The MuchSmarter Blog

Emotional Mastery and Playing Like a Champion

Steve Schecter
July 18, 2014

Champions are distinguished from merely good performers not only by superior game skills, but also by the ability to perform best when most other performers fade. The champion excels:

  • under pressure (i.e. an important game with the entire world watching!)
  • amid difficulties and obstacles (i.e. key teammates injured)
  • against high probability of defeat (i.e. facing an opponent who appears to be better and stronger)

What enables the champion to outshine other performers is emotional mastery. The champion summons courage when most are fearful, inspiration when most are discouraged, calm when most are anxious. Emotional mastery enables us to 1) let go of emotions that limit our performance, and 2) summon emotions that enhance our performance!

While we recognize, and often celebrate, emotional mastery in sports, we often overlook emotion as a key element in how smart we are!

When we are burdened with emotions such as worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness and excessive stress, we simply do not “see” as clearly as when we are in calm, good spirits. We have difficulty making the mental connections that are the foundation for all learning. Negative emotions cloud our thoughts. We find it difficult to solve problems. We struggle to maintain our focus on what we are doing. Freed of the burden of these emotions, our minds can more fully engage their capacities for learning – and those capacities are truly awesome!

For your teenager, limiting emotions of worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness and stress may interfere with day-to-day learning, and will interfere more dramatically in situations where your teenager is called upon to perform, like demanding courses, difficult final exams, and standardized tests.

But here’s some good news: your teenager can become smarter and more capable by learning to use emotions more effectively!

An important first step is to see emotional mastery not as a gift, but as a learned skill. Many athletes, for example, do not exhibit the qualities of a champion early in their careers, but emerge as champions as their careers develop. Why? Because over the years, on their own or with coaching, they learn to use their emotions more effectively!

Here are the elements of this life-enhancing skill:

  • Cultivate passion for the game: bring enthusiasm, joy, and fun into the games they play.
  • Detach from outcomes: To build excellence and limit stress: focus on what they are doing and detach from the results. As more than one athletic coach has said: keep your eye on the ball, not on the score!
  • Let go of limiting emotions: Develop the ability to observe and let go of emotions like worry, frustration and stress.
  • Summon enabling emotions: Develop the ability to feel inspired, courageous and powerful when they want and need to!
  • Achieve greater clarity and focus: Along with emotional mastery comes the ability to make new mental associations that facilitate learning, to solve problems, to “read” challenging situations accurately and to focus on what needs to be accomplished.

This learned skill of emotional mastery enables your teenager to become smarter and more capable in every game they choose to play. And this skill that facilitates great performance on the math final this year will facilitate great performance in the bigger games to come!

The more important the performance, the more difficult the performance, the greater the odds against success, the more your teenager can benefit from the life-enhancing skill of emotional mastery, from the ability to summon and use the emotions of a champion!

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