. They don’t allow us to be “on time”. And if we aren’t “on time” we can’t manage what is in front of us…which, as we perform, is all that matters!

What stories are you telling? Are they helping you?


P.S. Want to dive into disputation and other tools to help your team write its best story? Shoot me a text at 234-206-0946 or an email at and get on my schedule as you wrap up fall and look ahead to the next phase of the season!

Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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