It’s not so much what is in front of us when it comes to a difficult situation, it’s more about how we frame it as either a challenge or a threat. 

The way in which we approach a difficult task can have a meaningful effect on not just our mental and emotional states, but also our physical performance and overall performance outcomes. When we face an uncomfortable or physical task, which could be a tough workout, a competition, a set of exercises that we don’t particularly enjoy, or even any event within our business, social or personal life, the way in which we view it really matters.
When we view it as a challenge rather than a threat, we are motivated toward the task, compared to if we viewed it as a threat, we would be motivated into avoidance behaviours with significant differences in how we respond. First, we will go over how viewing a task as a threat can degrade performance before viewing how we can transition to being challenge orientated and the positive benefits that will come as a result. 

At a primitive level, we are primed to identify threats early as it allowed us to survive. However, as the physical risks to survival decreased in our physical environment we shifted to focus more on perceived internal threats and this evolutionary skill no longer serves. When we view an activity as a threat, we are in a high energy burn state, experience negative feelings, have doubt or are worried we will not have the resources or ability to complete the task, we are worried about the danger of the task, overestimate the effort required or feel the effort will be too much. This results in excess stress response with minimal ability to regulate our level of stress, leading to a number of negative changes in how we view and process information related to task performance, our sensory system and feedback on task performance and prediction about how hard we can continue to perform. 

However, when we perceive the same task as a challenge, we shift to perceiving we have the resources, ability, skills, confidence and knowledge to overcome it. This subtle difference also results in cardiovascular changes that result in increased physical performance, anaerobic power output, endurance, blood flow to the brain and muscles, higher energy availability, and efficiency in utilising alternative energy sources. There is also a regulatory mechanism within our central nervous system to maintain us in the sweet spot of arousal for performance, which optimises our sensory systems for identifying task-relevant information and processing, feedback on performance, perception of effort and prediction for continued work output.

Considering that the way we perceive an activity as either a threat or challenge is in our control, practising to look for the challenge and the opportunity for growth in every practice session could provide not just an increase in training results but a habit that could significantly improve our outcomes and mental fortitude. 

Some tips on going from threat to challenge to generate greater outcomes and reduce unnecessary stress:

  • Focusing on identifying threat-based responses early and increasing awareness
  • Accept your threat response as normal, then move into a mindset of curiosity. This shift reduces the energy demands as we shift out of a threat-based response
  • Be curious and identify one challenge or opportunity for growth in the activity and focus on doing that to the best of your ability
  • Understand the perceived internal threat and ask yourself, is it really an issue? will it really matter in a year’s time? Are other people really going to judge me on this and if they do, are they people I need in my life? What opportunity will I miss if I avoid this activity? 
  • Openly discuss your concerns with a friend, coach or peer. Once you identify it and openly express your concerns, they often lose their power over you or can sound trivial when you hear yourself talking about it.
  • These concerns are often related to the story you tell yourself about how your performance will go, so change the story and make yourself the hero, overcoming some type of adversity.
  • Develop a short catchphrase that resonates with you to help transition from any threat or negativity into a challenge or opportunity mindset

Remember, this is a skill and you are overcoming a primitive bias toward threat or negativity so it will take time and deliberate consistent practice to overcome but once you make the shift, the benefits are well worth the effort.

This article is presented by 98 Training.

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