As the Seattle Seahawks meet the Green Bay Packers this weekend, there won’t be a lot of positive thinking going on in Russell Wilson’s mind. That’s because he’s found something far more effective when it comes to playing well.
In a forward to the new book It Takes What It Takes by Trevor Moawad, the mental conditioning coach Wilson works with, Wilson explains that positive thinking only gets you so far. For instance, “if you’re down 16-0 in the NFC Championship Game, there’s not much to be positive about,” Wilson writes. So all that rah-rah stuff just ends up feeling false, and you can’t believe it, much less act on it. “Positive thinking can be a huge problem,” says Moawad. “And all the data is very clear that negative thinking will weaponize you against you, and that will f you up.”
Shift Into Neutral Thinking
A better way to go is the approach outlined by Moawad in the book of neutral thinking. “Neutral thinking is going to the truth. Where are we at? What situation are we in? How are we going to execute?” Wilson says. “Some people call it keeping an even keel, but I think it’s deeper than that. I always want to remain neutral.”
Neutral thinking means accepting whatever happened. And knowing that what happens next has nothing to do with it. “What happens next will be determined solely by what you do next, and what you do next will be the absolute right thing, I promise, if you focus on that thing and that thing alone,” Moawad says.
It’s the skill that lets you treat every play as a new thing, unaffected by pressure. Staying neutral keeps you realistic and honest, keeps you from judging things, and lets you move on. “It’s like a stick shift car. You can’t just go from backward to forward. You have to get to neutral first,” Moawad says. “When things aren’t going your way, you have to downshift psychologically to neutral. Then you’re in a position where you can move forward.”
Wilson, On the Field
This kind of thinking is what let Wilson stop four interceptions from messing with his mind when his team faced off with those same Green Bay Packers back in 2014 (led then and now by Aaron Rodgers), when the two teams were competing for a spot in the Super Bowl. There was only 5:13 remaining and the Seahawks were down 19-7. And as those four interceptions would tell you, Wilson hadn’t been playing well.
“He knew there are three distinct states: what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen,” Moawad writes. The interceptions happened. But when some would start to sink into a negative funk at that point, Wilson’s neutral mind prevailed. Ever calm, the QB who played his college ball in both NC State and Wisconsin made the adjustments that needed to be made to play well in that remaining 5:13. Well enough, that is, to push the game to overtime.
And when sudden death overtime hit, Wilson shifted into another gear. The Seahawks pulled within striking distance of the end zone, and Wilson launched one toward the end zone for Jermaine Kearse, one of his most trusted wide receivers. And Kearse was able to get just enough of a step on Packers’ cornerback Tramon Williams to get open. A couple steps into the end zone, Kearse caught the ball—and the Seahawks were headed to the Super Bowl.
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Neutral thinking let him separate from any emotions about what just happened and keep solid footing in what’s going to happen next. “An emotion is merely another form of bias,” Moawad states. And it can tell you lies, like that you’re washed up or stressed out. When you understand that the reality is that what happened is what happened, then emotions don’t cloud the deal. You don’t fold under pressure. “Staying neutral allows you to focus on the behaviors that allow you to perform, regardless of the environment,” Moawad says. You simply recognize what’s happening and learn from it to change what happens next.
That doesn’t just apply to what happens on the field. “I think mental performance can give you an additional three to five percent wherever you are in your life,” Moawad says. To hit your peak, you’ve got to do the training, of course, but when you can manage your mind and learn neutral thinking—that’s the real power play.
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