In Your Head

I’m inside my own head.  

I’ve spoken to enough athletes about this, but it doesn’t mean I myself am immune either. And there’s no way around it: getting in your head sucks. Your thoughts race, and you have all of these theories about what has just happened or about what might happen.  

We’ve all experienced those “in your head” moments and although the term is loosely defined, it’s easy to tell when someone is that moment.  

So why does it happen? My simple answer is: it’s brain problem. The survival brain and the thinking brain get into a power struggle due usually to a change that has happened or is going to happen. These types of changes typically happen when life and events don’t meet the expectations we have for ourselves, like when we get hurt or when we hurt someone.

To dive in further, a few examples of when our brain goes this route, forcing us into our own heads:

1.) There is something we don’t want to feel or something that has happened that we don’t want accept. It’s like watching the Vikings in an NFC Championship game; You don’t want to feel excited because, as Minnesota fans know, it probably isn’t going to work out in our favor. So instead, we bargain and fight reality. 

2.) We can’t identify what we are feeling. We start looking for the cause in the hopes that will lead us to relief. 

3) Growth. You are being pushed for growth by a situation, and the realities of it force you to examine and remodel your beliefs. 

I have experienced being in my head due to all three situations. And once you get started and start to obsess–like I did this week with trying to get my video to load in Instagram for three hours–it’s hard to let go. The longer you hold on, the harder to let go, even when you know you need let go. As for my video troubles, it got in my head and I never did figure out how to do it on the web, but uploading via my phone worked, and so the solution in the end is really all that matters (lol).

When athletes are in their own head, I often tell them that “pain in life is inevitable; suffering is not.” Sometimes you just have to wait until the pain heals. You can’t think your way out of it.

So what do you do in the meantime and when you get stuck? Move your focus to outside of yourself.  Do things that connect the two sides of your survival and thinking brain. Eventually, you will come back with a fresh perspective and work through whatever it is that’s plaguing you inside your head.  

Another tip? Get involved in your world. Research and practice tells us that most people can get out their head when they do things that stimulate each side of the brain. This is known as bi-lateral stimulation. All of the brain rebooting skills we have talked about in previous episodes do this. 

Focus on what’s around you. Reboot.  Find three colors and objects that stand out. Talk. Joke. Try to make someone laugh. Use a pun. Count the people in the stands.  Move.  

Sometimes I use mental imagery. I visualize myself dropping whatever it is out of my hands like I’m dropping a ball. Flush it away, throw in a trash bin. All these trick your mind into letting the emotion go.  

Other strategies: Try using concentration grids. You circle the numbers in order from 1 to 100 until you are done.  At first it may take 15 minutes or so, but as you do them over and over, your times will improve.  This exercise forces your eyes to move back and forth which relaxes your nervous system.