“If it was so easy to get up off your ass, you would have done it!”
The Cognition – Motivation Connection
The research is clear, thoughts (cognitions) are powerful. In fact, cognition is one important factor in care planning for individuals with Major Depressive Disorder. Cognition also has a significant effect on motivation, especially motivation in athletes.
For instance, Achievement Goal Theory points to the observation that individuals evaluate the demands and meaningfulness of an activity, thus forming perceptions that govern behaviour. If an individual’s cognitive style leans negative, the resulting behaviour might not fulfil the needed best effort for peak performance. How we think, determines behaviour!
Ten Common Cognitive Distortions (Know Them)
Whether you are launching an increase in physical activity for improved wellness, or an athlete, it is important to have a firm understanding of the influence cognition has over performance. A mind filled with maladaptive patterns of thinking results in decreased output, or, in the worst circumstances, quitting.
Dr. David Burns outlines ten cognitive distortions common in poor mental health outcomes and performance (Burns, D., 1999). Understanding each will help you identify your own thought distortions in relation to diminished motivation as an athlete.
As you deepen your understand of each, you will soon be able to identify them as they emerge throughout the day. This high level integration requires only a short study of the distortions themselves.
- ALL OR NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If you fall short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
- OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a perpetual pattern of defeat.
- MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative element and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision becomes darkened.
- DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count”. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
- JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make negative interpretations that support your assumed conclusions.
- Mind reading: You conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
- The Fortune Teller: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an established fact.
- MAGNIFICATION (Catastrophizing) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately diminish things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections).
- EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions reflects the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true”.
- SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn’ts. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements towards others, you feel anger, frustration, and full of resentment.
- LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser”.
- PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of negative external events which you were not primarily responsible for.
Using the Triple Column Technique
Now that you understand the root of the problem, it is time to put to work Burn’s Triple Column Technique. Follow these four steps. We suggest downloading the Triple Column Technique form above:
- Review the list of cognitive distortions for detail. Make a mental note of the items that you use the most often. Most of us use around three on a regular basis. If you do this step, the rest come quite easily.
- Think about a specific situation holding you back as an athlete. For example, you might notice that getting out the door to run feels almost monumental. Consider how you experience this in your body. Fatigued? Knot in your stomach? Good, that means it’s important!
- Write down at least three negative thoughts associated with not being able to get out the door and the feeling in your body. Now, identify the cognitive distortion each fits under.
- Negative Thought: “I won’t be able to do the 18k I have scheduled at the same pace as last week. Im so tired. I’m not a runner after all.”
- Distortion: Jumping To Conclusions and All or Nothing Thinking.
- Replace amotivational thoughts with rational responses! This is where the rubber meets the road!
- Fight Jumping To Conclusions: “I have no idea how I am going to feel once I get out there. Looking back, once I get started, there is no holding me back.”
- Fighting All or Nothing Thinking: “What makes a runner, is running. If I under perform this week, that says nothing about my ability to run tomorrow or the next day.”
Assess The Outcome
Wow! You made it! You have walked through mapping your negative thoughts, associating each with the type of distortion if fits into, and created a rational response.
How do you feel? Has your gut relaxed? Is your outlook less bleak? If so, then this exercise worked for you quite well. Celebrate with a run!
If you found the exercise difficult, or without any meaningful results, that’s okay too! Don’t give up. We suggest working through several examples of negative thoughts before making a final judgment.
Remember this: In terms of athletic performance, 99.9% of the challenge lives between our ears. If you master your motivation through significant cognitive change, you master your sport or activity focused goal.
Improved Motivation Takes Time and Dedication
As with any tool we propose on Finding My Psych, remember that meaningful change requires time. If you completed the exercise above successfully today, it does not mean that negative cognitions are gone forever.
You will experience them again in the future when you least expect it. Over time, adaptive patterns of thinking will consume most of your mental space. Dedicate yourself to an adaptive style as a buffer against all that life will throw you…and keep running!