What Is a Mental Block?
A mental block is a disconnect between the mind and body, or the conscious and unconscious mind. Mental blocks occur in various spaces within sport performance. For example, an NFL kicker misses a game-winning opportunity yet successfully practices 10/10 times kicking at the same distance. A youth volleyball player has one error that plummets the rest of their performance. Athletes within all levels of sport, ranging from professionals to youth performers, have endured mental struggles.
What Might Be Causing These Mental Struggles?
When our minds and bodies are on the same page, we set ourselves up to perform successfully. But what happens when our minds and bodies are not on the same page? Mental block symptoms may develop, such as performance anxiety and fear of performing the skill.
We see mental block symptoms when we see an athlete lacking confidence, balking on a skill, or not performing to their full potential. One thing between their mind and their body is their perception. It’s not the situation of what happens to us that matters. It’s our perception of what happens to us that controls our behavior.
Let’s use an example of a 10-year-old baseball player who keeps striking out. He is frustrated to the point of tears. Tears arise because he feels equal to the problem–in this case, the strikeout. When athletes identify themselves with their behavior, the situation overlaps the athlete. This is challenging for the athlete to separate; therefore, they associate themselves with the strikeout.
So, What Caused This Athlete to Cry When He Struck Out?
In this case, he struck out and thought, “I am bad. I am going to upset my coach. What is my dad going to say?” Not striking out was causing the problem, but his perception of himself about striking out dictated his behavior moving forward. His thoughts and judgment of himself created a shift in mentality that he continued to use moving forward. These perceptions were in between his mind and his body, controlling his behavior.
Perception Plays a Vital Role
Perception of the situation is accurate for any athlete experiencing a mental block. When NFL football players miss a kick, they have thoughts or ideas about themselves that affect their behavior moving forward. When a youth volleyball player focuses on what not to do, their behavior follows suit.
If telling people to “be confident” worked, we would all be perfectly confident. If we only work with the conscious mind and tell people what to do, we will not eliminate the mental block; we will only try to push through it. The solution to eliminating a mental block is to shift mentality, which occurs when you reconnect the mind with the body from its initial disconnect.
The Use of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Techniques to Resolve Mental Blocks
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) involves connecting thoughts, language, and learned behavior patterns through experiences to achieve the desired outcome (Kotera et al., 2019). NLP strategies propose a shift in perspective (Savardelavar & Kuan, 2017); therefore, it may be an effective solution for eliminating mental blocks compared to other techniques, such as self-talk, visualization, and relaxation strategies. More specifically, NLP-informed strategies assist individuals with eliminating mental blocks through mental shifts.
A-Circle Diagram: A Solution to Mental Blocks
A-Circle is one strategy to shift perspective to eliminate mental blocks (Goodrich, 2020). Shifting perspective is essential because it separates the athlete from the problem instead of identifying themselves with or as the problem. Once they mentally separate from the situation (who they are vs. what they are doing), they can address it differently.
To eliminate the problem, we must separate the person from the behavior to understand and manage it differently. A shift in mindset is the first essential step to eliminating a mental block, which is the purpose of A-Circle.
Let’s refer back to the baseball player. His thoughts of being bad are currently running his A-Circle. His B-circle involves his coach. Other external factors, such as the crowd, fall into the C-Circle. The technique helps increase awareness of the problem and what the athlete is letting direct their decisions in their A-Circle and how it impacts performance. Once the performer is aware of what is in their A-Circle, practitioners can support individuals on shifting what’s in their A-Circle.
|A-Circle: Decision Maker||Who or what is making decisions for you, or who or what is running the show for you in that particular situation.|
|B-Circle: Influencer or Supporter of Decision||People or things that influence your decisions, or they can support you to make a decision, but they are not making it for you.|
|C-Circle: Everything That Doesn’t Matter||Everyone and everything outside of your A and B Circle, or everything that doesn’t matter or is irrelevant.|
Strategies like A-Circle shift mentality and eliminate psychological blocks (Goodrich, 2020). Individuals working through mental blocks should strive to understand the disconnect between the mind and body and use support from mental performance consultants and professionals when working through strategies.
- Goodrich, S. (2020). Mental Strength Coaching Journal for Athletes. Hellbox Books.
- Kotera, Y., Sheffield, D., & Van Gordon, W. (2019). The applications of neuro‐linguistic programming in organizational settings: A systematic review of psychological outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 30(1), 101-116.
- Savardelavar, M., & Kuan, G. (2017). The use of Neuro-Linguistic Programming as an educational-therapeutic programme: Two case studies. Education in Medicine Journal, 9(1), 49-58.