Modern Sport Psychology Meets Ancient Philosophy


Elite athletes seek the newest, best expertise from sport psychology specialists, as effectively they must. But how about the knowledge of Stoic philosophers from historic Greek and Roman moments?

 Carol M. Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons

Alabama Crimson Tide soccer mentor Nick Saban carrying out his coaching matter.

Resource: Carol M. Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons

People fantastic thinkers from two millenniums in the past have enormous affect on successful athletics icons these as Monthly bill Belichick and his New England Patriots, Nick Saban and his College of Alabama Crimson Tide soccer team, and former Key League Baseball manager Joe Maddon. That’s not to point out other extraordinarily effective people exterior activity, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Hip-Hop artist LL Interesting.

According to a Sports Illustrated post, many athletes and coaches were being turned on to Stoicism by The Obstacle is the Way, a guide penned by Ryan Holiday getaway (2014), and his litany of other titles introducing audience to the knowledge of Zeno, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and other Stoic philosophers.

A Stoic Sampling

Consider this pearl of knowledge: “We should corral not only unwanted actions, but avoidable ideas, as well, so useless acts really do not tag alongside immediately after them.”

Sounds like something that could possibly have dropped from the lips of such modern-day psychology icons as Steven Hayes or Russ Harris, pioneers in the advancement of Acceptance and Commitment Instruction (ACT), an approach greatly utilized in today’s sport psychology planet.

But it didn’t.

It was written—and practiced—by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius 2,000 decades right before the advent of modern activity psychology, and closely parallels ACT teachings.

How did someone from that extended ago conjure up these kinds of present-day knowledge?

Aurelius—historically, remembered as the “Philosopher King”—trained himself by way of the self-aid techniques of his working day, the written works of his Stoic predecessors, and contributed his personal scribbles of knowledge.

What is Stoicism?

In accordance to “The Day-to-day Stoic,” another very best-vendor authored by Holiday break (2016), Stoicism was established in the 3rd century BC in Athens, Greece, by Zeno of Citium, and elaborated on by a extensive lineage of Greek and Roman philosophers, which include Aurelius.

Individuals excellent thinkers detect advantage as the crucial to everyday living satisfaction and effectiveness. Advantage, listed here, described by self-command, braveness, justice, and knowledge–what Stoics identified as the four cardinal virtues. Stoicism asserts that our perception of exterior points causes most existence complications, not the external things by themselves.

All that mirrors the ACT technique. So does the Stoic teaching that we cannot count on something outside of what Greek Stoic Epictetus known as “reasoned choice”—how we pick to effectively reply to events over and above our manage. These types of “reasoned choice” is significant to productive performance in sports activities and other endeavors.

Helpful use of “reasoned choice” is, perhaps, what fueled the unparalleled achievements of the New England Patriots and the Alabama Crimson Tide football crew. It is what present day-working day psychologist Russ Harris calls a “choice stage,” people essential moments during tough circumstances that demand laser-targeted recognition, making it possible for for helpful decision making. Like a baseball hitter choosing to swing at a pitch, a quarterback’s reaction when obtaining blitzed, or a surgeon when one thing goes improper through an operation.

Both equally Stoicism and ACT emphasize that unworkable emotion and thinking can interfere with reasoned preference and efficient response to external situations. Stoics identified three essential disciplines to reduce that inside of stuff from disrupting exceptional effectiveness, in accordance to Holiday, those disciplines are:

1. The “Discipline of Will” (How we deal with the issues we cannot change and achieve very clear and convincing judgement.

2. The “Discipline of Perception” (how we see and understand the entire world all around us).

3. The “Discipline of Action” (the conclusions and actions we take—and to what conclusion).

These a few disciplines bear a putting resemblance to the “Three Pillars” of what ACT conditions “Psychological Flexibility” or in athletics terminology, “mental toughness” and “resilience.” The 3 Pillars are:

1. Remaining open up to inside expertise (not finding caught-up in unworkable ideas and emotions, and other factors we do not handle).

