Bruce Lee Can Help You Score a Goal at the World Cup!

World Cup Fever has set in around the world.  Since I grew up in Brazil, South America, you can imagine this even has my attention.  As I considered what kind of tips I could share with you this week, I kept thinking of the metaphor/image of mental/emotional kung fu stuck in my head.  But I wanted to combine it with the World Cup, and so I thought about you!

Let’s pretend that you have trained long and hard as a soccer player.

personal motivation
Sir John Hancock on Flickr

You are equal to all the other players on your team in terms of talent and ability.

But for some reason, you have never scored a goal!

Every time you get out on the field, your performance stays the same or slightly declines.

You start questioning your ability, and you need a coach.

You search online, and you find that Bruce Lee is offering mental kung fu as part of his new job as a sports psychologist!

personal motivation tips
mrK on Flickr

What is kung-fu?

According to Wikipedia:

In Chinese, kung fu can also be used in contexts completely unrelated to martial arts, and refers colloquially to any individual accomplishment or skill cultivated through long and hard work.

Sports psychology is the art of helping athletes reach peak performance excellence:

Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Sport psychology (or sports psychology) of the psychological and mental factors that affect and are affected by participation and performance in sport, exercise, and physical activity. It is also a specialization within the brain psychology  and kinesiology that seeks to understand psychological/mental factors that affect performance  in sports, physical activity, and exercise and apply these to enhance individual and team performance. It deals with increasing performance by managing emotions and minimizing the psychological effects of injury and poor performance. Some of the most important skills taught are goal setting, relaxation, visualization, self-talk, awareness and control, concentration, confidence, using rituals, attribution training, and periodization.

In order to increase your personal and performance effectiveness in the Game of Life, you must learn how to gain mastery over both your thinking and your emotions.  You must do this through constant practice and discipline, so that it becomes a skill, like a martial art, so that you are a well-trained warrior in the midst of trials and adversity that naturally accompanies any worthwhile goals that you have set as a result of formulating your personal mission statement, vision, and values.

So, if you were Bruce Lee, having trained extensively in the martial arts and in soccer, what would separate you from hundreds of other top flight soccer players?

The key success factor in achieving personal excellence and results would be how you talk to yourself. 

Winners talk to themselves in more accurate and empowering ways than losers. 

In this section, I am borrowing some ideas from one of my favorite resources for myself and my counseling clients: Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life (Workbook), by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning.

We all talk to ourselves constantly!

“What, are you crazy?  We don’t talk to ourselves!”

Yes, we do!

Our communication can be broken down into “automatic thoughts”.  But the way we communicate to ourselves is often unconscious.  Therefore, I am going to share with you a three-step process to uncover and change your self-talk process, so that you can meet your next level of personal and performance excellence.

First, you must realize the connection between situations, automatic thoughts, and feelings.

Here’s an example:
A. Situation: You get into your car, turn the key, and nothing happens.
B.  Thought: You interpret the situation by saying to yourself, “Oh, *$!!%, my battery’s dead.  This is awful–I’m stuck–I’ll be late!”
C.  Feeling: You experience an emotion congruent to your thoughts.  In this case, you feel frustrated, angry, depressed, and anxious about being late.

Here are some characteristics of automatic thoughts that you may want to be aware of:

a) They appear in shorthand

An automatic thought can be a brief mental image, or just sense impressions.

b) They are almost always believed.

We tend not to question automatic thoughts, because they are just part of our unconscious self-dialogue.

c)  Automatic thoughts are experienced as spontaneous. 

Again, since they are often subconscious, we don’t stop to think about them or analyze our automatic thoughts.

d) Automatic thoughts often contain should, ought, or must. 

For example, suppose a woman’s husband has recently died.  She thinks, “You ought to go it alone.  You shouldn’t burden your friends.”  She then feels a wave of hopelessness and loneliness after each thought.

e)  Automatic thoughts tend to “awfulize.” 

These thoughts are those that make us the most anxious.  They tend to see catastrophe, or to expect the worst.

f)  Automatic thoughts are unique to who we are.

We often will react very differently to events and situations that come up, because we each have different ways of thinking and communicating to ourselves.

g) Our automatic thoughts are often much more intense and “irrational” than what we say publicly.

