Being Right versus Being Happy

Friday, July 9th, 2010

There is a human phenomenon which social psychology uncovered that states “people prefer to be right than to be happy.”

What does this have to do with sport psychology? The answer is everything. A majority of people and athletes hold strong beliefs about themselves and their capabilities. And for most, they may experience some degree of self-doubt at times. If an athlete allows this doubt to become habitual, convincing, and perhaps even “grooved” in their brain (repeated thoughts of doubt over and over again so that the brain is trained to think that way), then he or she will start to believe that they are incapable and not good enough to be successful. Once an athlete believes the doubt to be truth, they will begin to look for evidence to support and confirm this belief, even though holding the belief makes them feel unhappy.

That’s “right”. When the athlete begins to believe that they may not be good enough, they will tend to filter out any information that counters the belief and hone in on information that supports it. In other words, many unconfident athletes will tend to focus on the negative aspects of their game because those aspects support their self-doubting beliefs….ultimately forming a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the cycle of only filtering in the “right” negative information begins, performance declines, and the belief that they are not good enough is confirmed. And on and on they go spiraling downward.

To break this cycle athletes need to first become self-aware. They need to understand the beliefs they hold about their performance abilities and where their thoughts reside. Second, athletes need to begin looking for evidence that supports a positive belief about their performance and aim to dismiss some of the negative. The athlete needs to find a more positive belief that is also “right.” Perhaps the latter athlete can be both “right” and happy?

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