Enhancing quantum performance

I am constantly being asked questions about the psychology of performance and the ‘state of mind’ that is necessary to ensure success in competition.

Many athletes adopt a mechanical approach to their mental preparation. Specific goals are set which the athlete then strives to achieve. While this sort of approach offers structure and clarity for the athlete, I feel that it only taps into the logical part of the brain. Further, this approach is outcome based and does not embrace the fluidity and ever changing nature of competition.

Exceptional performance that catapults the athlete onto a new level requires an added dimension that incorporates an approach that taps into imagery and creativity. This approach is based in a philosophy of quantum thinking in which mental energy is seen as having properties similar to water, where multiple levels of thinking are integrated into a holistic focus.

The nature of this approach is nonverbal, intuitive and story-like in which ideas generate powerful meaning that the athlete can connect with. In line with this way of thinking, photographs, images and/or meaningful stories can help crystalise mental energy that will help the athlete reach higher levels of performance in a spontaneous and creative way.

On a recent walk I took three photographs that best illustrate ideas regarding the integration of three mental processes, that if one taps into, will assist the athlete during the unfolding process of competition.

Three inter-connected mental components form the holistic model that embraces quantum thinking. These three components should co-exist and be utilised at the appropriate time, depending on the nature of the challenge that is being encountered:

  1. The optimism and joy of a dog on a walk
  2. The alertness of a cat ready to pounce
  3. The freedom and flow of a bird in flight

In a conversation with an iron man triathlete, I was explaining that it was necessary to remain present in the unfolding moment of competition. The three dynamics mentioned above, are ever present during the race.

There needs to be an overall optimism in the way that one approaches and deals with challenges, particularly in the tough, down periods of a race. Remaining connected to the joy of a dog on a walk supports the athlete at times when doubts, despondency or fears creep in.

A cat that is ready to pounce is in a proactive state of readiness. The alertness of a cat helps the athlete deal with the unexpected. To be successful, it is important to trust your abilities and to respond immediately and spontaneously to a threatening or challenging moment. In order to respond in such a way, the athlete needs to be in a concentrated state of alertness, where nothing is taken for granted. Nothing should distract the athlete from the present moment of focus.

Many athletes go into competition with a definite, structured game-plan having specific outcomes. While this may offer the athlete security, the challenge during competition is to be able to adapt and be flexible to change. Trusting your instincts and being able to change strategy at critical moments of the unfolding process is a skill that champions possess. If the mindset is too rigid, the athlete is likely to hold onto a game-plan that was formulated before the start of the race, but may no longer be working due to changing conditions and/or opponents that have found a way to neutralise or defeat you.

In summary, the table below captures the holistic, and integrated mental state that will offer you the best chance of a quantum performance:

Aligns you to:

Counters:  

Dog on a walk

Optimism, Joy, Support

Despondency, Fear, Stress

Cat ready to pounce

Alertness, Concentration, Discipline, Stillness

Lethargy, Complacency, Distraction

Bird in flight

Flexibility, Flow, Freedom, Creativity

Rigidity, Tightness, Limitation

The column of counters highlight the mental challenges that negative energy activates. If you are feeling despondent during competition, then tapping into the theme of walking the dog will help you. If you become aware that you are getting too tight or rigid in how you are approaching the challenges, then linking to birds in flight will offer you the necessary flexibility of movement to navigate around the obstacle.

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Each new day begins with a sunrise, that brings light and warmth.

A new beginning or a new way depends on new insights that help direct your energy into a new direction. The model above does not only apply to elite athletes that are constantly working on expanding their expertise and skills to master taxing challenges in the heat of competitive battle.

A client of mine revealed that she was aligning herself to the themes of freedom, fearlessness and joy, as part of her change process, in how she wanted to live her life going forward. She stated that she wanted to better utilise and embrace opportunities that crossed her path. Such is the way to lead a more fulfilling life where your light can shine in its own uniqueness.

Shine your light in winter

Growth is not possible during a severe winter. The predominant concern for all living things during this period is one of survival.