For example, an executive calmly states aloud, “Since I got laid off, I’ve been a little depressed.”  However, internally these are the automatic thoughts running through his mind:

“I’m a failure.”
“I’ll never work again.”
“My family will starve”
“I can’t make it in this world.”
He has an image of himself spiraling down into a bottomless dark pit.

Second, you must become expert in listening to and recording your automatic thoughts.

Here are some ways to listen to and become aware of the way that you think and communicate to yourself:

a)  Reconstruct a problem situation, going over and over it in your imagination, until the painful emotion begins to emerge.

What comes up for you?  What impulse, image, or thought is running through your mind.  Think of it as slowing down a motion picture to a freeze frame by frame description.

b) Expand the shorthand statement into a longer statement. 

For example, “Feeling sick” would be, “I’m feeling sick and I know I’m going to get worse.”   “Crazy” means “I feel like I’m losing control, and that must mean I’m going crazy.”

c)  Record your thoughts.

Third, once you have recorded your thoughts, you can then find ways to challenge or balance out those thoughts.

Here is a mental kung fu worksheet to help you uncover and re-work your internal dialogue into a way of thinking that will help you instead of hindering you.

I highly urge you to get to work.  This is not going to work on its own.

It takes at least 21 days to form a successful habit.  So here is an official contract for you.  Use it daily to get used to recording and challenging automatic thoughts that are unhelpful to you.

“I have decided to deal with my problem of (self-defeating thinking) by using (the mental kung fu worksheet).

I am making a commitment to (insert your name here) to undertake the following: practice writing out and challenging unhelpful self-defeating thoughts one time per day per week for the next three weeks.

I will evaluate my improvement only at the end of this period.

I will immediately notify (insert the name of friend to whom you would like to be accountable) of any failure to uphold this commitment.

_______________________                                       _______________________

Your signature                                                                Date

I commit myself to take this work seriously, and I will periodically check in with (your name) as a reminder that your progress is important to me.

______________________                                        ________________________

Support person’s signature                                             Date

If you work on this consistently for 21 days, I can guarantee you that you will be very much closer to scoring goals on the soccer field of your life.  Here’s to your success in the World Cup!!

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  1. says


    We are such creatures of habit. I see it constantly as I am working with a weight loss client. We have to get under what causes the habits to stay in place. If you don’t mind I’m going to use what you’ve stated here. I think it will transform well to what we do at Easy Diet for Life.
    Many thanks. You are an inspiration.


    • says

      Rick, I agree with you: to a point. I think that taking a both/and approach can be really helpful. We sometimes have to act ‘as if’ we believe that our actions will make a difference. For example, if I don’t believe I will ever be able to run a 5K: if I act as if by getting up and running/walking 5 minutes a day for one week, then 10 minutes a day for one week, and so on, I will eventually be ready for that 5K.

      But, as we have seen from the Biggest Loser, and other shows: we often have to also attack those subconscious core beliefs that hold us back.

      So it’s both/and :)

  2. says

    Hi Stephen
    Great post.
    I have found that as my abilities in a certain area increase, my negative auto reply thoughts decrease.
    In the car example – When my car doesn’t start I go 1 – What is happening
    2 – can I fix it
    3 – Who do I know that can talk me through the fix
    4 – AAAH @%$^ I’m Stuck
    And a positive frame of mind also helps. I have been trough a retrenchment – without the depression. simply because I believe that in the long run (if I do my part) everything works out for the best.

    • says

      Ben, thanks for the feedback. Increasing our life skills is a great way to decrease the frequency and intensity of negative thoughts. Actions and thoughts build off each other, for better or for worse, depending on the thoughts and actions we choose.

  3. says

    GREAT post! This is a topic that we often ignore but is so vital to not just our personal happiness and well being but to the success of in business and life! It is often hard to really listen to and “record” our self-talk, but I completely agree that it is essential to realize it and understand it so that you can begin to over come it. I write every evening to get it all out and sort through my thoughts, but I love the worksheet you have!

    • says

      Jenna, thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the worksheet! Your journaling habit is a great one: keep it up1

  4. says

    Hey Stephen!

    Brazil, Kung Fu and Soccer! All three things we have in common! My wife is Brazilian, I practiced Kung Fu for 16 years and I am a couch soccer fan!

