Focus Training for Sports Articles

Stop Focusing on What Went Wrong; Focus on What Went Right

Eli Straw
Stop Focusing on What Went Wrong; Focus on What Went Right

Are you tormented by the memories of past mistakes? When a situation doesn’t go exactly how you would like, do you spend the next few months analyzing and worrying about everything that went wrong?

Whether you’re an athlete, a student, or a professional, focusing on what went wrong will only hurt you.

We often are so quick to hold onto the memories of mistakes. One instance of something going wrong and it’ll be burned into your mind forever.

Yet, when positives occur, it’s as if we need to see them repeated countless times before we allow them to become points of focus. Why is this?

Why do we spend so much time focusing on what went wrong, instead of focusing on what went right? In this article, we will examine the psychological reasons behind focusing on what went wrong, and show you how to start focusing instead on what went right!

The Psychology Behind Focusing on What Went Wrong

Why we focus on what went wrong is a very interesting question. You would think our minds should be hardwired to give attention to memories that result in positive emotions.

Yet, as you know, positives are often more difficult to remember than negatives. There are two psychological areas I think are key to examine when thinking about the cause of this form of thought.

One is based more on emotion, and the other is derived from a desperate need for control.

Emotional Triggering

Right now, I want you to try an activity. First, think of a positive memory. Next, think of a negative memory. Which one was easier to picture?

My guess would be the negative one was easier. This is because of the emotional response negative events induce.

For the most part, negative emotions are often more powerful than positive ones. Of course, there are exceptions, but as a whole, bad experiences will be more emotionally triggering.

So, let’s say for example you are playing a baseball game. You get a couple of hits and make a few plays throughout the first eight innings. But, here comes the ninth inning.

Your team is winning by one run. In the top of the ninth, the away team has runners on second and third, with two outs.

All your team has to do is get one more out, and you win the game.

The pitcher winds up, throws the pitch, and the batter hits a ground ball to you at second base. It’s a routine play and should be an easy out to seal the win. But, as the ball approaches your glove, it takes a funny hop, bouncing off your shoulder and heading into right field.

Both runs score and your team loses the game. Now, in this situation, will you remember the other plays you made or the hits you had which drove in runs earlier in the game?

No, your mind will become fixed on that one play due to the intense emotions triggered by the feeling of failing and letting your team down.

When we mess up, the negative emotions triggered drown out any positive emotions we have previously experienced. Leading to our focus being consumed by what went wrong.

Controlling The Past

When you are focusing on past negative experiences, how much are you wishing you could change what happened?

Whenever I’m focused on what went wrong, that’s exactly what’s going through my head. All I want to do is change whatever didn’t go my way.

But here’s the thing, we can’t change the past. As much as we try to hold onto past experiences and desperately seek to change what happened, the past is the past. There’s no hope in changing what has already occurred.

It’s not easy to let go, which is why focusing on what went wrong is such an easy option. The more we cling to the past, the more we place our attention on what went wrong, somehow we think this will make the situation better.

It’s almost as if letting go of the experience leads to feelings of guilt. I’ve had times in my life where it seemed like I deserved to focus on negative past experiences.

Have you ever felt this way? Almost like it’s your punishment for messing up or experiencing something negative, you feel a need to remind yourself over and over what went wrong.

It’s this mixture of torturing yourself over what went wrong and trying to change what happens that results in a constant focus on the negative experiences of your past.

When your mind is full of past negative memories, do you think your present mindset and the attitude you possess moving forward will be positive? What will likely happen is your future will be impacted in a harmful way due to your present attention being fixed in the past.

"When your mind is full of past negative memories, do you think your present mindset and the attitude you possess moving forward will be positive? What will likely happen is your future will be impacted in a harmful way due to your present attention being fixed in the past."

How Focusing on What Went Wrong Hurts You

While it may seem like focusing on what went wrong will help you avoid making the mistake in the future, you’re actually only worsening the hurt experienced by the negative situation.

As you progress forward in your life, if your actions are fueled by negative experiences in your past, you’ll forever be tied to what has happened.

Instead of living your life off positive memories, you are running from negativity, only resulting in further negative situations ahead of you. Here are just a few examples of how focusing on what went wrong will impact your life.


At the root of anxiety, we find fear. You are fearful of something happening, therefore, you develop incredible worries surrounding the subject.

When you’re focused on what went wrong in your life or your performance, the images in your mind are that of negativity. The more you witness these situations, the greater your anxiety will grow.

There is a fear present of these experiences happening again. Instead of being excited for life or excited for a competition, because of the possibility of something positive happening, dread sets in.

You’ll dread any environment in which you have experienced something going wrong. For example, if you are an athlete and are focused on what’s not gone your way during games, anxiety will form around your performances.

Low Self-Confidence

Confidence is developed through experience and solidified through memory. Now, memory is going to be contingent upon where you choose to place your focus.

If you have both positive and negative memories, you have a choice of whether those thoughts will produce greater levels of self-confidence, or deteriorate the confidence you already have.

