How to Improve Self-Awareness as an Athlete
As an athlete, is it easy or difficult for you to know what you’re thinking during a game? How about how you’re feeling? I would say the second one’s a little bit easier at times.
If you're feeling anxious or fearful during a game, those feelings smack you in the face. Yet, you may not know why you are feeling that way.
Or maybe you recognize that you feel confident, but aren’t sure why you feel confident today, and not on other days.
This ability to understand yourself is known as self-awareness. And is a crucial skill for you to develop as an athlete!
And so, in this article, you will learn all about what self-awareness is, and how you can improve your self-awareness as an athlete.
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to understand our own feelings, motives, desires, thinking, and emotions, and actions.
In terms of self-awareness in sports, we’re really focused on your thoughts, feelings, and how you’re playing. But it is also important for you to understand your motivation behind playing and the goals you have within your sport.
The reason it’s important to build self-awareness as an athlete is because your mindset plays a huge role in your success on the field or court. Understanding yourself better gives you more control over yourself.
Self-awareness is all about understanding. Because you cannot change anything without first recognizing and understanding it.
Let’s use confidence as an example. Every athlete wants to be confident, but what does it feel like when you’re confident? Better yet, what kinds of thoughts lead to you being confident?
Because self-awareness doesn't only involve what you’re feeling, but also why you’re feeling that way. Now why would you want to know why you feel confident?
So you can control it!
Athletes without self-awareness often struggle to understand why they're feeling a certain way. They may not know what kinds of thoughts they have during games and how those thoughts are impacting their emotional state and their physical play.
Knowing how important self-awareness is, we can now dig a little deeper into the idea; dividing it into two categories: internal self-awareness and external self-awareness.
Internal self-awareness is all about our inside world. It deals with how we perceive our values, desires, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and the impact they have on other people.
How we react to our environment is also a part of internal self-awareness. By being skilled in this, you can manage your thoughts and emotions during games, and have the power to choose how to react in any given situation.
We all choose our thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, and values. Even if at times it doesn’t seem that way, it’s true.
I’ve had many athletes I’ve worked with talk about how they don’t know why they feel anxious before a game, for example. But once we work on building their internal self-awareness, it becomes clear why the anxiety is there in the first place.
Put simply, internal self-awareness can be captured by these questions:
- What am I thinking?
- How am I feeling?
- How are my thoughts and feelings impacting my performance?
External self-awareness involves understanding how others view you.
With internal self-awareness, you understand how you think. Similarly, external self-awareness is understanding how other people view you in terms of how you think.
Also, it involves how our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors affect others. We are transitioning from understanding how we feel to now looking at how it affects the world.
External self-awareness is huge if you’re a leader on the team. You want to be sure you understand how your thoughts, feelings, and actions are impacting others on your team.
To gain external self-awareness, you first need strong internal self-awareness. If you are not aware of what and why you’re feeling and acting a certain way, then there will be no basis to see how it impacts those around you (such as your teammates).
With external self-awareness, the main thing you’re focused on is your mood, your body language, and the words you use when speaking to others.
By developing external self-awareness, you will become a much better teammate and a stronger leader.
Why Self-Awareness is Important to Athletes
Knowing what self-awareness is, before you work on improving the skill within yourself, you need to understand just how important it is to you as an athlete.
Working with athletes, I’ve seen all the mental blocks that can keep you from performing your best. And having played baseball myself, I personally experienced many mental blocks.
For you to reach your full potential, you need to have a strong mindset. And for you to have a strong mindset, you first must understand yourself. That’s why self-awareness is so important.
Specifically, when you build the skill of self-awareness, here are the benefits you can expect:
- Increased confidence
- Reduced sports performance anxiety
- Decrease fear of failure
- Lower levels of perfectionism in sports
- Stronger mental toughness
- Improved focus
- More positive self-talk
- Increased motivation
- Better ability to control your emotions
- Increase leadership skills
If you were to gain just a few of those benefits, how much would your game improve? I would imagine a lot!
So, if you’re ready to have that happen to you, let’s get right into the exercises you can use to begin increasing your self-awareness as an athlete.
Three Techniques to Improve Self-Awareness
Now that you know what self-awareness is and why it’s important for you as an athlete, it’s time to begin working on improving the skill.
And yes, self-awareness is a skill. One that can be developed through consistent practice and attention. The exercises listed below will help you do just that.
Has anyone ever introduced you to the idea of watching your thoughts? I know, it sounds strange. How can we watch our thoughts if we are the ones having them?
Well, we and our thoughts are not as connected as we’ve been led to believe. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation, this disconnect can be felt, leading to a better understanding and awareness of the inner workings of our mind.