Metaphorically, I feel that we are in a global spiritual winter at the moment. This feeling is exacerbated by the way many political leaders are conducting themselves at present. Ethics have given way to lies, corruption and manipulation. In the process, trust no longer exists and hope fades quickly as the harshness of the winter reality hits everyone. Darkness descends, and the possibility of sustainable growth wanes as the system struggles to sustain the values of honesty, courage and compassion. There are many weak enablers that add to (and benefit from) the wintery conditions; running and hiding for shelter while looking after their own comforts.

Over the weekend, I was outdoors taking photographs of the snow, wintery landscape. In late afternoon, I walked passed a small field of dead sunflowers as the sun was trying to break through the dense cloud cover. As the rays gained strength and penetrated the cover ever so slightly, I felt light and joyful.

As I looked at the sunflowers, I knew that each one of them contained the seeds of new life. The potential energy of growth existed in the seeds that lay dormant during winter. Nature is self-generating and in times of winter, it is not necessary to lose hope in a future that is still to unfold.

As the sun broke through, I was reminded of how light changes one’s perspective. During cold wintery days, everyone hankers after light. Feeling the warmth of the sun, just for a couple of minutes, helps to lift the spirit.

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When reflections in the water are added to light, the snowscape is enhanced dramatically.

Walking in the wintery landscape in Germany over this weekend helped remind me of the power of light and reflection when interacting with others and dealing with challenging situations.

Shining one’s light in wintery conditions lifts spirits. Being emotionally light, honest, compassionate and courageous in one’s relationships brings warmth and hope to others.

Framing your vision

Creating and defining the realities that you experience in life, can be likened to taking photographs.

Your mind is full of snap shots. Each of these snap shots are framed, which helps to provide clarity and order in how you see and interpret your experiences. Frames define and direct where you look, helping to give meaning to your experiences.

The frame that you place around a particular snap shot, is self-constructed, and is determined by your beliefs, assumptions and perceptions. Knowing this, will help to liberate you from a restrictive view point, since this realisation will offer you the chance to frame your old snap shots in different ways.

In helping my clients resolve some of their emotional or interpersonal difficulties, I have seen how problems have a way of narrowing their vision. The frame that is placed around ‘the problem’, tends to prevent them from seeing the array of possibilities that exist outside of the frame. The frame acts as a boundary that keeps their eyes rigidly locked into one particular perspective. This tends to tighten and intensify where they look and what they see.

There is an old castle not too far from where I live. A couple of months ago I took a photograph using a wide angle lens. It was a misty morning as I looked south towards the Alps. I decided to do a black and white conversion of the photograph.

Into the distance
Into the distance

Last week, I went back to the old castle and again looked south to see the Alps in the distance. It was a clear morning and as I framed my shot I decided to use a telescopic lens. The early morning sun rays were starting to shine over the tiny village in the foreground.

Into the distance

As a therapist, I have become sensitive not only to how my clients frame their problems but also to how I am framing what I am hearing and seeing in the stories that they are sharing with me. This awareness has helped open up my vistas as I encounter the vast array of complex snap shots being shared with me.

Seeing is believing: In search of the beavers

I had been sitting patiently at the wetlands along the Rhine for about two hours waiting to photograph some of the birds that frequent the river. The place was beautiful, with mist hanging over the tree tops. To the naked eye, however, it seemed as if all living creatures had abandoned this part of the river.

I had seen another photographer in the distance also waiting patiently for nothing to happen. I was about to leave when he walked across and joined me for some conversation. We spoke about photography in general, and more specifically about our experiences photographing nature and wildlife. He told me that there were beavers in this area, yet he had never seen them. I asked him how he knew. He said that the farmer had told him, since his crops had been eaten by them. However, the farmer had also not seen them. He knew that there were beavers since there were trails of bits and pieces of crop that were left between the farmland and the river, in the mornings.

He then proceeded to take me on a guided tour along the river showing me evidence of the existence of the beavers. He pointed out burrowed tunnels on the bank of the river. He showed me the trails of foliage across the gravel cycle path that separated the farmland and the river. He also showed me huge sculptured indentations on the trunks of large poplar trees. As I looked at the trees, I couldn’t imagine an experienced lumberjack doing a better job of chopping the trunk with such grooved precision.

