Your Emotional Brain – A Key in Performance
Every athlete must understand the basics of how the brain works in performance. After all, it’s the engine of the machine and knowing how the basic parts work can help an athlete manage themselves under the pressures of performance. It’s all part of self-awareness – a key competency in great performance.
Here’s a very basic overview of your emotional brain …
Basically, your brain is divided into two key parts – the thinking brain and the emotional brain. The emotional brain is more powerful. The “boss” of the emotional brain is a little walnut shaped part called the amygdala; an ancient little section that protects you from all threats and stresses. The amygdala had a bigger role thousands of years ago when human beings were worried about their survival every day. Life was about eat or be eaten. But in our world of complex social realities, the amygdala can really get us into trouble by not knowing the difference between a hungry lion and your mother-in-law. The problem is we are living in a very complex, social world with a primitive brain. The amygdala senses everything you do and matches the experience with the information in your emotional memory.
The emotional memory captures every experience that has ever happened to you in your life. The people, places and things are all recorded here. It is the brain’s frame of reference for future experience. It is where you essentially connect past and present. The emotional memory is also the memory of the physiological response at the time of your experiences. The responses may include anxiety, tension, increased blood pressure and other reactions associated with fear, sadness, joy and a variety of other emotions.
If you’ve had a very emotional event in your life, the brain captures the details of the experience including who, what, when, where, as well as the emotions you experienced at the time. So all of these emotional memories in your data bank have an emotion assigned to them and are expressed that way. Here’s an example: someone you have had conflict with suddenly turns the corner on the street and is coming right toward you. The amygdala takes in the information and matches this guy with recent memories. And they aren’t good! So now you have the potential for anger, fear, anxiety and other emotions bubbling to the surface. You get the picture.
The memories in your emotional memory can be considered as both short and long-term. And, you really only retain the strongest good and bad emotional memories. Those memories that aren’t strong are faded out. The people, places and things that have had the biggest impact on you are all there, ready to go, when new experiences are introduced.
Learn what you can about the brain and how it impacts performance – every athlete needs a basic knowledge of the brain – another piece of self-awareness.