In our previous post ‘The Inner Voice (Managing Self-Talk in eSports) we focused a lot on bringing awareness to your Inner Voice. How it can be affecting your mindset as a whole, and possibly blocking your potential. We introduced ways that you can take control of your Inner Voice and shape the way you approach every game. Having control over your pre game Self-Talk and your post game Self-Talk will keep you motivated and engaged in your performance.
For this post we are going to focus on a type of Self-Talk that is undeniably the most damaging to your performance. Mid game Self-Talk can manifest in many different ways. Each way changing based on the circumstances. For example if you are practicing online, which isn’t always ideal, it can rear it’s ugly face and fill your mind with quotes like “Oh this is so _____. If this was offline, I would be winning right now.” Likewise, “I’m better than this, why am I losing?” I’m sure you can remember many times thoughts like these have crossed your mind. The issue with having that type of Self-Talk is that it shuts out any potential practice you could be getting. Since your mental and emotional attention are focused on how you feel about what’s happening. Then your “practice” session turns into either a waste of time where you’re just playing to play and getting frustrated, or it turns into a session where you seek validation from victories. Either situation makes the time you’re dedicating unfocused and unproductive.
Mid game Self-Talk is also linked most commonly to the “Choking” mechanism. Although it is documented more frequently in traditional sports, it can easily be seen in eSports as well. For example, when a player or team has a lead, thoughts such as “Don’t mess up.” “Don’t lose the lead” can fill their minds. Thus leading to a lost lead, or a fully lost game. Other ways it can manifest is when you’re beating a team or person that you, or your peers didn’t think you could. That moment when you’re about to become an upset, and be talked about for days on social media. Those moments can create a winner’s aversion, where excitement sparks your Inner Voice. “Wow I can’t believe I’m going to beat ____!” Potentially causing disruption to your play.
On the other hand, players are often known to become ‘starstruck’ by their opponents and become intimidated before a match, leading to the activation of a post game coping mechanism before they even play. “Well, I lost to _____ so, it’s okay”.
Just on the surface you can see, and feel the effects of mid game Self-Talk in your own performance or others. Let’s continue to explore why it can be so damaging to your performance and potential.
See a Lot, Say a Little
If we remove some of the emotional connotation that we used in the above examples. Mid game Self-Talk even in a passive state is damaging. The reason for that is in competitive eSports our brains can truly only do two things. Read and React. Things are happening so quickly, and games are won and lost on micro transactions that can happen at the blink of an eye. There is no time for thinking, it’s just too slow. Mid game Self-Talk becomes a distraction that pulls us away from those two specific actions.
To understand why this happens we have to look at how our brains utilize long term, short term, and working memory in regards to performance.
Like Riding a Bike
Have you ever wondered why, after not having played a game in years you can pick it back up and be somewhat efficient? Or how you can watch players compete in tournaments for games that are over 10 years old, and they are still considered the best? It all resides in the learning process.
What goes into learning a new game? The button lay out, the games specific tech, and the optimized strategy. All of these aspects come with a learning curve. As you are learning a game, the information is being formed in your short term memory, or your active memory. As you progress and begin to have an understanding of things to a point of automation, the information moves from the short term (active) and into your long term memory (passive). This transition is made easier by the typical enjoyment that comes with learning or playing a new game with the hopes of competing.
As you continue to improve and see growth in your performance, new challenges appear. Each time you overcome one of the new challenges, the effort that was once required in executing the basics is at it’s lowest. The best example I can think of for this is riding a bike with no hands. It starts with learning how to peddle, steer, ride fast or slow. But the next thing you know, you’re able to ride the bike without hands. Now your focus is no longer on the peddling or your speed, but now on your balance. This impossible task of riding the bike, as difficult as it was when you started, has now become a game of sorts. Now you’re riding with no hands, and next you’ll want to ride on one wheel.
The freedom that we obtain after the basics are stored in our long term memory allow us to experiment. To go outside the box, and push our play passed optimal.
Bridging The Gap
You’ve got as much information as you can currently possess in your long term memory. Now the retrieval process starts. When you start to compete, your mind takes the information in your long term memory and conveys it into your working memory. Working memory is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks. This working memory paired with short term memory is the main tool used when you compete. Read and React.
Your mind is performing this complex synchronization of long term memory (button lay out, game sense) and working memory (reading and reacting). Inside your working memory live emotions, adaptation, self image, future, past. On top of all of the crucial information just needed to compete properly. It’s a truly beautiful process, and really makes what top players do all the more special. The goal is to have practiced so much, and gained so much experience at various skill levels. Challenged to improve at every step, that eventually all of that crucial information is fully stored in the long term, and the amount of variables in your working memory are reduced. Imagine having every match up learned, every map learned, and being familiar with high level situations on a consistent level. What would be left except to just perform? Emotion, motivation, adaptation. The things that truly require concentration.
Back to Self-Talk
Hopefully at this point you have a basic understanding of the concert that is taking place in your brain while you compete. You already know how difficult it is to perform at a high level consistently. When you feel as though you played very well, that’s a sign that everything synced up nicely. However as you can imagine any disruption to that synchronization results in a longing to perform better.
That is why mid game Self-Talk is so damaging. Emotionally charged or not. It disrupts the synchronicity that’s required to perform at a high level and feel positive while doing it. Top performers often have the ability to shut it out all together, or have found a way to work around their Self-Talk. It is one of the many reasons they can be so consistent. Imagine being a top player, and going into every single pools match thinking “If I lose this game, it’ll be an upset, I’ll be embarrassed etc etc.” How sustainable do you think that mentality is? Those thoughts are completely valid, but how do they help you win?
You vs. You and Your Opponent
Any time that you engage in negative mid game Self-Talk you are adding an additional opponent to your game. If it’s a one versus one, then you’ve just doubled the amount of opponents for you to beat. Where does that leave your focus, or your attention? How divided has it become? Are you still present in the moment, or have you wandered to the future or the past? This is why managing your mid game Self-Talk is so important. With every variable that stands in our way, we don’t have time for anything else. So what can you do to start managing it?
Become aware of your mid game Self-Talk. You should usually do this during your practice sessions. Bringing extra awareness to it in the moment will cause more distraction. However it is crucial that you do this now, so that you can manage it for the future. Short term pain for long term gain.
Try to identify what you are saying, and reflect on it after your game. Was it important? How did it effect the outcome? Where are you at emotionally?
Find ways to regain your concentration should your inner voice come out. Acknowledge it first and then refocus. This will help you avoid repetitive inner dialogue. For example if mid game you say “Every time I do _____ he does ____!” Note it, and move on. If you don’t acknowledge it, your brain will seek the very thing you were just talking about. So the next time it happens, you might say “See! Every time!”. Now your focus has gone from winning to finding a pattern. Over time as you become more aware of your inner voice, you will find better ways at managing it, and potentially making it work with you instead of against you.
Separate What You Believe From Reality
An open door for mid game Self-Talk to walk through is how you believe the game should be going. Whether its your opponents or your teammates that spark this feeling, it only serves to pull you away from your goals. The longer your spend focusing on what you believe should be happening, the more you miss out on crucial details. Such as, why you ended up there or how you can pivot and comeback.
Generate Self Trust
While you practice and prepare for tournaments actively work on generating self trust. Assure yourself of your abilities and of the work that you have put in. Then just focus on executing. If you are going to lose then you are going to lose. Mid game Self-Talk 9 times out of 10 not only won’t help you win. But it will cloud your vision and prevent you from hitting your potential.