3 Psych Strength Lessons from a Chiefs Super Bowl

Feb 12, 2023
psych strength from Chiefs Super Bowl

Today is the Super Bowl (for our non-U.S. community members, it's like the World Cup of American football), with my city's the Chiefs versus Philadelphia's Eagles. This isn't something I'd say out loud in Kansas City today, but the truth is, I 100% do not care about football. 

I grew up in the South, where high school football is very much a Friday Night Lights situation. I went to grad school in Lincoln, Nebraska where Husker football is life. I've gone through the motions, calling the Hogs (it's an Arkansas thing) and trying to fake a fan. I've even legitimately tried to get into football, learning the rules and (unsuccessfully) forcing my attention to last longer than a quarter. Alas, at this point in life, I'm embracing my truth. I just don't care. If I never have another conversation about football, the quality of my life experience will be impacted nada. 

All of that said, I am absolutely rooting for the Chiefs to win, and I think there are a few psychological strength lessons we can take away from them being in the Super Bowl this year. 


Lesson 1: The Bad Times Don't Last.

With talk of quarterback Patrick Mahomes being the next GOAT (greatest of all time, for you non-sports fans) and the Chiefs going to 3 out of the last 4 Super Bowls, Kansas City football is riding high. It hasn't always been this way, though.

When I moved to Kansas City 13 years ago, the Chiefs sucked. They hadn't been to the Super Bowl since a DECADE before I was even born. I couldn't have told you a single players' name, and it was beyond a pipe dream to think that at some point the city would be declaring a municipal holiday to honor a winning team. Seemingly out of the blue, though, the Chiefs made a dramatic come back, snagging a national title and the hearts of so many new fans. 

This losers-to-winners turn around highlights to me just how very different life can look, even in a relatively short amount of time.

In the midst of difficulty, whether that's adverse circumstances or internal strife like depression or grief, it's so easy to get bogged down in the reality of our current experience  and to lose hope. It can feel like things will never get better. If only it were possible to zoom out and take a wide angle view of the trajectory of our timelines, we'd see that, no matter how deep the dark time is, it doesn't last. Sometimes, holding on to that hope, trusting that things will change, as they inevitably do, is all you need in order to endure. 


Lesson 2: It's Important to Update Your Mental Models.

Part of being psychologically strong is being tuned in to when our contexts change, integrating this new information, and updating our understandings accordingly. Before your eyes glaze over, let me tell you what I mean.

From day 1, our minds are busy taking in information about our environments and experiences and drawing conclusions about how the world works. Those rules or explanations form our mental modals. They help us understand our world and guide us on how to move through it. 

Take, for example, when COVID first hit. We were all scrambling to update our mental models because the old ones no longer applied. When hugging someone could lead to death, we had to adjust the way we thought about the world.

In the time since then, we've had to update our mental models time and again as our contexts continued to evolve. From the availability of better treatments to more accurate knowledge about transmission to variations in the virus itself, we've had to be flexible and adaptable, learning to quickly view the world and health differently.

Bringing it back to football, I've had to change my mental model of the Chiefs. They no longer suck. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's hard to miss the transition in this case or the pandemic. Sometimes, changes in contexts essentially smack us in the face, and we have no choice but to update our mental models. 

Other times, though, the changes aren't as glaring, and we cling to outdated models, being rigid in ways that can harm us. Think of the middle-aged man who still sees himself as the fit high school quarterback rather than the overweight at-risk for coronary disease man that he is. The person with Imposter Syndrome who fails to see themself as the repeatedly successful professional and struggles with insecurity. The parent who overfunctions for their young adult child. The woman who reacts with fear and distrust to her new partner because she was cheated on by an ex. Clinging to old grudges despite signs of change, clinging to old beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. All of these illustrate holding on to outdated mental models that no longer apply, and all will drive ineffective actions. 

We need to be tuned into the present moment, seeing reality as it is now, not how it was, not assuming that things still line up with our ideas of them. This awareness is such a fundamental aspect of psych strength. Without it, how can we pivot when we need to? How can we be effective? How can we grow? 


Lesson 3: Take joy in others' happiness. 

While I don't personally care about football, I genuinely hope the Chiefs win (sorry, Philadelphia fans) because a victory would mean so much to so many people. When the Chiefs win, their joy is palpable in the streets of Kansas City, and that brings me joy. 

One of my favorite things about Dr. April, my co-founder here at Peak Mind, is how wholeheartedly, authentically happy she is for others' good fortune. I love sharing victories and good news with her because you can see how genuinely excited she is. She's not faking it. She's not just saying the right things. She's as excited for someone else as she would be for herself, and I think that's an incredible strength and something to aspire to. I think we could all take a page out of her book and learn to truly share in others' joy.

To do that, we have to step outside of judgment in order to tap into compassion. If I held on to the judgment that football doesn't matter, just because that's what I happen to believe at this point in my life, and applied it to others, it might sound like, "Football is stupid. Who cares? What a waste of time and energy." Filtering through that judgmental lens, I might be inclined to downplay or demean something that matters to someone else. Ouch. I don't want to be the person who diminishes someone else because of a judgment, an artifact created by my mind.

If, however, I can recognize that football in and of itself isn't good or bad, worthwhile or a waste of time - those sentiments are the judgments we apply to it - then I can be openminded enough to consider that this may be really important to someone else. I can step into their shoes, see the world from their point of view, and tap into the joy that they feel. 

Stepping outside of judgment opens the door for compassion, which is essentially empathy plus a desire to alleviate someone else's suffering. I know how devastated a lot of people will be based on the outcome of the game, and I don't want them to suffer. 

I want to go a bit beyond that, though, and channel Dr. April. I think we'd all do better if we got good at celebrating each others' victories, at sharing in each others' joys.

So whether you're a football fan or not, the Chiefs can teach us a thing or two about living with psychological strength. Here's to their victory...and yours!


"Every experience, good or bad, you have to learn from"
- Patrick Mahomes


Written by Dr. Ashley Smith

Peak Mind Co-founder


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