Performance psychology is a branch of psychology that examines psychological factors that influence optimal human performance.
It focuses on disciplines such as sport, business, and surgical or creative pursuits. The endorsed principles of performance psychology are employed to assist professionals in delivering optimized results under extreme pressure.
Performance psychologists may use several terms to describe the study and methodology. Umbrella terms such as performance psychology, human performance, performance science, peak performance, and so on are often used interchangeably to define this phenomenon.
However, this growing domain of study and practice comprises many different domains of research, including Psychology, Physiology, Biomechanics, Sociology, Performance Analytics, Strength & Conditioning, and Rehabilitation.
However, Human Performance, as it refers to the psychological factors of optimal human behavior and performance, is what we are concerned with here. (Miller, T.W., Ogilvie, B. and Adams, J., 2000)
Who Was Performance Psychology Developed For?
Those who have taken part in sport, no matter the level, held the life of another human being in their hands in surgery, performed on stage on a big night, or undergone the scrutiny of academic assessment, can apprehend the importance of performing to a high level of proficiency under intense pressure.
When the stakes are held high, the demand on the performer increases to heights those of us outside the bubble cannot fathom. That said, elite performers must learn and develop means to overcome and cope with the associated stress of these high-pressure situations. Here’s where the Psychology of Human Performance plays an important role.
- The Psychological Components of Performance.
Complex human behavior and performance can be evaluated, influenced, and improved by many psychological approaches, and subdisciplines of psychology have been exploring these individual elements for some time. For instance, psychology more broadly describes the complexities of individual emotion, cognition, perception, and action.
The cognitive aspects include attention, memory, language processing, problem-solving, and many more. From a clinical point of view, researchers may be interested in these factors where they are beyond normal functioning, as well as from a social psychology perspective wherein social dimensions are important.
The Performance Psychology coach may seek to link these separated psychological subfields to explain and improve human performance. (Ryan, E.B., Giles, H., Bartolucci, G. and Henwood, K., 1986)
- Techniques Used in Performance Psychology.
Mental resiliency is the ability to remain calm under pressure while staying confident, focused, and in control. It is also the ability to cope with high expectations and demands and get back up after a failure.
In other words, what distinguishes a world-class athlete from an average/underperforming one is the unbreakable belief in one’s own capabilities.
These character traits cannot be acquired overnight and take a lot of hard work, intense introspection, and possibly the mentorship of a performance psychologist. (Miller, T.W., Ogilvie, B. and Adams, J., 2000)
Some of the common techniques a performance psychologist may use include:
- Attention control training,
- Thought pattern awareness and modification,
- Imagery and visualization techniques,
- Use of self-talk or inner monologues,
- Relaxation techniques,
- Conflict resolution,
The Bottom Line.
The pursuit of perfection can drive many of us to perform exceptionally. However, this pursuit can often come at a high cost to our mental and emotional health. Success is enjoyable as long as it lasts, and the pursuit of higher highs can often result in emotional burnout or lasting depression or anxiety.
In fields of elite performance requirements, injury, physical pain, and even emotional pain can be inevitable factors. But it isn’t the environmental conditions or the experience that should determine our performance or emotional wellbeing. The key is the way we react to distressing situations.
A deeper sense of self is required to withstand the turmoil of pressurizing work. The performance psychologist helps the individual compose a stable self under the demands of high-pressure situations.(Statt, D.A., 1994)