This is Part 2 of a 3-part post on mental toughness. To read the first post go to My Journey to the Worlds: Mental Toughness and the Lion.
To recap: In the last post I reiterated the importance of having a solid mental inner game, and how more and more experts are coming to believe our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. To be mentally tough on the outside (performance) you need to be mentally tough on the inside.
Dr. Albaugh shared some new mental toughness techniques with me that work on your inner landscape directly. In this post I’ll describe the process we went through. In the next post I’ll give you my thoughts on how it may work.
Overall, the idea is to use positive imagery association to influence thought and action patterns below the rational thinking level.
Here’s what we did.
In Step One Dr. Albaugh asked me to use words to describe what my experience was like when I was in my ideal playing/competing state. The goal was to write down a number of adjectives to describe what I feel and experience when I’m “in the zone” or flow.
Since I ask this question often when I do my own mental skills clinics with corporate and private groups, and since the answers tend to be amazingly consistent for all groups, it was pretty easy for me to list about 20 adjectives describing my “flow” state. I used words like focused, clear, effortless, timeless, easy, confident, calm, intent, goal oriented, decisive, tension free, energetic, in control, limitless, all things possible, steady, in the moment, one-ness, etc. Odds are your list would look much the same.
Next he had me circle 4 of the words that seemed to sum up and encapsulate the experience best for me. I chose focused, clear, effortless, and confident.
Then he had me create a saying or motto out of the words. The motto had to be present tense and express the ideas as if they were already fact. I wrote: “When I compete I am focused and clear about my objectives and my swing is effortless and confident.”
I liked it.
The next part was where it got really interesting.
In the next step Dr. Albaugh laid out about 40 image cards on the ground. The images are on 8 x 11 card stock, so they took up a lot of room. Each card had a different picture. Some pictures were of nature, some were action shots, some were people. There were animals, buildings, landscapes and more. There was no rhyme or reason to the pictures. My job was to pick 4 of the pictures that represented the adjectives I used to describe my ideal competing state and the motto I created.
As I scanned the cards I tried to find exactly the right pictures for the words I had written. At first it was difficult. None of the pictures quite fit.
But as I thought back to what it felt like to be in the zone and competing at my best, and then scanned the pictures again, I realized I was going about it the wrong way. I was trying to find a picture that matched my rational definition of the four words I had chosen. What I should have been doing was looking for pictures that evoked the same “feeling” that the words represented.
Once I started scanning the pictures again with the idea of connecting at an emotional or “gut” level it became suddenly easy. There were 5 pictures that elicited the “in the zone” feeling, and then on a little more reflection one of them wasn’t quite right. So I had my 4 pictures.
Dr. Albaugh put away the rest of the cards and had me scan the remaining 4 images I had chosen. Then he had me pick the one image that best encapsulated the words and motto I had written.
Again I looked at the pictures to see which one spoke to me more than the rest. Immediately one image stood out: The lion.
Now, I’m sure there are all kinds of Freudian implications and interpretations that could be made based on this or any other picture choice. But that would miss the point too. The point is to create a tool that could help optimize performance.
Once I had my picture selected Dr. Albaugh had me look over the original motto I had created (“When I compete I am focused and clear about my objectives and my swing is effortless and confident”) and compare it to the image of the lion. He asked me to reformulate my motto once again, but to say it based on the feeling or gut reaction elicited by the image.
When I look at that lion I see a calm confidence, a state of relaxation yet one with the potential to erupt into powerful action any instant, and a total sense of being right there, in the moment, at that time and place. Neither in the past nor the future. Just present. By his choice. After a little while staring at the image and thinking about the kinds of reactions I had to it, what emerged was “Master of my world.”
That lion is where he wants to be, doing what he wants to do, totally in the moment, by his own choice. He is his own master, being exactly who he is, and has but to choose to make his world different.
So the last part of the process was to take a picture of the image, write down my new motto on the picture, and then put the picture everywhere – on my computer screen, my phone, in the car, on my desk, on the keychain, by the bed, and everyplace else my eyes would pick it up.
I don’t necessarily have to stare at the picture or repeat the motto 100 times a day, or even spend 5 minutes a day meditating on it. Although I suppose I could if I wanted to. It’s just there. A little reminder. Something to catch out of the corner of my eye. Just seeing it constantly is enough to embed both the image and the motto – and more importantly the recreation of the Zone effect – into my subconscious.
Every time I see that image of the lion I recall my peak performance experience. At first I would stop and recreate the feeling. But the more I see the lion the faster I recall the peak performance association. After a couple of weeks now I’m at the point where I see the image and I’m instantly recalling my flow experience.
So what’s going on? Why would this work?
I’ll give you my interpretation in the next post …