How Your Emotions Are Sabotaging Your Performance

posted on: October 4, 2019
author: Anthony Pellegrino

The Stoic ideal of Apatheia can help manage your emotions

Photo by Levi Clancy on Unsplash

Can you remember the last time you let your emotions get the best of you? 

The last time you lost your composure while under pressure? 

Our emotional reactions towards tough challenges can lead us to act in ways we shouldn’t and prevent us from performing at our best. 

But, facing down adversity is an inherent part of sports and competition. Whether you’re facing down a single opponent, an opposing team, or a panel of judges, a competition involves a conflict, a challenge. This conflict is what sets the stage for our emotions to bubble up.

Before and during a competition, your body becomes much more active and aroused. Epinephrine starts to flood into your bloodstream as the body prepares its fight-or-flight response.

Without mental toughness, this heightened arousal can lead to emotional outbursts and mistakes. One error after another and you find yourself getting more and more upset. This can turn into a vicious cycle that can only lead to a total disaster.

If you’re competing in a sport like tennis, the turbulent rollercoaster of unchecked emotions will exhaust you mentally and physically. If you can’t keep it together between points, you’ll inevitably crumble before your opponent. 

You might enjoy another article we wrote all about emotions in tennis. You can read that here.

Success in sport and competition requires a significant amount of rational thinking and undivided attention. You’ll need to be able to think clearly and accurately about what you need to do to win the next point or score your next goal. You’ll need a cool head to know how to press upon your opponent’s weaknesses and come out victorious.

Photo by Steven Lelham on Unsplash

But, this is easier said than done. Many times we find ourselves against a challenging opponent who is fighting for the win as hard, if not harder than we are. These are the times where our emotions will most likely start to flare up and hurt us. It’s easy to keep your cool when the game is a walk in the park, but as soon as we start to face real adversity we start to crack.

The ancient Stoics promoted an ideal state of mind they referred to as “Apatheia,” meaning “without passions.” Stoic philosophers like Seneca, Epicurus, and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, understood that human beings are vulnerable to emotional reactions and that these reactions lead us to suffer. Having a temper tantrum when we don’t get our way will not lead to a result in our best interest. 

Instead, the Stoics instructed their followers to strive for a state of equanimity, of composure and peace, where they could be free to think rationally about the events in their lives. A state where we can be completely undisturbed by our emotional reactions.

External events are outside our control, so we can’t let ourselves react emotionally to these events. We can only control what we can control; our will, our mind, our mental toughness, and our willingness to win.

On the court, we face many different events we can and can’t control. We need to foster our own state of Apatheia to focus all our energy on what we can control so we can pull out the win. 

Photo by Shep McAllister on Unsplash

Think back to the 2008 Wimbledon Finals, between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. After an unbelievable match of tennis, Federer was only two points away from winning it all. Two points. 

Yet, Nadal, well known for his ability to remain mentally tough and his willingness to fight for every single point, held his serve, proceeded to break Federer’s, then won the match in the following game. 

Can you even imagine what that situation must have felt like for Nadal? Do you think you could have kept your composure knowing that your opponent, the highest-ranked tennis player in the world, was only two points away from securing the championship? 

How do you think those two points would have gone if he started to panic? 

He would have lost. 

But Nadal kept his emotions in check. At that moment he was in a state without passions, a state of Apatheia. He had one mission, one goal. He didn’t let his mind wander, and he didn’t let his emotions rule the moment, and he was victorious as a result.

So how can you foster this Stoic ideal to better perform in your chosen sport? 

Well, you need to learn how to gain control over your mind, but how can we do that?

One way is by taking our online course, The Great Competitor Formula, to strengthen your entire mental toughness game.

Another method to consider is a daily meditation practice. Better yet, cultivate a sense of peace and strengthen your willpower at the same time with yoga. Always remember to practice self-compassion, especially while you’re underperforming. When you feel your composure start to falter, breathe and bring your focus back to the next point or goal. Be like the ancient sages and be free from your passions.

Balance your emotions like these stones

Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Negative emotions will never disappear entirely. It’s part of being a human being. Losing a match will always sting. Performing badly will always be frustrating, but the cultivation of Apatheia can help us overcome our emotional setbacks.

You need to learn to control your emotional reactions during competitive performances. Otherwise, they’ll end up controlling you.


Want to take control of your mind and fully unlock your competitive potential? Check out the PerformanceXtra Training System.


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About the Author

Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in Philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He works as contributor to Pulse Magazine and as a freelance content creator for several marketing agencies and brands. His writing is focused on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, everyday life, and content marketing.

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