Creating mental containers

"I'm leaving for nationals in the morning and I keep getting thoughts that are bugging me". The young runner and I had worked together in the past and I was pleased he wanted to come back for a pep talk before his race.  We talked about his excitement and goals for his upcoming race and it became clear that the pressures of what he was embarking on were greater than he had let on.  "What if I don't win, what if I pass out, what if I embarrass myself, what if I give up", became the theme of our session. 
These are typical "sticky thoughts" that plague athletes as pressures arise in training and in competition. A component of mental training involves the ability to recognize these thoughts and  to distance them through different techniques. My work involves strategizing with athletes to recognize the thought,  acknowledge its presence, avoid its pull, create some space thru breath-work and relaxation, and to replace the sticky thought with something more productive (smooth thoughts).  My runner and I weren't left with a lot of time to Implement these skills; they need practice and repetition in various  training and competitive situations to become honed and effective. 
I asked what it felt like in his body when he had these thoughts.  "It feels like a lot of pressure, really heavy and tense, I feel it in my chest and throat". I gave him a stack of post-it notes and asked him to write each sticky thought on a separate note. He came up with seven thoughts that continued to trouble him. 
I usually have containers in my office (unused take-out food boxes work great) but I was out so I grabbed a tissue box and emptied it of all the tissues. I asked him to put all the notes in the box.  "What would it be like to run at nationals while carrying this box? Imagine yourself at the starting line with everyone and you show up with your box." He started to smile. "That would be crazy! It would be heavy and get in my way.  I'd be at a huge disadvantage."  I agreed completely.  
We spent the rest of our session visualizing how to leave that box somewhere before the race, picturing how it would feel NOT to carry a box of pressures and how that box was doing nothing but weighing him down. Securing the thoughts in a real and metaphorical container allowed the athlete to put parameters around his fears and see them only as inhibitors to his performance - nothing he'd ever want to lug around during a race. Creating opportunities for athletes to see the power of their thoughts (both positive and negative ) is crucial for continued success.