    But all jokes aside, you are right about these excellent personal motivation tips. Some soccer (football) teams (and I am sure teams in other disciplines) employ psychologists to help under performing athletes do what they are paid to do… Score goals. As far as “thinking aloud” in my mind, it is one of the most powerful methods to improve ourselves. You are right though to point out that it is not just that you “talk to yourself” but how you do so.

    Keep the Smiles,


    • says

      Stevie, now I know why I like your wife so much! 😉 thanks for the helpful feedback. I’m looking forward to your next video of your Kung Fu moves :)

  5. says

    Great article Stephen! Most people don’t realize the power contained in our thoughts – or for that matter than we are constantly telling ourselves stories … I’m not pretty, I’m not talented, when I was younger, etc. The good news is we have the power to rewrite those stories and make them far more successful. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • says

      Marquita, I love the metaphor of story and scripting. It’s a lot easier to wrap my right brain around. It’s through contact and interaction with people like yourself and others in the blogging and business community that we can write positive and powerful life stories.

  6. says

    Great article using lessons from the Bruce Lee. You are correct that we automatically think thoughts which could be positive or negative. The great leaders and goal achievers have the ability to only listen to the positive side, “you can do it” side.

    I will start using your idea of recording my thoughts so eventually I will only focus on positive and opportunity side. Too many people look at bad situations as permanent, while successful people look at a bad situation and figure out how to create an opportunity.
    Thanks again


    • says

      Teddy, thanks for the encouraging comment. I just read an article on the power of gratitude. I think that giving thanks to our Creator is one of the best ways to cultivate true optimism, no matter what the circumstances. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. says

    Great post, Stephen! It is really amazing to think about all of the ways that our self-talk can affect us for better or worse. I know that I have definitely heard it trying to take me down many times. I guess this is why it is so important to recognize it what it is in order to fight it when we need to do so.

    • says

      Steve, I think you may agree with me when I say that Scripture is full of this concept: meditating on Scripture, and thinking on those things that are true, noble, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

  8. says

    I enjoyed the approach of your article. I tend to be turned off by “Law of Attraction” and other theories of life that are to me, at least, a kind of semi-religion. Some within that school seem to want to corner the market on using positive thoughts. In your article, there is a straight-forward, logical approach to the role of a positive mindset which I find very credible and usable. And for that I thank you.

    • says

      Richard, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the article. As a Christian blogger, I love adopting a cognitive behavioral approach to this process: it reflects Romans 12:1-2: be transformed by the renewing of your mind. And all the passages on meditation instruct us to fill our hearts and minds with Biblical and therefore positive thoughts.

  9. says

    Hi Steve,
    I never know the real Kung Fu definition, as I always associated it with martial arts!
    Thank you for this, as “accomplishment” or “achievement” are key words for me!
    Here’s something that I read just a little while ago, and it is amazing how it fits with your post!
    “When your subconscious and your conscious intentions are aligned only then can you achieve all of your dreams.”
    Can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    • says

      Linda, it’s so important to become aware of our often ‘unconscious’ beliefs, because those beliefs can sabotage us in our goal setting process if we are setting goals that challenge those closely held ‘beliefs’, even if they are unhelpful or inaccurate. Thank you for stopping by. I enjoyed your article on Starbuck’s relationship culture :)

  10. says

    I always believe in mind over matter. Whatever you are thinking most of the time gradually affects your behaviour towards something, yourself or your goal in life. So always have that positive attitude towards everything. Thanks for sharing!

  11. says

    The soccer player that I always feel most sorry for is the goalkeeper. I have seen so many strikers miss open goals and defenders completely miss out on a tackle and it is just put down to the run of the ball.

    When a goalkeeper makes a mistake, he gets so much stick from the media because he let a goal in. I live in England and we have had a few who were excellent at their role except for just one mistake. They never seemed to regain their confidence after that,

    It takes an incredibly strong personality to overcome things like this because it seems that, without training, our negative thoughts seem so much more powerful than the positive ones. You can tell someone that they are fantastic 99 times but, if the hundreth time you tell them they are useless, that is the one they concentrate on.

    • says

      Trevor, having grown up in Brasil, South America, I know what you mean about those goal keepers! They often have the weight of their town, state, or even country on their shoulders. It’s always fascinated me to study the thought patterns of championship level athletes: I hope you got some good tips in this article.

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