As you practice mindfulness meditation, thoughts will become more like passing clouds floating across the canvas of your mind. A deep recognition of why these thoughts are there develops, and with it, the ability to change them at will.
The ultimate purpose of the practice is to wipe the slate clean. Create a calm and quiet mind. Stillness then presents the opportunity to choose whatever thought you want to have.
Just think about that…wouldn’t it be great if you could choose what thoughts you want to have when you’re in that pressure situation during a game?
If you are someone who seems to have uncontrollable thoughts running rampant through your mind, then mindfulness meditation will be a breath of fresh air.
The process of practicing mindfulness meditation is incredibly simple. It does not require any fancy training or week-long seminars.
There are different ways you can practice, but I am going to focus on a seated version which I have found to be most effective for athletes.
- Step 1: Begin sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight. It doesn’t matter if you sit on the floor or in a chair, just be sure to be comfortable, as we do not want posture to pull your focus away from the meditation.
- Step 2: Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply. You want to focus only on your breath, feel it going in and out. Hold no expectations for the practice. Do your best to stay in the moment.
- Step 3: While you focus on your breath, allow thoughts to come and go as they please. Do not hold any attachment to them. Do not attempt to force yourself to not have thoughts, either. Just observe what they are.
By doing this you will begin to build a disconnect between you and your thoughts, allowing you to realize you are not your thoughts. They come and go, but you do not hold any attachment to them.
The practice does not need to be long either, simply set aside five to ten minutes a day to begin with.
Practice Self-Reflection Through Writing
Writing is an incredible tool to become more aware of how you feel.
By writing in a journal, deep pent up emotions can be revealed. When looking to improve self-awareness, it is necessary to perform this sort of introspective work.
One of the great aspects of writing is that it’s a safe space. No one has to read what you write…not even you. You can write it once, turn the page, and never look at it again. Or, you may even want to throw it away!
But by practicing self-reflective writing, thoughts and feelings will be examined and worked through. That is why so many people keep journals, as a way to express themselves without fear of being judged or ridiculed.
I love this type of writing because it allows you as an athlete to be completely free. No concern about what your coaches or teammates will think of you and even your own insecurities cannot get in the way.
Introspection is such an important step in improving self-awareness and can be difficult to do by just sitting and thinking. To really grasp who you are and why you think, feel, and play in certain ways requires thorough examination.
As with mindfulness meditation, writing doesn’t need to take too much time. Five to ten minutes is plenty to get your thoughts onto paper, but by all means, do more if you feel the need.
A great target to shoot for is one page a day. Buy yourself a journal and aim to write a single page every morning or maybe in the evening. Whatever time works best for you.
There isn’t really much more instruction to be given on writing, since it is such a personal process. The only other thing I would like to mention is to try to be consistent.
With any new habit, you are trying to form, consistency is key. It will also provide you with a daily dose of introspection, and as a result, examining how you think and feel will begin to become normal for yourself.
Seek the Input of Others
One of the best ways for us to learn about any weak areas in our personality is to seek the advice of people we trust. This person can take the form of a parent, friend, teammate, coach, or anyone else that is close to you.
Someone you just met shouldn’t be used for this, because asking a stranger this personal of a question can be terrifying, and they’re not going to know you well enough to provide an accurate answer. So, go with someone close to you that knows you well.
The reason it is important to seek the input of others lies in the importance of external self-awareness. They will give you an idea of how you’re perceived by others.
Different perspectives are great at eliminating any biases that arise. And let’s face it, we all have a bias when it comes to ourselves.
By looking to others for counsel, you can take what they say and examine your thoughts, emotions, and behavior from another point of view.
However, do not take everything you hear during this process as fact. Each person has their own perspective and factors that play into their opinions.
Use the information you receive during this exercise and combine it with the understanding gotten from the previous two steps.
While meditation and writing should be performed every day, seeking the input of others is a singular act. It can be done more than once, just over a spaced-out period of time.
After your initial conversation, a clear picture of what needs to be worked on will be developed. Then, take that information, combined with your meditation and writing practice, and begin working on your self-awareness skills.
After a while has passed, you can revisit this step to see how those same people view your progress.
Self-awareness is a key skill for athletes to develop because the more you understand yourself, the better you can control yourself.
You need to know why you’re feeling anxious, what leads to you feeling confident, and how you can calm yourself down in crunch time moments. All of that takes self-awareness!
To build the skill of self-awareness as an athlete, you want to make use of three different exercises: mindfulness meditation, self-reflective writing, and seeking the input of others.
Using these exercises will help you build the skills of self-awareness. Which will lead to greater success for you in your sport.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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