Judging yourself is almost constant. We might do it every time we look in the mirror: judging and analyzing ourselves, asking if we have done what we set out to do, questioning ourselves. Sometimes it is just surface level: how do I look? Sometimes it is present and immediate: your eyes look tired and you would rather go back to bed. Other times it is deep and soul searching: is this what you want? And sometimes it is performance based: have you met your goals and accomplished your desired outcomes?

As athletes, we are always judging ourselves. We compare our performance against others (which can result in difficulties) and we compare our performance against ourselves (which is usually more valuable). One of the hardest parts of judging ourselves is disappointment. Some days we feel that we are focused, energetic, positive, and engaged when, despite this, we underperform and feel disappointed (“I know I’m better than this”), scared (“why is this happening?”), and angry (“I don’t understand — I’m doing everything I can”).

How to Manage Disappointment

In times of disappointment it is vital to remember that we don’t control much, that variability occurs, and that our perceptions may not be as accurate (especially immediately following a low performance) as we give them credit for being. Focusing on external things like competition, referees, spectators, weather, etc. will draw us into a futile effort of endless “What ifs…” that are unproductive to dwell upon after the event has unfolded. But when we focus on what we control, what is limited to ourselves, this is productive because we can take lessons forward to the next challenge; of course, even then the limitations exist (we don’t control 100% of our thoughts, actions, or emotions). Understanding that variability occurs despite our best efforts can be a step in the right direction towards healthy evaluations of your performance and self. Additionally, consistency is key in trying to keep performances steady and helps immensely, but don’t be fooled into thinking this will negate a majority of variables (even those more or less under your control). Lastly, reviewing our performance immediately following the action can be very helpful and enlightening, but when we do it with strong emotions (disappointment, fear, anger) we are not likely to see things very clearly. Ultimately, awareness of our limited control along with focus on  consistency in performance and evaluations and avoiding quick, emotionally filled reactions will lead to better management of disappointment and enhance learning from each experience.

Why Judging Ourselves is Important

Judging ourselves is part of the process of improvement and life… and, for many of us, one of the reasons that we engage in sport in the first place. There is a highly motivating, almost addicting quality, to facing fears about performance and the outcome of action. If we are afraid of the outcome, we are thrilled at the experience. If you are not thrilled, you are not judging yourself any longer. You might be “going through the motions,” retiring, facing competition beneath your skill level, or in the wrong sport.

In the Cult Classic movie Fight Club, Tyler Durdan asks, “How much do you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” This is judging yourself, in a highly emotionally charged, competitive, and threatening situation. However, we don’t have to get in a fight to learn about ourselves — it probably would hurt (in many ways) and would also result in exactly what I am driving at here. Alternatively, we can test ourselves and learn about ourselves if we face the fear of challenging our abilities and skills.

Breaking it Down:

  1. Compare Yourself to Yourself (your current performance to your past performances)
  2. Accept that disappointment is part of the process (hopefully not too frequently)
  3. Be aware of our limited ability to control life
  4. Work towards consistency in performance and evaluation
  5. Avoid analyzing performance when emotionally charged or immediately following performance
  6. Recognize the importance of judging yourself if you want to reach your full potential

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