By placing your attention on what went wrong, you are slowly peeling away layers of confidence. With each moment you remind yourself of what’s not gone your way, the belief you have in who you are will dwindle.

Every day, there are opportunities to experience both positive and negative emotions, no matter if it’s a day at work, practice, or a game. What you choose to focus on is up to you. If you pick negativity, then over time, you’ll start to only remember what’s gone wrong.

Instead of seeing all the things you’ve done right, you’ll begin to only think you’re capable of doing something wrong. Leading to the belief that you are incapable of success, resulting in little to no self-confidence.

Negative Attraction

The areas we place our focus on play a large role in what we attract moving forward. Whether you are aware of it or not, the frame of mind you’re in contributes greatly to what you see in your surroundings.

Now, it’s not that the outside world will necessarily be altered by you thinking positively or negatively, but your perception will be changed.

If you are stuck in a negative mindset, as a result of constant focus on what went wrong, what will you likely see in the world around you? More instances and situations for things to go wrong.

If you begin focusing on what went right, all of a sudden, more things seem to go your way. Just by giving your attention to negative experiences, you will be drawing similar situations into your perception.

Learn to Focus on What Went Right

Focusing on what went wrong is not the optimal way to progress moving forward. Instead of helping you grow, this type of thinking will hold you stagnant, forced you to relive past hurts.

What you need to begin doing is learning how to first focus on what went right, building your confidence, and generating feelings of positivity.

The frame of mind this generates puts you in a powerful position to take an objective view of what went wrong. Allowing yourself the opportunity to actually learn, instead of simply torturing yourself.

To help with learning how to shift your focus from what went wrong to what went right, a simple exercise will be very beneficial to follow.

Step #1: Find Some Positives

First and foremost, you must find some positives in your life. If you are basing this exercise on a performance, find at least one positive from that day you can focus on.

If in general you are struggling to let go of negative experiences from your past, think of any positives from your life, in the past or present, and really place your attention on them.

There are two reasons you want to do this. First, filling your mind with positive thoughts places an armor around your mind moving forward with the following steps. Second, this practice will train you to begin seeing more positives in your life.

Over time, this exercise will shift the way you think, making it easier for you to first see what went right, instead of searching situations for what went wrong.

"First, filling your mind with positive thoughts places an armor around your mind moving forward with the following steps. Second, this practice will train you to begin seeing more positives in your life."

Step #2: Acceptance

Once you are in a positive frame of mind, begin thinking about the negative situation you are seeking to work through.

This is going to be different, however, from the ways you previously thought about the experience. Instead of thinking about it, and consequently beating yourself up, you are going to take an accepting and understanding approach.

All you are seeking to accomplish in this step is accepting that yes, this experience happened, yes, it wasn’t what you wanted to have happen, but it is over and done with.

You cannot change what has happened, so you must accept it as a part of your life and who you are because that will position you to move forward.

Step #3: Take Responsibility

If you thought step two was difficult, wait until you move onto step three. Once you’ve accepted what went wrong, it’s now time for you to take responsibility.

This is not an attractive view and definitely not an easy task, but it’s something you have to do in order to shift your frame of mind.

Responsibility comes in two forms. First, you need to take responsibility for what happened. If you are concerned about what went wrong in a game, stop blaming the officials, your coaches, or the other team.

If it’s something that went wrong in your life, once again, stop blaming other people. I don’t want you to blame yourself, but simply take responsibility for what’s happened.

Second, you must take responsibility for the change that’s about to occur. Now, this is where responsibility becomes exciting. The power to change the way you think is within you. In fact, you’re the only one who holds such power.

Once you take responsibility for what’s happened and the change that’s about to occur, you unleash that power within yourself.

Step #4: Learn From Your Mistakes

We have come to the final step, where you will turn the negative experience into a positive learning experience.

In life, there shouldn’t be negative and positive experiences. Instead, there should be positive and learning experiences.

Once you’ve accepted responsibility, ask yourself, “What change do I want to make?”

What can you learn from the negative experience? What lessons can be gained, providing you with valuable information to better your life moving forward?

As an athlete, what can you take away from that bad game? Start thinking like this, and all of a sudden you realize, what you used to see as negative experiences are nothing more than lessons on your path to success.

"As an athlete, what can you take away from that bad game? Start thinking like this, and all of a sudden you realize, what you used to see as negative experiences are nothing more than lessons on your path to success."

Final Thoughts

When your mind is consumed with memories of what went wrong in your life, any positives you may witness will be blocked out. Negativity acts as a cloud, keeping any ray of positivity hidden from your view.

Learning to shift your focus off what went wrong and onto what went right will have a lasting positive effect on your life.

In order to do so, begin utilizing an exercise geared towards turning negative experiences into points of learning.

By practicing to first focus on the positives, and then learn from what went wrong, the power of these negative experiences will be stripped away.

Do you struggle with focusing on what went wrong in your life? How do you shift your focus onto what went right? Let me know in the comments below.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you did, please feel free to share it with others.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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