Archive for June, 2011

The Art of Journaling: the Secret Weapon of the Elite Athlete

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Assess and Analyse – What are you Forgetting to Remember?


Historically people have developed the ritual of writing diary entries to keep a record of their feelings, their daily activities and documenting significant events for posterity.

For an athlete or coach, the disciplined and pragmatic habit of keeping a journal can be a vital tool when assessing performance, analysing strategies and developing an effective structure to their game.

Once you have initially set up a strong foundation by designing an order and sequence of recording specific information, the practice of journaling your career has far reaching applications.

In my first contact with a new client, I encourage them to start keeping a detailed journal and spend a fair bit of time in the beginning educating them on the benefits of, not just keeping a regular diary, but a journal that plays a key role in their Mind Coaching programme.

When looking back through journal entries with athletes where we have been working together for a couple of seasons, the results have been both prophetic and astounding, especially in those who have fully embraced the journalling ritual. It’s so rewarding for an athlete to see, especially in some who previously wrote no more than a shopping list on a post-it note prior to our coaching relationship, the time spent reflecting on their own words in their journals is paying them back 10-fold.

The science behind this is quite simplistic: when we ‘think’ something or we ‘commit’ something to our memory, unless we assign it significant importance, it often becomes lost in the diverse, endless pieces of information and events we store in our minds. So the likelihood of us instantly recalling that specific memory when analysing or becoming aware of a cognitive pattern that could significantly impact performance is very low.

Think back to your last training session and try to recall everything you were told, you told yourself, you experienced and observed – how much detail can you truly recall?

Now think back to as little as one week ago or one month ago – how much detailed information can you recall from those sessions? I bet there are massive gaps in your conscious memory? What if the one piece of information that could make all the difference to your next game was lost in the chasms of your memory?

Detailing each session… each recovery… each thought process… each technique… and so on enables you to not only build an accurate picture of how you are going, what is and isn’t working but also enables you to pick up on patterns and emotional triggers long before they become an issue. By creating an effective recording process you will automatically both search and recall in a specifically designed manner, highlighting both abnormalities and learning efficiencies.

The biggest benefit I see in athletes who journal is the motivational boost it provides. A regular read-through of their journal feeds them with instant feedback on how far they have come in such a short space of time. These chronological markers of success breeds greater success – see previous post on feeding the motivation engine for more detail on how this works.

Clearly the secret isn’t only in the way the information is recorded but in the way it is deciphered too, so what are you forgetting to remember!

 

How to Correct Poor Technique and Master Your Perfect Skill in 4 Simple Steps

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Re-patterning Visualisation: Using the ADDA Process (Associated – Disassociated – Disassociated – Associated) allows you to correct poor technique. The key is becoming masterful in perfect practise every time.

Sometimes we find ourselves confronted by a skill we have learnt either inefficiently, or inherited poor technique, or have attached undesirable emotions to it (such as an injury).

The solution is to change the neural pathway to correct the skill.

We can of course break our old blueprint for that skill and completely re-learn the skill again. If time allows, this is the ideal option as it is cleaner, more replicable and more stable.

However often the skill needs to be corrected on the run or within a short period of time. So the next best thing is Re-patterning Visualisation – or ADDA.

The basic process of this technique is to emulate both the analytical and emotional flags and neural pathways associated to a successful technique and cross platform them over to the skill requiring attention. This ‘models’ success and neurologically associates the new skill with the successful skill.

Here is the Simple 4 Step Process to Re-patterning Visualisation:

Step One: Associated

Some basic equipment is useful for this technique: a blindfold and some earplugs. With eyes and ears on (blindfold and earplugs) imagine the best performance of a skill that you ever completed. Completely immerse yourself into that precise moment and associate, look through your own eyes and see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt and acknowledge the success and rewards you received. Completely be there in that moment and really relish in all the details.

