This story was told to me by sport psychologist, Dr. Rob Gilbert. A young tennis player walked to the parking lot after losing his match in straight sets and threw his gear in the trunk. “I think I should quit this lousy game” he muttered. “I certainly don’t FEEL like a winner.” Just then an old grey-haired coach walked up and asked, “How was your match?” “It was awful… I should take up basket weaving.” said the boy.
The coach had a newspaper rolled up under his arm and asked the young player this question: “What if I told you I have an advanced copy of next weekend’s paper and it says here in the sports section that you win next weekend’s tournament… how would you feel right now?” “I’d be excited said the boy!” “Exactly” said the coach. “What would you think about today’s loss?”
“Well, I’d just blow it off as a lesson learned.” “Exactly”, said the coach. “And how would you feel about tomorrow’s practice session?” “I’d be fired-up, ready to go, and I’d be there early!” “Exactly” said the coach. “Now, I suggest you act the way you want to become until you become the way you act.” “You mean I should fake it until I make it?” said the boy. “Exactly!” said the coach.
Most people understand that our brains affect our bodies. The question is, does it work the other way around? The answer is YES! When athletes act confident and assertive their testosterone level is elevated, and the stress hormone, cortisol, is lowered. When athletes are insecure or stressed, testosterone goes down and cortisol goes up! That’s one reason performances suffer. The old coach was trying to help the boy understand an important principle: It’s easier to ACT your way into a feeling, than to FEEL your way into an action.
Here’s the important part. When we purposefully put our body into a strong powerful posture that expands our physical size, our testosterone increases and our cortisol decreases automatically. When we display weak powerless body postures that shrink our physical size our hormones move in the opposite direction. Psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research states that standing in the Superman or Superwoman position for as little as two minutes can significantly increase confidence levels because of the resulting chemical shift in testosterone and cortisol. It just doesn’t pay to act small!
With a little privacy – and two minutes of time - an athlete can use his/her body to act the way they want to become and increase the chances of performing confidently. This works in sports and in the classroom. And the really good news is that if this is done daily, the newspaper article the old coach had under his arm can become a reality. “Act the way you want to become until you become the way you act.”