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Embracing Challenge - The Power of Acceptance in Sport Psychology

Many of my clients often experience intense emotions or thoughts and all they want to do is get over or rid of them. However, what they also may find is that the more they wrestle with them the stronger they seem to be. One profound principle that may resonate is the idea that "what we resist persists." Let's dive into how embracing this concept can be a game-changer on how you mentally approach performance.

Understanding "What We Resist Persists":


The phrase "what we resist persists" suggests that the more energy and attention we invest in resisting or denying certain thoughts, emotions, or situations, the more enduring and powerful they become. In the context of sport psychology, athletes frequently face mental barriers such as self-doubt, fear of failure, feeling judged, or anxiety. The instinctive reaction might be to resist these feelings. Maybe even feeling shame for experiencing them in the first place. However, this resistance often amplifies their impact.


The Impact in Sports Performance:


Consider a scenario where an athlete is grappling with performance anxiety. The conventional response might involve trying to suppress or ignore these feelings, believing that acknowledging them could be detrimental. However, the more energy invested in resisting anxiety, the more it tends to grow and persist with performance.


Acceptance as a Catalyst for Change:


Contrary to resisting, acceptance becomes a powerful stimulus for change. Instead of pushing away uncomfortable thoughts or emotions, we can learn to acknowledge and accept them without judging ourselves for having them (for the most part they’re completely normal). Name the experience and/or thought. “I’m experiencing stress”, or “I’m feeling anxiety in my stomach.”  This shift in approach allows for a more constructive relationship with these mental hurdles. Instead of fighting against them you’re now being present with them and learning to understand them. Amazingly, they often begin to subside a bit just be following these steps.


Facing Fear of Failure:


Take the fear of failure, a common obstacle that I help my clients with. Rather than resisting this fear, athletes can acknowledge it and explore its roots. By understanding the fear, athletes can work on strategies to transform it into a driving force for improvement. Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; more accurately it's a gateway to understanding and attacking head on.


Embracing Self-Doubt:


Self-doubt is another formidable opponent for athletes. Instead of resisting those moments of uncertainty, acknowledging self-doubt can lead to deeper self-awareness. Acceptance and then becoming curious with these thoughts we can use these moments to identify areas of improvement, refining of skills, and building of true self-belief.


Breaking the Cycle:


The cycle of "what we resist persists" becomes a hindrance to progress. It's like trying to swim against a powerful current. By acknowledging and accepting the current, athletes can find ways to navigate and eventually conquer it. This mental shift breaks the cycle of habitual challenges.


Holistic Performance Enhancement:


Embracing the principle of acceptance extends beyond overcoming mental barriers—it encompasses holistic performance enhancement. When athletes accept the full spectrum of their experiences, both positive and challenging, they cultivate a deeper connection with their performance. This enhanced self-awareness lays the foundation for sustainable success.




The phrase "what we resist persists" serves as a guiding principle for athletes seeking mental resilience. By embracing acceptance, athletes unlock the potential for deep growth. Instead of pushing away challenges, integrate them into your journey, transforming obstacles into a portion of the path toward excellence. Ultimately, this shift in mindset becomes an impressive practice in the pursuit of mental mastery.


Stuart Singer, M.Ed., and PsyD (ABD) is the Director of WellPerformance, a Mental Performance Coaching and Consulting practice, and the creator of the DoSo app . For more information regarding this topic, he can be contacted at or follow him on X: @wellperformance, or Instagram: @wellperformance

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