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.

IMG_3938-HDR

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.

Galloping into 2014

In the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the year of the horse. In it’s wild, untamed state, the horse is a noble, independent animal that enjoys the freedom of movement.

Chincoteague and Assateague are islands, situated on the Atlantic east coast of Virginia, USA are known for their herds of wild horses. On a recent trip to Assateague I wondered if I would be lucky enough to spot one of these elusive horses. As it so happened I was gifted with a rare sighting.

A wild horse on Assateague island
A wild horse on Assateague island

While travelling to Assateague the car broke down. We were forced to re-plan, to deal with this mishap. Being stranded in an unfamiliar place kicked up anxiety. We felt vulnerable. It is only in times such as this that one realizes how important having independent transport is and how this enhances and supports ones feelings of security and strength. However, after hiring a car and having lost a large chunk of time we were back on the road towards our destination.

After this hiccup in our journey there was discussion in the car, about modes of travel, horses, and hindrances in reaching our destination.

We were only staying one night on the island of Chincoteague, since Assateague was a nature reserve that did not offer any accommodation.

While standing on the balcony of the hotel room in Chincoteague, I looked to my left. It was just before sunrise, overcast and cold. I focused on a house in the distance that was on the edge of the water. Above the house, the clouds filled the sky. The was no possibility for a single sun ray to penetrate the thick cloudy blanket. The water in front of the house was still. It offered a perfect mirror to create a dreamy, fluffy reflection that matched everything that existed above.

Looking to the left just before sunrise
Looking to the left just before sunrise

After an outing, I returned to my room mid-morning. Once again standing on the balcony, I looked out to the right. A beautiful perspective of lines and simplicity was in front of me. The full blanket of clouds had broken. The natural clear blue sky was coming through. A bridge surrounded by a strip of golden coloured reeds and marshy vegetation separated the distant sky from the still water.

Looking to the right at mid-morning, 10h30
Looking to the right at mid-morning

Perspective and point-of-view are what determines our explanations and interpretations of the experiences we have in our lives. As we gallop into the new year, we will no doubt encounter our challenges and mishaps. Our journeys may be temporarily halted. It is during such times that we need to be aware of our perspective. The two perspectives standing on the balcony highlighted the following for me:

  • Conditions change as time unfolds
  • A clear distant goal emerges out of a sea of murky possibilities
  • There are at least two perspectives when standing in one place – try and access both of these
  • Look for a clear, simple straight line to your goal
  • Look for the bridge that joins two distinct (and maybe opposing) worlds
  • Keep still to allow reflection
  • Try and access the beauty that surrounds you

Wishing you all an exciting new year.

SA cricket team dealing with a self-fulfilling prophecy

I am presently in Switzerland visiting my son. The Tour de Suisse cycling is entering its last stage, the World Championship inline skating is happening in Zurich and the final of the 20 over cricket World Cup is going to be played at Lords, London. The tournament favourites South Africa, have returned home having lost to Pakistan in the semi-final with the label of ‘chokers’ further entrenched in the minds of those who play or follow cricket.

Tour de Suisse – Start of stage 5

One of the concepts that come from new paradigm quantum psychology is that we are co-creators of our reality. What we believe, think or say, for example, plays a part in determining or shaping the nature of our experiences. One cannot separate the observer from the observed. The fundamental tenet of energy and information flow is that there is a resonance between the internal world of a person (thoughts, feelings, assumptions) and the external experience that unfolds.

The first thing to understand about the self-fulfilling prophecy is that it is ‘self-fulfilling’. But this ‘self-fulfilling’ can never be consciously acknowledged by those trapped in the prophecy since it points to them contributing to the very trap that they are encountering. This would be tantamount to ‘owning up’ to being part of the problem. Paradoxically, this denial is what sustains the prophecy. Through denial, one can keep the problem external to oneself and possibly blame life for being unfair.

The self-fulfilling prophecy also needs an observer to ensure that the reality is commented on. This reminds me of a story of a mother who came to see me because of her 6-year-old son who she thought was clumsy – he had ‘no co-ordination’. Her major complaint was that he always messed things, even if he was reminded to be ‘careful and not spill’ while carrying the glass of water from point A to point B. The self-fulfilling prophecy needs an external voice to consciously remind the person of the label. The nature of this voice can vary. It may be benevolent, could be protective, but usually has a paradoxical prescriptive element to it that feels it has the power to predict the future.

