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The Purpose of Emotions

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

This is a continuation of the conversation on the Power of Detachment, the last blog post. Back to the question, how do we train athletes to become "detached". Can we train them in this manner? What I am coming to recognize is that there is a distinct difference between counseling clients on their mental health versus consulting on their performance. We must come to understand that the approaches for mental health are not always optimal in the performance realm, but that optimal performance cannot take place without mental health.

In mental health, often we help clients by encouraging them to be vulnerable, in this vulnerability is the surfacing of emotions. Emotions that may have been stuffed, avoided, or unprocessed for years. This is the hard fact of mental health counseling, and in fact, some professionals might even say, "you must feel to heal". This is a stark contrast from being detached. So please understand that what I am speaking of here, is simply to reframe our view of emotions for the purposes of high performance, and not for mental health. Although mental health must be the foundation, the athlete must come to a point in which emotions are not a factor if they want to achieve high performance.

Training the athlete to detach from emotions must first start with their understanding of emotions. I believe we must develop emotional literacy so to speak. Emotional literacy, for an athlete might start with the athlete asking themselves honestly... can I read my own emotions? Can I read the emotions of others? And can I determine from what I read in that moment, how to proceed? Learning to see what is the purpose of that emotion in this moment? Separating that purpose from the action, action must become a decision based on strategy, and not what I am feeling.

So, I believe emotional literacy is step one. Once this is established, we can move on to creating cues, and self-talk that will support the decision that needs to be made. Keeping in check the tendency to resort to responding at a level I am feeling, versus responding at a level that is strategic. Again, mental performance is a process, none of this happens overnight. Repetition to repave the parts of the brain that want to succumb to emotion, introducing emotional literacy and emotional discipline over and over again must happen. These are two key components to high performance and a strategy to be acknowledged in the performance realm.

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