Conquer Yourself (Session 11): Attain Peak Performance w/ an Athlete’s Approach…
Part 11 of the Conquer Yourself series…New harmonics coming soon, but if you haven’t heard this already, listen to “Splendor” by Freddie Joachim:
——— The Athlete’s Inner Game ———
“When a player comes to recognize that learning to focus may be more valuable to him than his backhand, he shifts from being primarily a player of the outer game to being a player of the Inner Game. Then, instead of learning to focus to improve his tennis, he practices tennis to improve his focus…”
~ W. Timothy Gallwey
In Gallwey’s classic, The Inner Game of Tennis, his main point was that the inner critic is the number one obstacle of focused play. In sports psychology, this principle extends to all types of athletic performance, and for our purposes here, this principle extends to all fields of life.
Remember the Focus Zone graph from Session Five?
The goal is to stay in the middle, but the inner-critic either shifts you to the right by creating tension and anxiety (“I need to do better”), or to the left by robbing you of the joy of the game (“I’m not good enough,” feelings of boredom, etc.).
Since the goal is focus, and the obstacle is the inner-critic, conquering yourself has both an internal and external process: on the inside, you’re dealing with self-talk (your subconscious mind and your deeper sense of self-worth…see Sessions Two and Three), on the outside, you’re dealing with we can refer to as “attention-management” (being present-minded and controlling your concentration…see Sessions Five & Seven).
I know I’m referencing a lot of older sessions right now, but that’s because this series is coming to conclusion. Here, I’m integrating all of those base concepts into a unified theorem, so if you haven’t read them already, do yourself a favor and go back to cover the groundwork: the earlier sessions built on specific ideas for a reason, and if I took the time to explain it all again here this post would be far too long…
Further, while on the outside there’s the irony of technology (where tools intended to make us more productive can actually end up making us LESS productive…see Session Ten), on the inside there’s also the irony of knowledge, where education and learning intended to make us more successful can actually end up making us FEEL less successful.
Think about it: whenever you want to improve in anyway, part of that process is getting the knowledge you need in order to improve. But, because of the inner critic, the knowledge can eventually turn into a sort of law-book that you use to incriminate yourself with for not following.
When a basketball player gets coaching on how to improve his free throw conversion, he expects himself to make more shots. When an overweight person gets advice on improving his nutrition, he expects himself to control his diet. And when a procrastinator gets insight on improving his productivity, he expects himself to be more efficient.
These expectations aren’t bad in and of themselves, but when the inner-critic ism’t kept in check it latches on to these higher expectations and uses them to create an atmosphere of tension and anxiety around performance (this is one reason why a lot of young people end up quitting sports…I know I did).
This is where the term “ignorance is bliss,” comes from. It’s the bliss in the sense that it relieves you of the responsibility to improve. In my upcoming book I say:
Knowledge can cause you to feel frustration, because if you know something and you fail to act up to that level of knowing, you KNOW that you caused your own suffering.
But knowledge can also cause you to feel Supreme, because if you know something and you DO act up to that level of knowing, you know that you can improve your life, and ‘bring it all within the domain of an exact science…’
So when you gain knowledge, what you experience as a result of that gain reflects your level of responsibility. If you’re responsible and self-disciplined, you’ll like knowledge, because it shows you how strong you can be. If you’re irresponsible and lack discipline, you’ll dislike knowledge, because it shows you how miserable and weak you truly are.
There’s a lot of deeper psychology involved here – we could get into a discussion on how the inner critic is really an outgrowth of fear, and how fear is really a genuine part of you who’s goal is to keep you safe (but because we live in a world where most of our survival imperatives are taken care of, the fear/danger-warning mechanism doesn’t have an avenue for healthy expression…how we’re genetically wired for a time that no longer exists, etc.) – but the main idea I want to get here is that unless you have a science on how to deal with your inner critic, even the knowledge and necessary insight you need to progress will be turned against you. Taken too far, the actual field or endeavor you want to improve in becomes associated with pain, embarrassment and personal inadequacy.