 

Step Two: Disassociated

Still with eyes and ears on (blindfold and earplugs) – put yourself in the commentary box. This time replay that successful performance as an observer, or a commentator. As you WATCH your successful performance, precisely explain to a third party exactly the skill-set you demonstrated, outline what made that performance so successful, focus on details, and teach that third party how they can replicate that successful skill.

 

Now we are going to correct
the technique of a skill
that
holds undesirable emotional baggage
or has a very poor
previously learnt technique:

 

 

Step Three: Disassociated

Take one large step forward – still with eyes and ears on (blindfold and earplugs). Think again about the skill that requires re-patterning. As an observer watch the lead up to the skill, discuss how the play is going, again focus on details and where you are and just at the point where the OLD version became the poor technique or held that emotional trigger – reinvent the outcome, continue to describe the event in detail but this time make the skill technically perfect and make it successful with a positive emotional outcome. Continue to describe the event to the third party.

 

Step Four: Associated

Replay the NEW version of the OLD skill seeing from within, completely associate to ‘that’ new event, look through your own eyes and see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt and acknowledge the success and rewards you received. Completely be there in that moment and focus on the specific details.

Visualisation 101: Point to Point Visualisation for Athletes

Friday, June 17th, 2011

When physically practising a sequence or learning a new skill, we have known for many decades that no one learns perfectly the first time.

Completing a skill-set or sequence exactly the same way each and every time, and even escaping physical, emotional and psychological fatigue when working through countless repetitions is beyond human control.

So the reality of learning a ‘perfect’ skill or sequence is unlikely, yet there is a recurring question directed towards athletes every day to be just that – PERFECT – or to continually replicate something they have previously done or achieved or should achieve.

Is it any wonder the burnout rate is escalating in young athletes?

So how do we overcome these high expectations when in reality we know it is physically a mammoth task they are expecting?

For years, athletes and coaches have recognised the huge benefits of visualisation training to hone a specific sequence or skill. You can watch the effects of this technique played out each weekend on pitches, in gyms and poolsides, as athletes are seen with their eyes closed mimicking their skills before they perform them.

As a Mind Coach, on the surface this is an encouraging sight to see, athletes taking mental preparation seriously. I have to wonder, however, have they missed the point, are they really making the most of visualisation’s full potential without consideration of the cognitive training?

From the number of clients contacting our office looking for help, I am inclined to think, perhaps they have [missed the point].

When I first ask a client, be that an athlete, coach or coaching body to show me what specific visualisation training they have been doing – typically they will close their eyes and loosely go through the motions with arms waving and bodies twitching as they vaguely picture themselves doing whatever it is they are trying to perfect. This form of visualisation is basic ‘point to point’ visualisation – and unfortunately normally done exceptionally badly.

To visualise winning a race or completing a skill, or remembering a sequence is one thing, but if it is done one-dimensionally, from an observational distance (disassociated) and with little attention to detail – we know irrespective if it is a perfect technique or a sloppy technique – it will be imbedded into our neurology with the same intensity and same neural paths.  So best to make it a good one!

Visualisation is a much broader, deeper and far more effective tool than just waving your arms and body around with your eyes closed and hoping you are neurally flagging a blueprint for success.

  • It has applications that can hone the exact technique of a specific skill or a complete routine
  • It can correct and free areas of past emotionally damaged – those which have heavy emotional attachment such as those associated to injury or disappointment
  • You can learn high risk physical skills without ever putting yourself at physical risk of injury or even death
  • It can help you control your heart rate, your oxygen intake and distribution
  • It can lower anxiety, raise adrenaline levels, cement strategy, set neural patterns of rhythm and many, many more practical applications

… if applied correctly.

It can be as complex or as simple as you like and the only boundaries to its effectiveness is your own imagination, dedication and knowledge.

Visualisation, I believe, is one of the most misunderstood and under utilised skill-sets available in sport today. Many athletes have dabbled in it at one time or another as a tool. However, people are typically unaware of it’s hidden potential or how to really maximise on it’s effectiveness, so is left out of the mainstream coaching / training structure.