As I was shown all of evidence, I felt a strong desire to see and photograph the beavers. Being told and shown evidence of their existence was not enough for me. I needed to witness and experience the beavers for myself. As a psychologist, I knew that the most effective way to learn about anything is to move into the experiential domain and to personally witness and observe what is being spoken about. Telling and showing are only secondary levels of the learning process. The primary and most impactful level of learning is to go through an experiential process.

Many years ago, I saw a film called Searching for Sugar Man, which documented the search for the poetic singer Rodriguez, who had disappeared into obscurity after producing a chart winning album.

After reading up about beavers and their habitat, I felt compelled to go back to the wetlands in search of the illusive beavers. Beavers are nocturnal rodents, but can be seen at dawn or dusk. In the 1900’s, they were hunted to near extinction for their coats. They were reintroduced into a number of European countries in 1960-1970.

Before sunrise every morning for a week, I sat patiently waiting for the beavers.

My first sighting felt surreal. The beaver seemed to emerge out of nothingness, swimming across my line of vision. Throughout the week, the sightings were sporadic as they swam passed me, or emerged from the burrows on the opposite bank of the river. There was only one morning in the week that I did not see them. I felt satisfied that my search for the beavers was so richly rewarded. I now knew that they definitely existed. Seeing was truly believing.

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On the balcony – Reflection

Zurich put on a beautiful fireworks display to usher in the New Year.

Zurich - heralding in the New Year
Zurich – heralding in the New Year
Zurich - Welcome 2015
Welcome 2015!

Being on the balcony seems in the distant past. While there is a part of me that wants to leave it there (especially since I have been away), I did commit to do a reflection of the process in order to tease out some of my most significant learning. I want to honour that commitment.

How it started

The first thought that I have as I begin writing, is that the project started as a personal, private endeavour. I took my first photograph looking out into the distant, expansive East. After taking the photograph, I remember reading about a photographer who took (I think) 30 photographs of the same scene, in the same place, at the same time, and looked at the change that unfolded across the photographs taken. While this activated my thinking regarding the project, I felt I needed a slightly different challenge. I did not feel inspired to always set up the camera in the same way, with the same lens, and take the same scene with the same camera settings.

As I looked out from the balcony, my predominant thought was that there was so much in front of me. I wondered what I would capture if I took 30 photographs from the same place (on the balcony) and at the same time period (18h00 – 19h00)? There was a vast, complex sea of visual information that surrounded me. The question of where my eyes would look and what photograph would emerge intrigued me.

I wanted the process to expand and challenge my usual ways of looking at the world.

After taking my first 3 or 4 photographs, only then did I decide to share my experience through my blog articles. As part of my blog, I also decided to extend the challenge and see what meaningful life lesson (if any) would be triggered by the photograph that I had taken.

Walking onto the balcony

Before walking onto the balcony, I never could anticipate what photograph I would take. So I could not plan for each day. In fact, the process called for me to do the opposite and walk onto the balcony with no preconceived thoughts about what would unfold.

As I walked onto the balcony, I thought of myself as a blank, clean canvass that was going to be imprinted. I needed to be open to what the visual field would offer me.

Being on the balcony

Once I stepped onto the balcony, my intention was to create. A significant part of the creative process is performance. On a basic level, performance and creation are processes that have an end result. Since the end result is a consequence of the dynamic interaction between oneself and the environment (while doing a task or playing a game against an opposition), it is impossible to know exactly what the end product would be.

On a general level, I experienced one of three emotional and mental states during the creation (performance) process. Before walking onto the balcony, I could not predict what mental and emotional process I would go through. In other words, I never knew what was in store for me.

  1. There were about 5/6 photographs that I almost instantaneously knew that I would take as soon as I stepped onto the balcony. It was as if my visual and mental system connected immediately to a certain aspect of the vast visual field that was flirting with me. It acted as a magnet, which seemed to result in an immediate picture in my mind, which in turn, gave me clarity of how the photograph should be. These were powerful synergistic moments, where little effort or thought was required to take the photograph. I was mentally clear, emotionally calm and had no doubts that my mental map and the actual photograph (end product) would match. This could be defined as the calm, clear, knowing state that is in touch with the unfolding reality just before it manifests itself. It can be likened to a premonition.
  2. There were other days when I just sat and looked around not knowing if I would be able to get a photograph. I found myself searching and looking around to see what I could photograph. It was hard work during these times since I seemed to be consciously forcing the process. I was trying too hard. I felt an inner panic as I searched. This process was emotionally taxing.
  3. There were times, when I patiently sat on the balcony, not knowing, yet not worrying about what sort of photograph would emerge. This was a calm, not-knowing emotional and mental state. While waiting patiently in this state, something invariably jumped out of the visual field and caught my eye. It was as if the visual world presented me with a gift.

