Everyday I am in awe of just how new the field of Sport and Performance Psychology really is. But I stumbled across an interesting article that made me think that while the field itself is just now emerging, the ideas behind it have been around for centuries. Stoicism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in 300 BC that held that emotions had destructive powers, and were usually a result of errors in judgment. They believed that it was not what a person said or thought that mattered, but how they behaved. Like any other branch of Greek Philosophy, Stoicism asked the “big” questions about the nature of life, truth, and morality, but their main concern was applying their principles so that people could live happier lives.
Granted, I probably got excited about this simply because my history “nerdness” was coming out, but it’s interesting to think about. I mean, at this time that Sparta was thriving, and we all know from that blood and gore fest movie 300, that Spartan warriors were beasts of prime performance. So wouldn’t it make sense that they made the connection between mind and body?
Dr. Randy Borum looked up some of the philosophers that considered themselves to be Stoics, and this is what they had to say.
“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do” – Epictetus – This sounds a lot like goal setting to me. And what I find interesting is that there is no reference of time in this quote – nothing saying you should only plan out your goals and then move purposefully toward them. Instead, the general statement emphasizes that you keep revisiting your goals, and by doing so, you will find motivation to push through adversity. You take responsibility, because they are yours.
“Your life is what your thoughts make it” – Marcus Aurelius – This to me simply means, you can choose to have a bad day, or you can choose to have a good day. You can choose which thoughts we put in our own minds – the minute you put a thought into your mind it gives it power, and we really don’t want to give power to something like “doubt.” It’s true that thoughts are natural reactions to our surroundings, but we can choose to banish them or nourish them, and in doing so, WE are in control, not them.
“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view which they take of them. It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters” – Epictetus – What this means to me is that a mistake does not have to have a domino effect of destruction. Like Dr. Borum says, you can interpet the jitters as a sign of anxiety (negative), or you can see them as a sign of all this energy you have (positive).
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength” – Marcus Aurelius – This is basically saying to focus on what is in your control. Many things can shape an outcome, but YOU control your performance, so focus on the process (sound familiar??) And if there are negative things that effect the outcome, which there are bound to be, what do you do? Accept them and move on.
“To be everywhere is to be nowhere” – Seneca – Stay in the present!!! Focus on the task at hand, manage your distractions, and be in the here and now.
“Control thy passions lest they take vengeance on thee” – Epictetus – Dr. Borum says that being controlled by an emotion is like running down a hill and not being able to stop. What a smart way to describe that experience.
Turns out that the principles of sport psychology are anything but new.