2. Becoming existing (becoming in the moment and informed).

3. Executing what issues most (doing those people matters that lead to fulfillment and achievements).

Not Tutorial Head Video games

Ancient philosophy—Stoicism or otherwise—was about dwelling successfully, not an around-intellectualized pursuit as it often exists in today’s school rooms. Stoicism was, and is, a disciplined skill demanding each day follow and coaching, just like techniques in athletics and other effectiveness endeavors.

Achieving Psychological Overall flexibility, mental toughness, or what ever you want to simply call it, by means of modern techniques this kind of as ACT, is no distinctive. A compelling argument can be built that Stoicism is the philosophical basis of ACT and other present day-day psychology theory.

Discovering the Stoicism-Sport Psychology Link

Let us start with the Aurelius quotation cited before, “we need to corral not only pointless steps, but pointless ideas, also, so useless functions really don’t tag together immediately after them.”

The “Philosopher King” acknowledged that lots of of our feelings can consequence in habits that potential customers to unproductive and negative implications. Contemporary ACT theory would describe individuals actions as “unworkable” simply because they go us absent from what we benefit, or what the Stoics call virtues.

Making use of what Stoicism conditions “reasoned choice” and what ACT phone calls a “choice place,” we can recognize those people “unnecessary thoughts” and not permit them create the useless acts that can result from ineffective assumed (and emotion. We can decide on, in its place, much more workable behaviors that guide to better outcomes.

A hockey participant, for instance, could select to play productively, in its place of retaliating with a counterproductive punch for the reason that of anger, and the tag-alongside views, in reaction to an opponent’s stick to the facial area.

Committed Action, Not Emotion

Preserving the retaliatory hockey player in brain, take into account this quotation from Greek Stoic Epictetus: “If you really do not wish to be a warm head, never feed your behavior. Consider as a first move to stay relaxed.”

ACT teaches that when unworkable feelings guidebook habits, equally the influence of that emotion and the unproductive actions are strengthened. It’s like feeding a tiger cub. It gets bigger and even bigger around recurring feeding and eventually devours us.

Had the hockey participant decided on to go following the puck alternatively of throwing a punch, he may well have scored a intention alternatively of spending 5 minutes in the penalty box. When an skilled baseball hitter gets upset over a questionable umpire call, as a substitute of throwing a scorching-headed tantrum, they will stage out of the batter’s box, take a deep breath, reset themself, and phase back again in.

“Present” awareness and the “discipline of action” enabled the hockey and baseball gamers to just take what ACT practitioners simply call “committed action,” techniques that direct to productive results—valued actions. Being tranquil finishes nicely. Warm-headedness does not.

Enable Virtues and Values Exhibit the Way

Here’s one more piece of wisdom from Marcus Aurelius: “Those obsessed with glory attach their effectively-becoming to the regard of many others, all those who enjoy enjoyment tie it to emotions, but the one with legitimate understanding seeks it only in their individual actions.”

Individuals who thrive on impressing other folks, or in search of pleasure, are adhering to a rocky, unpredictable route of possible distress mainly because they seek out gratification from unstable resources. We do not specifically control other people’s reactions, or our individual inner thoughts, so seeking those people uncontrollable is like chasing a balloon with an untied nozzle. It flies all around the put as we test to capture it. A frustrating, fruitless, endeavor.

The Stoics and ACT teaches that fully commited actions primarily based on own values—virtues—is the greatest pathway to productive residing. Valued steps we can handle, thus top to stability and calm.

“Control the controllable” as numerous sporting activities folks say. Complete committed steps, really don’t get snagged on unworkable feelings and feelings that distract us from what is significant.

As Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) advises in the film Top Gun: Maverick, “don’t consider, just do.” Stoics and sports psychologists concur.


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Anna C. Knight

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