The techniques used so successfully by sportspeople can also be extended to everyone, in their everyday lives and businesses, particularly for those in stressful or unpredictable situations such as in the mission field.
This strategy defined as 'thought stopping' requires you to briefly acknowledge the unhelpful thought and then use a trigger that you have practised already, or that your coach has taught you, to stop ... and then replace it with a positive thought. This is how it works:
First Step: The hardest part is to identify the undesirable thought. You might naturally be flooded with negative thoughts after you miss an exercise session or get bowled out in cricket. If you took note of the number of negative thoughts you have during a session you might be amazed at the number and the impact they can have. These can distract you from getting back on track. The first step is to identify and acknowledging these thoughts when they occur.
Second Step: The next step is not to dwell on these thoughts but STOP them there. One tip is to say the word "STOP!" when you identify that unproductive thought. Some athletes combine saying "STOP!" with a mental image of a large red STOP sign.
Third Step: Replacing the unhelpful thought with a positive phrase is next. One useful tip is to write out some of your most common negative thoughts. Then try and come up with a positive word or phrase that replaces these.
Some examples:"I hate exercising in the rain." (STOP!) Replaced with, "I can handle this. It will only make me stronger"
"Is the umpire blind. That was out!" (STOP!) Replaced with, "I can't control the umpire. I can control my bowling. Focus on good line and length for this next bowl"
"I don't want to fail" (STOP thinking about the outcome!) Replaced with, "Relax and focus on what I can do NOW"
"This session hurts. I can't make it" (STOP) Replaced with, "The rewards are worth it. Just hang in there for 1 min. more"
Your coach or fitness instructor can help you with specific encouragements if you are struggling with a skill or exercise session. There is nothing unusual about having negative thoughts.
The problem comes when they start to negatively impact your performance. This then becomes a block to achieving your goals. The key is to never leave the negative thought in place but STOP it and REPLACE it.
Chris is struggling with his leg-spin bowling. Developing this skill is proving to be a struggle. His self-talk is, "This is just too hard. I just can't get it!" Chris needs to firstly relax and see that this thought is not going to help.
Once he has identified it as polarising (pointing in one direction) and potentially catastrophic, he should say, "Stop!" and refocus on the task at hand. He can then replace that unhelpful thought with a phrase such as, "I have mastered heaps of difficult cricket skills before. Just relax and be patient."
"Thought stopping" has been a useful skill that many top athletes have used to refocus and bounce back from setbacks. It might not be such a bad idea for missionaries in difficult places too, whether it is an emotional, philosophical or physical place that they find themselves.