It really is the ‘cousin nobody talks about’.

So how do we realise the full potential of this skill we call visualisation?

The first thing to recognise is we have been visualising since childhood. As highly visually stimulated young children we play-out scenarios in our mind to work out the most effective option available to us, which has less risk and which one will please others.

If we are born so highly visual, it makes sense that we use mental pictures more than any other sense to give us a realistic perspective of our situation and then problem solve.

So when decision making, our subconscious will play a multitude of visual options to us, being as specific as possible, including benefits and drawbacks, past experiences and externally observed scenarios – then when the decision has been made, our brains will again replay the winning option for confirmation and loading it up as a viable option in our subconscious.

This is constantly building new neural pathways in our neurology, ones that we will then store and utilise in the future – If faced with that or similar situation again.

Our brains constantly search for a viable, already established option before looking to actively problem solve and build a new path – its incredibly efficient that way. So the skill of visualisation is nothing new to any of us, is highly effective and time efficient. However, creating the conscious mechanics of visualisation is new!

We tend to go wrong with this form of cognitive training if we allow our unchecked and highly creative imagination to run wild, rewriting our pragmatic decisions with emotionally charged disasters. We do this based on our creative potential to imagine the worst possible outcomes, to create crazy scenarios and manufacture our own personal dramas.

Yes, that’s right we create the issues we most fear and want to avoid long before they could ever be a reality. And we cannot not think of what we are thinking of, so subconsciously we gravitate towards those disasters at an uncontrollable rate of knots.

Rather than thinking “How do I make this the most effective and efficient pattern possible?”, we think “What if I fall, trip, lose, die or even worse – embarrass myself?”

All based on emotional triggers rather than skill-set, and on fictitious outcomes not yet a reality rather than reality itself. And as they are so emotionally tagged they are slotted into our outcomes with ease and self generated importance.

So what are the effective mechanics of visualisation, and how do we keep the creative ‘emotion monster’ at bay – leaving the pragmatic stepping stones of success to lead us forward?

Well, the secret to effective and replicable visualisation is in the detail and making the practice as realistic as the event!

We have five senses to satisfy in order to paint a perfect picture. They are our Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Gustatory and Olfactory senses and each are an important piece of the puzzle that make up the big picture convincer.

By creating an environment that is as realistic to the desired outcome as possible allows our brain to create an accurate neural flag and pathway. This will also increase our chances of having our mind select that created pattern when called upon in the real situation.

How do we create the perfect template?

1. In the details – Gather as much information as possible, for example, if you race F1, get a detailed map of the track; the weather forecast for race day; find out the optimal approach for each corner, down each straight; the optimal time to drop a gear and accelerate away and when to hold back; build a neural success strategy (KPIs or motivation milestones); design a verbal chant or verbal sequence that calms you down or enables you to focus.

2. The specifics of the set-up – Sit in your vehicle, with the vibrations of the engine rippling through your body; wear your racing suit, gloves, shoes and helmet etc; smell the high-octane fuel in the air; and the sound of other vehicles around you.

3. Then visualise – your race down to the last gear change, every twist and turn of the track, the language pattern you tell yourself in your mind, the neural success points you have set, you coming across the finish-line and the reward you give yourself for winning the race.

Visualise this first from a spectators point of view (or imagine watching yourself from a hovering helicopter) seeing yourself doing these very strategic and specific maneuvers and skills. Then complete the same visualisation again, seeing the race from your own eyes – looking out over the proceedings.

The first disassociated observation will allow you to clinically observe perfect technique without any emotional discoloration before becoming emotionally associated to the perfect performance – making it both replicable and memorable.

It is then you will have as near to perfect replicable neural pattern as possible.

And all without error, fatigue or any real chance of injury.

