The Key to Not Thinking

Mental Skills
By Andy Bass

The key to ‘not thinking’—thinking about ONE thing.

“Just don’t think out there!” “I am at my best when I am not thinking.” “They are thinking too much—they need to not think.” How many times have we heard, or even said, these phrases on the field? And while these statements carry with them good intentions… they are often times misinformed… and also impossible.

We can’t ‘not think.’ For one, our minds are not wired that way. And two, we would be dead if we were not thinking. With all of that in mind, the connotation that ‘not thinking’ carries with it, to let our minds and body be completely in the present moment and not allowing anything to take from our focus, is something we should aspire to.

Question: If I gave you an empty water bottle how would you get the air out of it? When asked this most people will say something like ‘crush it down’, ‘stick a vacuum cleaner it in’, etc. The answer is to fill it with water.

When our conscious mind is filled to the ‘brim’ with one single external thought—good things tend to happen. External is also vital to this process. The one thought should be about the outcome of the movement or something outside of our body (e.g. “See the ball early”, “Through the mitt”, “Drive off”, “Stay on top”, etc.) it should not be about the movement or our body (e.g. “Keep your elbow up”, “Drive my knee down”, “Keep my head steady”). NOTE: There are ways to change these statements to external: “Keep your elbow guard up”, “Drive toward the mitt” “Keep my helmet steady”. For more information regarding the benefits of external focus along with why the external focus tends to work better than an internal please click Constrained Action Hypothesis: Why an external focus may work better than internal.  

It is impossible to ‘not think’ (we should work to eliminate this phrase from our coaching vocabulary altogether because it is an impossible task). What we want from our athletes is to think consistently about ONE thing—particularly right before they step in the box or on the rubber. If we can help our athletes repeat that one clear external goal in their head we are on the path to helping them ‘not think’- being completely focused on one thing.

Andy Bass is currently a Mental Performance Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bass played college baseball at Davidson College and was drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He received his PhD in Sport Psychology and Motor Behavior from the University of Tennessee.