A TV anchor once asked Martina Navratilova, "How do you maintain your focus and manage to keep playing, even at the age of 43?"
Her suave response was, "The ball doesn't know how old I am."
In his excellent book, "Still Power", Sports Psychologist Garret Kramer says that a key factor to performing well in sports (and in life), is your ability to control the quality and quantity of your "internal dialogue".
In other words, you need to stop yourself, from stopping yourself.
Let's understand this phenomenon in more detail. Unlike many of us, our brain refuses to sit idle - it's like a machine without an "off" switch, continuously "on". If we don't give anything to it - it will find its own stuff and will continue to work till it gets bored.
Interesting part is that our brain does not care about what it's up to. We may care, but the brain does not. Let's presume that we have had a bad day at work and we are headed back home in the evening. Now in our conscious mind, we are wanting to come out of that situation. But our mind will probably say, "Oh no - let's replay it again"!!! The more we think of coming out of that situation, the more we are deep in there. At times, this situation can ruin many days at a stretch.
Many of us have this unique habit of pondering over some bad experience that happened long back - and the mind, well the mind loves it. It almost tells us - "Great! you have another hour to kill before its lunch time, so let's re-visit the whole episode". Our mind seldom misses out on any details. Who said what and what was I doing, who else were there and what would they think about me, etc. etc…We definitely have a terrific memory?
This happens because we let our minds go wild. Come to think of it, we spend more time learning a new machine or an equipment than we do on learning how to use our brains. The question here is
If we have a terrific memory when it comes to remembering past unpleasantness - why can't we, deliberately correct some of that ability for more useful experience?
Richard Bandler, who taught the world about Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), says that our mind is like a person, who is chained to the last seat of a bus and the bus is being driven by someone else. We are, (well most of us are) therefore, prisoners of our own brains.
Wouldn't it be nice to have full control over this bus - else it will run randomly on its own or other people will find ways to run it for us.
This is what NLP is all about. Learning to use our brains in a more functional way. The problem with our brain, as Bandler points out, is not that it takes time to learn things - the problem is it learns things too quickly. Let's presume you are having a bad thought and you wish to take that thought away - right? But who planted that thought in the first place? The brain has almost instantly put a brand-new thought having layers of issues and we didn't even notice. For example, someone has a phobia of heights - do you have to remind that person to be afraid of heights? No - it is almost instant. That person would be petrified, the moment he/she approaches anything related to heights.
Let's try a simple experiment - think of a past experience that was very pleasant, perhaps an experience that you haven't thought about in a long time. Pause for a moment to go back into the memory and be sure that you see what you saw at that time when the pleasant experience had happened. You can choose to close your eyes, if that helps - in my case, it helps.
As you look at the pleasant memory, I would like you to change the brightness of the image, and notice how your feelings change in response. First make it brighter and brighter (till the time you are able to clearly see the image) and then make it dimmer and dimmer, until you can barely see it…..Now make it brighter again.
How does that change the way you feel? There can always be exceptions but majority of us, when we make the picture brighter, our feelings will become stronger. Increasing brightness usually increases the intensity of feelings and decreasing brightness usually decreases the intensity of feelings. It's obviously no coincidence that we associate our mood with brightness - "I am feeling bright today"!!!
Now, the NLP experts can help us intentionally increase or decrease the brightness of these internal images in order to feel different.
Another basic and short experiment that NLP experts try out is to, ask the participants to think of a real bad experience, an unpleasant embarrassment or disappointment and take a good look at the movie to see if it still makes you feel bad. If it doesn't - try another.
Next, start that movie again (in your mind) & as soon as it begins, put some nice loud peppy music behind it. Listen to the peppy music right through till the end of the movie.
Now watch that original movie again - does that make you feel better? For most of you, it will change a tragedy to a comedy and lighten your feeling about it.
If you have a memory or feelings that make you annoyed or angry - put some peppy music to it and chances are that bad memory or feeling would not be that bad any longer. In case you still don't feel better about the memory - try and change the music to your liking and see the changes.
Another exercise is to watch the bad experience movie once and then watch it playing backwards. You may require little practice to do it - but it is doable. It's like saying a sentence backwards - it changes its meaning. Chances are you will not hate that experience with that intensity.
NLP is a vast science and the intent of writing this article was to introduce to the readers and also explain how our mind work and most importantly how we can make it work to our benefit. In case you are keen, you should read more about it on the internet, there is quite a stuff available or find a good NLP coach to seek help.