 

 

 

So to recap – The 10 Steps to creating the perfect point to point visualisation:

1. Gather as much specific information as possible about the end objective

2. Create as realistic an environment as possible

3. Build neural success points into the picture (Milestones)

4. Design a verbal chant or verbal sequence

5. Tick the box for each and every sense, same clothes, same smells, same sounds, same feelings, same weather etc

6. First visualise the event from a disassociated perspective (From the sideline or from above)

7. Then visualise the event from within yourself, see what you would see, hear what you would hear, feel what you would feel, smell and taste what you would taste

8. Be as specific as humanly possible about the visualisation

9. Make it as replicable as you can

10. Repeat until you feel comfortable that it is in your head – then do it one more time!

11. The Bonus point – Reward yourself for your achievement. This will stimulate the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, the body’s pleasure chemicals. This natural high will cement the emotional trigger required to replicate for the same reward.

These are the basics to visualisation and we are only just getting warmed up! Stay tuned for future posts as we dig deeper into how visualisation can transform YOUR performance.

I’m An Addict: Happy Drugs to Create Kick-Ass Confidence in Your Sport

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

 

“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”
~ Vince Lombardi

Confidence in both the coach and athletes is a hot topic, something associated with both our success and our downfalls. Our confidence is something that needs to be managed just as pragmatically as we manage our physical fitness and diet.

Some coaches and athletes however view the psychology of confidence as a taboo subject, thinking if they don’t talk about it, mention the word ‘confidence’ let alone prepare and nurture it then it won’t break!

Confidence is not a fragile entity to be tip-toed around – it is a system, a replicable system of specific neurological triggers and chemical stimulants in our bodies. It deserves our full attention!

Confidence

In most cases, I have found confidence issues are a lack of  — or a stalling of — positive forward momentum.

 

What I mean by this is – our confidence and motivation is fuelled by consistent injections of success, each and every time we succeed at something – no matter how small – we are neurologically rewarded for our trouble.

We are rewarded with generous doses of serotonin and dopamine – this concoction of naturally derived happy drugs are supplied by our own bodies as a recognition of achievement.

Serotonin and Dopamine (like many other natural chemicals) are highly stimulating and exceptionally addictive. Our brain likes this reward system and wants more and more of it, so urges us forward to the next success and reward point – eagerly waiting for the next big hit.

Whilst it is our subconscious brains that have a higher understanding of what we are actually capable of – it is our conscious filtration system that normally ‘plays safe’ and pulls us back into a conservative line.

This natural high feeds our confidence, and sometimes fools our conscious mind into thinking we could, and should, take on more and more challenging tasks to gain the higher reward.

Many top athletes speak of being caught up in the moment, feeling un-stoppable and almost superhuman when at their peak. The reward driven highs becoming ‘the norm’ and a constant flooding of neural stimulants keeps them there.

(This is also part of the reason why retiring athletes struggle to maintain the stimulation in their after sport life – but that is a whole other topic  we will cover in another post!)

Where the wheels fall off this gravy train is if we STOP or lose this positive forward momentum of natural rewards.

If we stop acknowledging our successes, we begin to suffer withdrawal from our happy drugs – like a drug addict without the next fix this begins to reinforce our subconscious doubts over our ability to ever again ‘score’ or succeed and be rewarded. The next logical steps elude us, we lose direction, focus and perspective.

The longer the period of time where our reward cravings are not met the bigger the desire is to have that ‘hit’ and the more important that next success becomes. All this does is increase our anxiety levels and feeds the emotional monster.

These gorged emotions cloud our skill-set, our cognitive clarity and our perception on our ability to succeed.

And so a perpetual cycle of failure is born.

Breaking this slippery downward cycle and restoring forward upward momentum is just as systematic a process as the creation of the problem in the first place.

After all, our confidence is fuelled by our success, acknowledgment and our neural-reward!

And as this feeds the motivation engine, the strategy is simple:

1. Start setting small achievable goals, acknowledging them along the way.

2. Reward yourself again and again – it gains traction in the motivation game, like stoking the fire of a steam engine the more fuel you put in the better the results that come out.

And so, instead of feeding a perpetual cycle of failure, we are maintaining a perpetual cycle of success.