Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Feb 1, 1995 – Dr. John F. Murray – Whether you hope to capture Wimbledon, quarterback your team to the Super-Bowl, or defeat Fred in ping-pong, there is no substitute for self-awareness.

Competition is as demanding as it is exciting. Athletes and coaches make huge investments understanding and exploiting opponent weaknesses. Indeed, knowledge of the adversary is a key to success. However, many do not realize that knowledge of oneself, or self-awareness, is equally vital. Subtle variations in our attitudes and actions, prior to and during competition, profoundly affect performance.

Our actions influence how we think and feel, just as our thoughts and feelings influence our behavior. Everyone has a unique way of performing best. Some thrive on high levels of arousal, while others prosper at lower levels of activation (See the September, 1995 Mental Equipment article). Similarly, confidence levels associated with maximum performance vary across individuals (See the January, 1996 article).

Although specific mental states are associated with optimal performance for each individual, these states are often difficult to replicate because the athlete has not invested in self-knowledge. Unfortunately, self-ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of competitive law!

How can self-awareness be increased? Here are some suggestions that will help you learn more about yourself and the factors most frequently accompanying with your best and worst performances.

Following a competition:

Rate how well you performed on a scale of 1-7, with 1 being your worst performance ever, and 7 your best.

Estimate your levels of arousal, confidence, concentration, and fear on scales of 1-7, with 1 being lowest and 7 highest. Include ratings both before and after competition.

After some time, familiar patterns will emerge. By continuing this self-monitoring, you will increase your self-awareness and learn to discriminate thoughts, feelings, and actions associated with excellence from those associated with chaos. This knowledge will help you replicate the more desirable states in the future.

Maybe what Socrates really meant was that the unexamined match is not worth playing!