Performance: It’s all about perception |

Performance: It’s all about perception

Haley Perlus
Your Inner Athlete

As I prepare for an upcoming workshop at Telluride WOW from Sept. 18-21, where I’m presenting Advanced Mental Training for All Types of Athletes, I’m reminded of my first encounter with mental toughness.

Picture this: I’m 12 years old, competing at the Whistler Cup (considered the junior, junior World Alpine Ski Racing Championship). Just before I make my way to the starting gate, my coach pulls out a $100 bill and places it under my nose. He says he bet on me to win this race and he isn’t prepared to lose. He puts the money back in his pocket, gives me a smile, and sends me on my way.


In that moment, I had two choices. 1. Lose control, get anxious, fearful, tense and full of doubt, or 2. find a way to maintain control, stay confident and fight my hardest to win the race, not only for my coach but also for myself. I chose the latter and won the gold!

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A common saying in sports psychology is “perception is reality.” There is a negative and debilitating way to look at every situation. More importantly, there is a positive and performance-enhancing way to look at every situation.

When my coach bet on me to win, the negative thoughts that could have ruined my performance were: “What if I let him down?” What if he’s wrong about me?”

The positive and helpful thought that enhanced my performance was: “Wow, if my coach, with his knowledge of this sport, my competitors and me, believes in me, I have every reason to believe in myself.”


Mental toughness comes from perceiving events in a way that enhances your performance. If you feel pressure to succeed, can it be because you’re performing well and doing something right? If you feel discomfort while training, can it be because you’re pushing your limits and achieving new levels of performance? If you’re disappointed at yourself for a poor performance, can it be because you are confident and care enough about your sport to have high expectations? In fact, in my consulting practice, I’m more concerned when an athlete doesn’t get angry about a bad performance. Frustration because you didn’t do your best is a good thing, and it will help fuel you for next time.

During your sport or fitness events, challenge yourself to perceive your experiences in the most positive and performance-enhancing way. Will it always lead to a gold medal like my story? No. But it will give you the best shot at peak performance!

With a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology, Haley Perlus is a professor, published author, international speaker and peak performance consultant. For more free tips, visit or call 303-459-4516. To attend her upcoming workshop at a 50 percent discount, visit and use the discount code inspire14.

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