Friday, January 29, 2010

Redirect your Thought Patterns (or Mental Ninja Skills)

The habit of dwelling on negative thoughts can physically manifest in poor squash performance. Negative thinking, like “I’m so tired” or “He's better than me” or “I can’t do this” or “I'm too fat.” is entirely in your mind? (Unless you really are too fat)

Conditioning a negative thought pattern took years of unconscious thinking, so actively conditioning positive thought patterns will be much easier. Essentially, you will replace the old pattern with a new one. Don't focus your energy on blocking the negative thought pattern, mentally resisting the negative thought will usually backfire and simply reinforce it and make it even worse.

Learn to redirect thought patterns you wish to change with mental ninja skills, and deflect the energy of the negative thought and rechannel it into a positive thought. Practice in privacy by following the steps below and condition yourself so whenever the negative thought occurs, your mind will automatically flow into an associated positive thought.

Let’s assume your negative thought is "I'm so exhausted, I can't go on, this guy is so much better than me." This may happen before the game as you watch your opponent warm up, or towards the end of a game as you are about to lose or feel the momentum swaying.

Step 1: Turn the negative thought into a mental image.

Create a mental picture, imagine yourself heaving on the ground, so tired, barely able to stand up, legs wobbling, dizzy from exhaustion, close to vomitting, people commenting on how terrible you are at squash. See yourself surrounded by other people all pointing at you shaking their heads. The more you exaggerate the scene, the better. Imagine bright colors, lots of animation, rapid movement, and even sexual imagery if it helps you remember. Rehearse this scene over and over in your mind until you reach the point where thinking the negative thought automatically brings up this over the top imagery.

Step 2: Select an empowering replacement thought.

Now decide what thought you’d like to have instead of the negative one. So if you’ve been thinking, “I’m exhausted,” maybe you’d like to replace that with “I’m so incredibly fit, I never get tired, I can run as hard as I want forever.” Choose a thought that empowers you in a way that disrupts the disempowering effect of the original negative thought.

Step 3: Turn the positive thought into a mental image.

Now go through the same process you used in Step 1 to create a new mental scene from the positive thought. So with the example “I’m incredibly fit,” you might imagine yourself standing tall, moving from corner to corner at lightning speed, getting low, swinging hard and smiling the entire time. Picture yourself at your peak of fitness, glowing so bright that it’s blinding, and see yourself yelling with intesity, “I’m incredibly fit!” Rehearsing this scene until merely thinking the positive line automatically brings up the associated imagery.

Step 4: Mentally chain the two images together.

Now take the images in Step 1 and Step 3, and mentally glue them together. This trick is used in memory techniques like chaining or pegging. You want to morph the first scene into the second scene. Don't just do a straight cut from one scene to the next, instead animate the first scene into the second. A cut is very weak glue and often won’t stick. So instead pretend you’re the director of a movie. You have the opening scene and the closing scene, and you have to fill in the middle. But you only have a few seconds of film left, so you want to find a way to make the transition happen as quickly as possible.

For example, go from crawling on the ground in the first scene to picking up your racket, you might struggle to pick it up, it feels soooo heavy, but then everything starts to slow down around you, a bead of sweat drips from your forehead in slow motion, and you realize that things aren't moving slow, your moving that fast, sprinting from corner to corner, floating all over the court, glowing radiantly and yelling confidently, “I’m incredibly fit!” The crowd falls back in the seats in awe and begin worshipping you. Again, the more exaggeration you use, the better. Exaggeration makes it easier to remember the scene because our brains are designed to remember the unusual.

Once you have the whole scene worked out, mentally rehearse it for speed. Replay the whole scene over and over until you can imagine it from beginning to end in under 2 seconds, ideally in under 1 second. It should be lightning fast, much faster than you’d see in the real world.

Step 5: Test it out.

Now you need to test your mental ninja redirect to see if it works. Your mind should automatically redirect you to the positive one. Merely thinking the negative thought should rapidly bring up the positive thought. If you’ve done this correctly, you won’t be able to help it. The negative thought is the stimulus that causes your mind to run the whole pattern automatically. So whenever you happen to think, “I’m exhausted,” even without being fully aware of it, you end up thinking, “I’m incredibly fit.”

Pay attention to association vs. dissociation. When you see it through your own eyes (i.e. first-person perspective), it's called association. When you’re dissociated you see yourself in the scene (i.e. third-person perspective). Your results may vary with either type of visualization. Try them both, change up the mental camera angle, it can be done with practice.

Reprogram dozens of negative thought patterns, and pretty soon it will become hard for your mind to even produce a negative thought or emotion. This type of mental conditioning will give you a lot more conscious control over your internal states and your subconscious mind will take over at some point, so whenever you have a thought like “I can’t,” it automatically gets twisted into “How can I?”

That’s actually how it's supposed to be, but with all the gloom and doom in the world somehow we've learned to do it backwards. This skill can be very empowering or just used for a mental pick-me-up. Test it out and improve more than just your squash game.

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