Thursday, 24 July 2014

Watch what you say

Have you ever considered what impact the words you use have on the way you represent the world in your mind? Our language colours our perception throughout the day and impacts on our self-belief, our behaviour, our confidence and our emotions. When we think about the future, for instance, we play an internal movie representing how we expect that future to be (or less visual people play a radio show). Our words play an important role in our internal representations as they are effectively the script of the movie. The words that we use mostly in day to day life will therefore determine the kinds of movie we play. If we constantly use negative words such as  ‘worry’, ‘fear’, ‘anxiety’ and ‘stress’, we end up creating disaster movies in our minds. .

An experiment was carried out at New York University where subjects were primed with words associated with old age by getting them to rearrange cards with individual words on them to form a sentence. Each of the sentences included words such as ‘worried’, ‘forgetful’, ‘bingo’, ‘lonely’, ‘grey’ and ‘Florida’ (if you’ve been to Florida you will know why), all words which could be associated with the elderly. Waiting outside the room where the priming took place were researchers who secretly timed each of the subjects as they made their way to the room at the beginning of the experiment and as they left the building at the end. Interestingly, the ‘old age’ words seemed to have a profound effect on the subjects as they were significantly slower leaving the room as they had been when they arrived.

If you want to be happy, excited, fulfilled, relaxed or motivated, make sure your script is the right one!

Andy Barton
Performance consultant

Friday, 11 July 2014

Think yourself fit

Even after many years working in the field of mental performance I am still in awe of the extraordinary power of the mind. Certainly the one thing that seems to unite elite sports performers, no matter what their chosen sport is, is that they all possess unusually vivid imaginations. It is what allows them to see, hear and feel things that us mere mortals are not able to that sets them apart in a competitive situation.

One way of exploiting a powerful imagination is to use mental rehearsal techniques essentially to train the mind and body to perform skills successfully. When we imagine performing a skill, we actually fire up an almost identical pattern of neural response to when we are actually performing the skill itself. When Rory Mcllroy is lining up a golf shot, he mentally rehearses it by using all of his senses to imagine the look, sound and feeling of the shot in his mind before actually playing the shot. As he imagines it, he fires up the required neurons and muscles that are involved in the shot, effectively programming it in to his mental computer.  The more vividly he imagines the shot, the better the programming is.

One study carried out in Cleveland, Ohio compared people who went to the gym with people who imagined being at the gym and having a virtual workout.  The participants who actually went to the gym over a 3 month period increased their muscle mass by an average of 30%. Interestingly, the participants who only did the virtual workout and lifted no weights at all, still managed to increase their muscle mass by an average 13.5%.

So if you want that six pack before you go away for your summer holidays, all you have to do is use a little imagination!

Andy Barton
Performance consultant

Friday, 4 July 2014

Chilled or pumped? It’s a personal thing

I don’t know whether you have been absorbed with the World Cup as much as I have but I just love it when it gets to the knock out phase where it becomes a real test of mental and physical strength and determination. At this point of the competition, coaches have very little need to get their players ‘pumped up’ as, in most cases, the players are going to be highly stressed already. This is where a coach really needs to have a good understanding of his players individually because we all perform at our best at different arousal levels so some players like to be really pumped up but others will perform much better when they are at lower arousal levels. If a coach takes a one size fits all approach and does a stirring pep talk for the whole team which gets their hearts beating fast, their hands tingling and their heads spinning, it may be of benefit to maybe 3 or 4 players but for the rest it could end up having the opposite effect to that intended.

When I used to play rugby (many years ago!), before the match started in the changing room, the whole team would form a circle, link arms and gradually crank up the excitement as we shouted louder and louder counting from one to ten whilst stamping faster and faster onto the concrete floor. Those who managed to avoid turning their ankles then ran out onto the field whipped up like a bunch of crazed warriors ready for action. Except for me, it seemed. Such frenzied displays did nothing for me and so I would spend the next few minutes actually calming myself down before the match started as I realised even back then that I played much better when I was more relaxed.

One of my clients experienced this state of over-arousal when he made it to his first Cup Final. Normally a very confident player, after a heartfelt speech from his coach somewhere on the lines of Shakespeare’s Henry V, he then made his way down the tunnel at Wembley and as he saw the crowd and heard the roar, the whole occasion got to him. He was just too pumped up to perform and he spent the largest part of the match in a state of paralysis.

It is essential to recognise that everyone is different and so it is important to work with people on an individual basis if we want to get the best out of them. By helping individuals tap into what is that makes them tick, we can go a long way to get sports performers into the right frame of mind to perform to their best.

At this stage of the competition, the team who wins the World Cup may just be the one with the coach who understands his players the best.

Andy Barton
Performance Consultant
The Sporting Mind