——— Shifting from Inner Tension to Optimal Experience ———
Dealing with this from the internal perspective, I already gave you some tools in Session Three. The majority come from a section in my upcoming book called “Self-Worth vs. Success: 3 Steps to Liberation” which you can download here: http://www.dotheknowledge.com/downloads/book-preview.pdf
On the other tip though, dealing with this from the external perspective (attention-management), here’s another section called “Mihalyi’s Flow“: http://www.dotheknowledge.com/downloads/book-preview2.pdf
Mihalyi refers Hungarian Psychologist Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi (pronounced “Me-high, Cheek-zent-mee-high”… I think), who’s responsible for developing the concept of “Flow” (or in sports terms, “Peak Performance”). This is an athlete’s ideal state of mind, and most of the mental training they do is geared towards bringing to this point. Advice such as:
All aim at eliminating the mental habits that keep athletes from "getting in the zone" so that they can perform at their best.
“Don’t bring life’s worries onto the field,”
“Don’t get distracted by all the pregame hoopla,” or
“Don’t psyche yourself out” (i.e: get intimidated by a better opponent)
But athletes aren’t the only ones who enter flow: artists, musicians, mathematicians, carpenters, actors, businessmen and people from all walks of life also have periods of time where they “zone out” and get lost in the joy of a creative challenge. The trick is twofold:
1) Freeing yourself from tension-creating thought (like being strictly results-oriented), and
2) Challenging yourself just beyond the perimeter to your potential…
In describing flow, Mihalyi says:
“Every flow activity…had this in common: it provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushed the person to higher levels of performance and led to previously undreamed states of consciousness…(and) In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities.”
To help yourself enter the flow state, you’ll need what’s referred to as “a suspension of disbelief.” It’s what happens whenever you watch a good movie: even though you know it’s not real, a part of your brain purposefully forgets that in order for you enjoy the experience. Essentially, you enter flow by bridging the gap between the logical and the creative part of your brain (the right and left hemispheres), and this only happens when you let go of judging or evaluating your experience at all.
A good example of this is writing, where you would enter flow by taking on a “first draft mentality”: when you begin, tell yourself that there’s no need to critique anything because it’s only your first time through. In fact, because it’s only your first time through, there’s no need for it to even make sense.
“Students entering Harvard, for example, are brought to a special section of the library where the rough drafts of famous authors are kept – this exercise has quite an impact on young writers who previously thought that the work of genius arrived complete in a single stroke of inspiration.” ~ Niel Fiore
(I do this all the time, and I attribute almost all of my writing to this one skill. Later tonight, I’m going to look around for some copies of my rough drafts to give you an idea.)
Just as whack ideas are crucial to the generation of great ideas, poor performance is crucial to the generation of excellent performance. Eliminate the whole concept of “mistakes” from your mind and replace it with the concept of generating energy. Taking up the first draft mentality will you enter into a state of flow where creativity comes naturally…
Here’s that book excerpt link again: http://www.dotheknowledge.com/downloads/book-preview2.pdf
You can also enter into flow with relaxation techniques. The goal is to enter into what’s known as an “alpha brainwave state.” Basically, you’re brain is an electrical organ, where different levels of electrical activity correspond to different levels of brain power. For a majority of the day, you’re in beta (where conscious, excessive thought is high), but alpha is a deeper level (where concentration and creativity dominate) and you can reach that through relaxation.
Try this (w/ headphones on if possible):
More coming soon..
>> Mihalyi Csiksentmihalyi on Creativity, Fulfillment & Flow
>> An Overview of the Conquer Yourself Sessions 6-10…
>> Session 3: Liberation Through Your Sense of Self-Worth
>> Session 4: Beginning Steps to Self-Mastery
>> Session 5: Native American Wisdom vs. Our Technological World