Why Is Neuroticism So Toxic?

As both a tennis champion and brain surgeon, my dad understood that having grace under pressure was the key to his success. He also learned that neuroticism is contagious. In the operating room, my father was notorious for dismissing any surgical assistant who was acting nervous or neurotic. In sport and life, I learned from my dad to distance myself from people who are worrywarts. l also learned the importance of minimizing these character traits and thought patterns inside my own head.

Anytime someone becomes too neurotic and begins to overthink his or her performance—both on and off the court—it blocks the ability to get in ‘the zone’ where you create flow and superfluidity. My personal experience of battling neuroticism peaked my curiosity about the detriments of being neurotic and led me to develop prescriptive ways to minimize neuroticism. On pp. 274-275 of The Athlete’s Way[22], I write,

“Neuroticism should never be a part of your game plan or a part of your life. Strive to eliminate it because being neurotic is the key trait associated with rejection sensitivity[23] and fear of failure . . . People with neurotic tendencies tend to hold on to a bad mood longer than other people. Scott Hemenover[24], an assistant professor of psychology at Kansas State University, performed a study and found that people with different personality types have different rates of mood decay.

“Maintaining a negative mood for a long period of time is harmful to your health. People think that getting stressed[25] and anxious[26] is bad for you. It isn’t how stressed you are, but how long you are stressed,” Hemenover says. “Staying stressed for a long time can impair your immune and cardiovascular functions.”

People who tend to stay in a bad mood for a long time can learn strategies to help them snap out of it faster. “Neurotics see the world as a nasty place. If you teach them to view the world in a positive way, and to think their way out of feeling bad by rephrasing things in a positive way, it can help their health,” Hemenover says. The bottom line is to change the script in your head. Picture the neural networks inside your head and disengage the neurotic ones.”

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