The Mental Game Traps of the Comfort Zone

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Many athletes I work with on a daily basis hold themselves back with a comfort zone. A comfort zone is a mental barrier that limits what you think you are capable of accomplishing and is really hard to shake.

A comfort zone is a problem whenever an athlete is playing better than expected or is in uncharted territory when competing. One of my tasks as a mental coach is to teach athletes how to break free of comfort zones, so they can peak perform more often.

A comfort zone starts in your own mind based on preconceived notions or expectations about what is and what is not possible to achieve. It is formulated from prior experiences in your sport.

The common example is a golfer who wants to break through a scoring barrier (predetermined or expected scoring range). She has an idea that she will shoot between 82 and 86 on most days, for example, and this forms her *comfort zone.*

If she is performing better than her own expectations and has a chance to break 80, for example, this can cause her to feel anxious, protect her score, or focus too much on results and outcomes.

My experience is that an athlete, when playing with a tentative mindset, worries too much about making mistakes and blowing a good performance in the making.

But comfort zones apply to most other sports too, and to our lives in general! When a team feels they are playing *over their heads* such as winning a game they expected to lose, they tend to become anxious and play with a defensive or protective mindset.

The bottom line with comfort zones - athletes lose their composure! Whether you are performing better or worse than you expected, the result is a feeling of discomfort (anxious or frustrated), hence the term comfort zone.

So what are the keys to performing without the mental handcuffs of a comfort zone?

The first step is to recognize the signs that a comfort zone might sabotage your mental game. My biggest concern is that a comfort zone might limit you when you are on a run or performing at your peak because it causes you put on the mental breaks.

The top 3 signs of a comfort zone in action are:

-You get nervous, anxious, or afraid when playing better than expected.
-You *sit on your lead* and play defensively or afraid to risk.
-You are in *protect mode* and do not want to blow your lead.

The next step is to learn mental strategies for overcoming your comfort zone so you can perform with composure and confidence.

About the Author: Want to learn simple, proven mental toughness skills that you can apply to competition? Grab my free online mental training newsletter, Sports Insights Magazine - for athletes, coaches, and sports parents:
Dr. Patrick Cohn is a master mental game coach who work with professional and amateur athletes, sports parents, and teams of all levels. Visit for more information.


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