The Better Way to Play: Lose the Chip on Your Shoulder

The old adage, "I'll show them!" doesn't give us an edge over gameplay. Peak performance comes from recognizing our self-worth.

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“I’ll show them!” The familiar battle cry of many a hopeful athlete in pursuit of childhood dreams where making it in the big leagues is vindication against all of the naysayers. Trouble is, as much as that old adage can work, it’s actually limiting.

Doug Gilmour, ex-national hockey league legend, recently wrote an interesting article for The Players’ Tribune. It was a letter to his younger self. It was personal. It was revealing. It was poignant, and it was telling. Telling of a limited mindset that too many of us embrace in the hopes of finding added motivation to perform at our best.

Gilmour, a celebrated hockey alumnus, spent a good lot of his career trying to prove to others that despite his limited size, he was capable of playing with the best in the NHL. He refers to the chip on his shoulder that he relied on countless times for that extra incentive to outperform the other players. However, as is so often the case, just because it’s how it’s always been done—doesn’t make it right or our best option.

That chip on your shoulder doesn’t help you keep your edge. It trips up your performance.

As much as I understand where this limiting mindset comes from, it’s not the answer when we’re looking for ways to spur greatness. Utilizing a source of motivation that requires us to believe on some level the narrow expectations of others is not the best way to find our highest potential.

As the lightest member of the Canadian Olympic Men’s Eight in rowing from the 1988 Games in Seoul, I can fully appreciate the value of pitting ourselves against others who are more gifted in size, skill, and other physical attributes when trying to instill added motivation. Heck, I used it as a strategy myself to not only make the team, but then also compete internationally.

After a morning row at the 1987 Internationale Rotsee Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, I can remember jumping on the scales in the change room one day with numerous foreign competitors standing nearby. I was rowing in the Canadian coxed-pair, which was made up of two rowers—myself and my teammate—along with a one hundred and fifteen pound jockey who steered us down the course whilst doing his best to provide words of encouragement.

Traditionally, this event is reserved for enormous brutes that aren’t necessarily the prettiest to watch row, but man they can pull. What enables such impressive power is their size—most participants land somewhere north of 200 pounds of solid muscle.

That day, I clocked in at a measly 182.

 I made the mistake of checking my weight in front of the two members of the Russian team. When my less than impressive weight was displayed, the Russians laughed. I was furious.

On that occasion, I made the mistake of checking my weight in front of the two members of the Russian team. When my less than impressive weight was displayed, the Russians laughed. I was furious.

At the World Championships in Copenhagen later that summer, we beat that Russian crew winning the petite final and placing 7th overall. Not a huge accomplishment, but for a guy my size—I would take it!

That laugh spurred an “I’ll show them!” experience of my own. For the entire summer I was caught-up in a world of proving to others, specifically those two Russians, that despite being the smallest member of the Canadian team, I was still worthy.

I won’t argue that using a vindictive mindset can’t and doesn’t work. Disproving you’re better than what others may think is a gratifying moment, to be sure. However, I will argue is that it limits our ability to perform by encouraging us to buy into that assumption that we’re not good enough—if only for a short while.

And, furthermore, it means we’re stuck competing from an ego-centric state that is always less desirable when trying to access our most dependable, powerful, and sustainable source of motivation—intrinsic.

Trade the vindictive mindset for one that says: “I actually deserve to be here.”

Motivation that begins with us believing in our worth right from the start. It gives us the freedom to focus all of our energy on the process of what leads us to our greatness. Void of distractions and negative thoughts, believing in oneself from the beginning of our journey is by far the most effective strategy for achieving high performance.

Even though, for both Doug Gilmour and myself, there were times were dispelling “I’m not worthy!” had positive outcomes. My question remains: What might have been possible if we both had believed in our ability right from the get-go?

Mindful practices that keep us awake to the limiting thoughts that others create and then we perpetuate are the first steps to realizing that our best is often better than what others may think.

As coaches, athletes, or anyone striving for your best performance on the day, my advice to support your mental and emotional state would be as follows:

  • Acknowledge inward the doubt of others in a non-judgmental way.
  • Ask yourself how believing their narrow expectations serve your highest performance.
  • Ask yourself why it is you believe at your core that you’re worthy of achieving the goal laid out in front of you.
  • Identify the next steps in the process that’s required to achieve your goal.
  • Go after your goal with the confidence and determination that is alive in you.
  • Have fun doing it!

True enough, we all love the stories where the underdog triumphs over the often-portrayed cocky expected winner. Hollywood has built an industry around this storyline. However, as fun as it is to cheer for and then watch the “little guy” win, there’s a better and more effective way to achieve that same outcome. And, it starts with getting a hold of the stories that we’re writing in our heads. Mindful practices that keep us awake to the limiting thoughts that others create and then we perpetuate are the first steps to realizing that our best is often better than what others may think.

Adapted from Jason Dorland.com
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