To expand further, if I had to quantify the percentage of each of the above states that I found myself in, I would say approximately 20% (6 out of 30 photographs) was in the clear, knowing state; about 50% was in the panicked, not-knowing state; while 30% was in the patient, calm, not-knowing state.

The second state was more dynamic, fluid and/or chaotic than the other two states. The challenge for me was to see if I could shift my panic into a more calmer place. I would guess that I was probably successful in about 33% of the cases. For the rest, I had to learn to live and embrace my unease as the process unfolded (and not to panic about the panic). This is a mental skill that many top athletes possess: the ability to embrace the internal panic without dropping the standard of their performance.

Despite being in one or other of these states, I was still able to produce a satisfactory, meaningful photograph at the end of every day. If I had known this before, it may have helped me to relax more in those times when I had so much doubt about not being able to produce anything.

Taking the photographs

My first and last photographs were the easiest. The first photograph was an obvious one. Our eyes always see the obvious first. As I walked onto the balcony for my last photograph, I knew that I wanted to incorporate and capture all that was before me. While it may not have been obvious, my mindset was very clear about what I wanted to do. My clear mindset, created a clear picture that could be translated through my eyes into my environment, to create the photograph that I envisioned.

On some days, I took a number of shots of one particular scene (maybe using different lenses and focal lengths) and then decided on the best one once I had loaded them onto my computer.

On other days, I took some shots of one scene, then changed my focus and shot another scene and so on; eventually arriving at a scene that felt right to me.

I noticed a number of patterns while on the balcony. There were bird patterns, plane patterns, sun and moon movement patterns. Certain birds, for example, flew overhead at approximately the same time every day, flying in the same direction. Once I had photographed a plane, for example, the possibility of taking a photograph of another plane was excluded in the future. This was a self-imposed decision that I took since I did not want repetition and instead, wanted my photographs to reflect the diversity of reality that surrounded me. While this decision made it more difficult for me since I was reducing my options over time, it forced me to look in different places thus opening up other possibilities.

Taking the photographs reminded me of the mining and exploration process (for resources). In the beginning, you have a vast expanse of easily accessible resource. But as time moves on, you are challenged more and more to refine your search of the resource since you have already consumed or exhausted what was easily accessible.

Loading the photographs on the computer

The number of photographs taken on each day varied. Understandably, there were more photographs taken on those days when I was consciously searching for a scene to take. It was as if my panic had increased my efforts and in turn increased the quantity of photographs taken.

However, having taken more photographs did not seem to improve my chances of finding better quality. The idea of just shooting as much as you can to eventually find the winner did not apply to me.

The life message of the photograph

The life message jumped out at me as I saw the photograph that I wanted to post in my blog article. For me, the words and the image seemed to complement each other. I felt that this integration helped to convey a meaningful message.

Recently, I spent an afternoon in a skate park in Zurich. Taking some photographs of one of the skateboarders reminded me of the excitement, challenge and joy of the creative process. Outstanding performance has no limits, it is an ongoing endeavour.

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On the balcony – Part 5

12 December 2014

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Looking out west

Today was going to be the 25th photograph in the project. As I walked onto the balcony I was aware that I had yet to take a photograph looking out west.

The vision out towards the east is more expansive, while the view towards the west is more restrictive. Given this, my dominant tendency (and perspective) was to look out towards the east. Setting my camera to face west, was breaking my dominant perspective.

13 December 2014

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A gift

One of my wife’s students gave her this Christmas reindeer as a year end gift to thank her for everything she had done. Giving a gift is an act of appreciation and gratitude.

My wife was inside putting up some Christmas decorations. She joined me on the balcony and playfully placed the little reindeer in the bush. She had brought me a gift to photograph. We smiled as I focused the camera on the little reindeer. One of the most powerful gifts we can give to others is a smile.