To understand the information flow in the self-fulfilling prophecy dynamic between participant (SA team) and observer (opposition, media, public), one needs to examine some specifics. In a pre-match semi-final interview, for example, the SA cricket coach made a statement such as ‘we aren’t scared of losing’. As we know, comments are made in reaction to questions being asked and are embedded in an interpersonal context where ideas are being exchanged. In order to gauge the informational and energetic flow around this comment, however, it needs to be put into a context of historical meaning. Let’s open up some of the informational and energetic components of such a statement, to highlight the complexity of possible meanings and interpretations. Firstly, it is making a comment about the history of the performance of SA teams in past tournaments. It may be attempting to address and neutralize the ‘choker’ label that the team is trying to deal with. It may be mentioning the fear of failure that actually exists in the team as it moves closer to winning a tournament, by denying that such a fear actually exists. It may point to bravado in the team that then attempts to cover up this fear of failure. It may act as a means of ‘self protection’ against the possibility of future emotional pain of losing.

Other statements such as ‘South Africa look to shake chokers’ tag’ given in an pre-match interview by the team’s sports psychologist, or ‘the feeling is different in this team’, by a senior player, or  ‘we are not chokers, insists captain Smith’ in a post-match interview, all add to the team’s attempt to untangle itself from the strangulation of the choker label. Inadvertently, all of these statements fuel and cement the potentiality of the reality of further choking to occur in the future. It was interesting to note from the interview with the team’s psychologist that he attempted to change the ‘choker’ tag of the team, to one of the bowlers ‘strangling’ the opposition (due to how well the bowlers were performing).

Once the self-fulfilling prophecy has been created, even ‘no talking’ will not help to break the strangulation. This is a further paradox. So team management are caught in a bind – damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It is as if everybody ‘knows’, even if it is not spoken about. The opposition knows, the media knows, the public knows, the administration knows and the players themselves know.

Another phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy is that of its ‘quick sand’ characteristic. Once you are caught in it, any attempt to escape it actually further cements its strangulation. Any attempt to move out of the label actually intensifies its hold over you. It freezes you, and prevents creativity from emerging in one’s thinking and in performance.

A self-fulfilling prophecy takes time to unfold. With each tournament loss, the power of the vortex of the prophecy intensifies. At the next tournament the label is activated again – but with more vigour. There is no escape. It is relentless. Even though management may change or the composition of the team may change this does not matter since the self-fulfilling prophecy operates on the level of the ‘collective unconscious’ of the psyche of the SA cricket system – past, present and future. Anyone past, present or future associated with the team in whatever way, are all unknowingly or knowingly contributing to the prophecy.

The only way to break this self-fulfilling prophecy is for the team to win two consecutive tournaments (winning one tournament would not be able to break the pattern that exists and would probably be considered to be a fluke). The actual reality of winning is the only way to break the strangulation of the label of chokers. This is how reality is able to defeat perception and expectancy, and also redefine the experience. And therein lies the paradox since I contend that this self-fulfilling prophecy has at its core the obsession/desperation to win and to prove to the world that ‘we are good enough and worthy’. I sense that there is an underlying inferiority complex that is probably fuelling this prophecy.

As mentioned, there is an inter-play between one’s assumptions, thinking and actions and life’s responses to those assumptions, thinking and actions. I believe that life is nothing more than a co-operative mirror that reflects our beliefs, assumptions and thinking back to us. For new learning to occur, one needs to listen to this feedback loop since it provides one with meaningful information about areas of change. It is the destructive repetitive patterns that are the building blocks of the prophecy.

So what is suggested? I believe that the team may find that it has more freedom in future tournament if it aligns itself in its thinking and acting to three simple philosophical principles. Firstly, there ‘are no guarantees’ in life/sport. Secondly, ‘life/sport does not work in straight lines’. Lastly, ‘when you come to write your life/sport story you have half a pen and life (and the opposition) has the other half’. Being mindful of these concepts will help to organise the informational and energy flow of the team in a more constructive way.

I also feel that the team needs to resolve its history (neutralizing the past) so that it can concentrate on the present, to ensure that they can win in the future. How one goes about doing this will be a complex process that needs careful thought by management. The traditional positive motivation and rah-rah that usually occurs in preparing the team to win will not resolve the self-fulfilling prophecy that is being deeply embedded in the psyche of the team and being intensified over time.