The theory of ironic processes of mental control (Wegner, 1994) is reviewed in the context of typical issues confronted by sport psychology professionals. The theory maintains that mental control is achieved through the interaction of an operating process directed toward achieving thoughts, emotions, and actions that are consistent with particular goal states, and a monitoring process for identifying inconsistencies with the goal state, insuring that any threat to the operating process is recognized and handled accordingly. Moreover, mental control normally functions at a satisfactory level, but under conditions of cognitive load, the likelihood of effective self-regulation is reduced. Given the load-inducing circumstances of sport and exercise participation, reasons for the occasional failure of mental control in these settings are offered. Traditional and current sport psychology issues and interventions are interpreted considering the theory of ironic processes, with specific reference to imagery, self-confidence, pain perception, mood state regulation, anxiety, and attention.
Christopher M. Janelle is with the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Florida, 110 Florida Gym, Gainesville, FL 32611.
I would like to thank Robert Singer, Heather Hausenblas, Doug Barba, Brian Focht, Derek de la Pena, and Lester Bouchard for their suggestions on the original version of this paper. I am also grateful to Peter Crocker and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful insight and valuable input in revising the manuscript.