14 December 2014

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Same and different

I took this photograph of a small succulent plant we have on the balcony. Each stalk is unique, yet has the same structure.

As humans, we are unique. Yet, we are no different from each other regarding our basic needs. In addition, each one of us needs acknowledgement, respect and most importantly love, to grow.

We all have 24hours available to us each day we live. Our uniqueness unfolds depending on how we utilise this time.

For me, the photograph also reflects over-population and lack of space, which lies at the heart of our biggest global concern.

15 December 2014

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My neighbour

Sitting on the balcony, looking at me on the balcony.

In South Africa, we tend to live behind high walls, which separates us from our neighbours. The challenge is to re-connect to our neighbours and to build communities that are supportive and respectful.

16 December 2014

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Taking care

The garden below is beautiful.

Processes that are taken care of, usually result in beautiful outcomes.

17 December 2014

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Integrating everything around me

Today is the last day of my project. As I walked on the balcony I knew what type of photograph I would like to take, but I didn’t know how it would turn out. I needed to wait until it was dark.

I wanted to include all that exists before me in a single photograph.

Integrative thinking connects parts into a complex unified whole.

On the balcony – Part 4

4 December 2014

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Shine your light

Eskom has been load shedding, and candles are playing a bigger and bigger role in South African lives. Candles bring light into darkness.

The candle on the table on the balcony reminds us to shine our light when interacting with others.

Life is not always easy and we may encounter many dark moments. Candle light in darkness can be likened to a lighthouse during a storm where visibility and navigation is severely impaired as ships pass by. The candle light reminds us to always try to see ourselves in our highest light, especially during those difficult times in life.

5 December 2014

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Moon energy

I took this photograph at 18h46 on the 5 December. It preceded the full moon, which was to occur at 14h25 in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 6 December 2014.

I have been told that from an astrological perspective, that this full moon is in Gemini. According to astrologers, it is time to celebrate your life, and even your smallest accomplishments are worth noting. As you focus on what is working in your life, a positive energy is awakened allowing good things to flow to you. In addition, it is recommended that you open your heart and speak your truth and also make space to receive the truth of others.

The moon reflects the yielding feminine or yin energy in each one of us, and reminds us to be gentle and caring in our relationships with others.

The moon also rules our emotional, and at times, darker, shadow side which we tend to repress and deny. To feel whole and integrated, the full moon reminds us of the necessity to acknowledge and embrace the darker side of who we are.

6 December 2014

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Confusion and not-knowing

This was the third consecutive evening that Eskom was load shedding. Coupled with this, there was a huge storm developing in the East.

For this photograph, I decided on a long shutter speed and then panned across the horizon to cause the blur to reflect confusion, uncertainty and not-knowing. These are mental states that are activated when we confront problems and/or paradoxes that life throws in our path.

I knew that the beautiful full moon was shining brightly behind the clouds. I just couldn’t see it.

7 December 2014

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A rainbow the next day

How quickly things change. Yesterday the air was laden with dust, confusion and uncertainty. Now a beautiful rainbow. A rainbow is synonymous with having a dream. But there is no easy short cut to success. A dream will only be realised if you are prepared to do the hard work to get there. In particular, this applies to young aspiring athletes who want to reach the top in international sport.

8 December 2014 – Out of town

9 December 2014 – Out of town

10 December 2014

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A healthy ecosystem

Many birds fly over the balcony. Above, an African sacred ibis flew by.

A healthy ecosystem supports a complex web of inter-connections of all living things. The diversity of birds flying around remind us of this living web. We are only part of this web. We do not own the web.

Unfortunately, many species are threatened by man’s actions.

11 December 2014

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Thumbs-up attitude

I was standing on the balcony contemplating today’s photograph when Freddy, our complex maintenance manager, walked past. I enjoy interacting with Freddy. He is optimistic and always approaches issues with a thumbs-up attitude. A couple of days ago I was talking to Freddy about the nature of problems and how as humans, we tend to create the very problems that we then seek to solve. Freddy’s comment to me: ‘Don’t trouble the trouble until the trouble troubles you’.