How to trigger one of your brain's superpowers.
October 1, 2019 by Guylaine Girard in Opinion with 0 comments
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You just had a difficult warmup. Your legs were heavy, you felt out of sync, and you made a few throwing mistakes. Your reaction speed may be slower than usual or, conversely, you feel overactive and you can’t seem to calm down. Your game will start in a few minutes. You need to refocus and regain control. How is it possible to do so in such a short time period?
In this article, I will reveal to you one of your brain’s superpowers and how to use it to create a boost of confidence in a few minutes, right before you step on the field.
The Superpower of Your Brain
One very effective way to reach excellence faster is to get a glimpse of how it feels to get there. When you have experienced something once — for example, feeling confident, focused, and offering your best performance in a tournament final — it is easier to get back to that level of performance later, since you already know how it feels.
But how can you get back on track if, for example, you have never experienced changing your mindset after a warm up that didn’t meet your expectations? There is another way.
In your brain, there is a system that is wired to help you with this kind of situation.
Very special neurons, [now recognized as a key to perform in sports], were discovered by chance in Italy. Researchers were studying motor neurons responsible for a very simple gesture in monkeys: taking a peanut. When the monkey took the peanut, the neurons were activated and the nerve impulse produced a noise.
One day, a researcher took a peanut while the monkey, motionless, was watching. The [same] sound was heard. The neurons that lit up when the monkey made the gesture, were also lit when the monkey watched someone make the gesture. A neuron, two functions. Mirror neurons had just been discovered, an important discovery in neuroscience.
What is true for the monkey is also true for the human. When we watch someone make a gesture, our brain becomes a real simulator. The neural systems responsible for the gesture are activated, even if we remain totally immobile.
From the video Emission Découverte – Les Neurones Miroirs, Radio-Canada, posted on September 29, 2009.
In our brain are cells called mirror neurons. They are activated when we perform an action, or when we watch someone execute that same action. They then give us information about our understanding of others’ actions and intentions.
But how is this related to sports? The more you try to master an action, the more your mirror neuron system activates when you observe this action in another athlete. And here is your brain’s superpower: when watching a player on the field, thanks to your mirror neuron system, not only can you feel their actions, but you also perceive their intentions and emotions behind the actions. You have the power to enter the mind of the player you are observing.
However, it is important to note that this activation and the effects on your performance depends on your experience and your understanding of the observed gesture or attitude. The more you experience what you observe, the more your mirror neurons are activated during the observation.
Start a New Practice to Reach New Heights
“We are hard-wired to perceive the mind of another being.” – Dr. Dan Siegel
Did you know that more than 70% of our communication is non-verbal? It means that when you find yourself in front of someone, you perceive a lot more information from their non-verbal language than from their words. Thus, if you know what you want and if you focus your attention on the right place and toward the right people, you have the potential to learn much faster by observing and imitating these people, than by asking for long and complex explanations.
Tennis and mental coach W. Timothy Gallwey, in his book The Inner Game of Tennis, illustrates very well this concept by describing a new coaching strategy he developed with his athletes:
My next lesson that day was with a beginner named Paul who had never held a racket. I was determined to show him how to play using as few instructions as possible; I’d try to keep his mind uncluttered and see if it made a difference. So I started by telling Paul I was trying something new: I was going to skip entirely my usual explanation to beginning players about the proper grip, stroke, and footwork for the basic forehand. Instead, I was going to hit ten forehands myself, and I wanted him to watch carefully, not thinking about what I was doing, but simply trying to grasp a visual image of the forehand. […] After I had hit ten forehands, Paul imagined himself doing the same. Then, as I put the racket into his hand, sliding it into the correct grip, he said to me, “I noticed that the first thing you did was to move your feet.” I replied with a noncommittal grunt and asked him to let his body imitate the forehand as well as it could.
He dropped the ball, took a perfect backswing, swung forward, racket level, and with natural fluidity ended the swing at shoulder height, perfect for his first attempt! But wait, his feet; they hadn’t moved an inch from the perfect ready position he had assumed before taking his racket back. They were nailed to the court. I pointed to them, and Paul said, “Oh yeah, I forgot about them!” The one element of the strike Paul had tried to remember was the one thing he didn’t do!
This example shows that while the words and explanations of your coaches can be very helpful and effective, it is even more effective to observe behaviors and imitate athletes who embody and demonstrate the techniques and behaviors you want to develop yourself — without thinking too much and trying to remember the steps in detail, because it can get in the way of your performance.
Now we know that observing great players is a way to not only learn faster on a technical level, but also to enter their minds and get a glimpse at how they feel in any situation.
Find Your Own Greatness by Witnessing Greatness in Others
At the beginning of this article, I said I would teach you how to create a boost of confidence a few minutes before your game. To do so, you first need some preparation prior to your tournament.
First, pick a high-level player that shows excellence and self-confidence on the field. As much as possible, choose someone who has your height, your body size or similar characteristics and forces to yours, with a style that you would like to adopt or that matches yours, so that you can identify with. Watch this player on video or in real life. Analyze their performance in different aspects:
- How is their body language? The way they walk, the expression on their face, the position of their shoulders and chin. If watching a video, turn off the volume to focus even more on body language.
- How does this player warm up? How is their mindset? Do they encounter setbacks? Do they make mistakes? How do they react to obstacles? Describe their attitude and behaviors.
- If you want to go even further, you can ask yourself: how do they think? What is their perspective on ultimate? You might need to read articles or watch interviews to answer this question.
- How are this player’s behaviors different from yours, in terms of attitude? From the time they step on the field to the time they leave, what are they doing that you are not doing?
After observing your player, visualize them. Then, activate your mirror neuron system by imagining a blank screen and see your player doing their warm up and starting their game with calm, composure, and assertiveness.
Next, imagine your face instead of theirs. Now, YOU are this high-level, confident player who prepare themselves for the game. YOU become that person you have observed. Focus on the sensations and emotions you feel as you perform in that person’s skin. Feel the energy, explosiveness, confidence, determination, courage, strength of this player. Feel your deep breathing and the actions of your muscles. Hear the sideline, see the disc and your teammates, feel the ground under your feet.
Once you have done the exercise described above a few times, you have an awareness of your player’s mindset. You have embodied it and you know how it feels. You can now recreate it at will.
5 Steps to Boost your Self-Confidence 3 Minutes Before your Game
A few minutes before your game, follow these steps:
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply 4-5 times. Imagine in front of you the athlete whom you observed. Then, become this person. Adopt their posture, their way of moving, their look, their expression, their attitude and their way to approach ultimate or, in this case, their way to approach the warmup.
- Feel the emotions associated with self-confidence and excellence: calmness, composure, competitiveness, joy, gratitude, the feeling of being in control… and/or any other perceived emotion in the athlete you have observed.
- Feel the physical sensations associated with self-confidence and excellence: energy, relaxation, strength, explosiveness, effortlessness… and/or any other perceived sensation in the athlete you have observed.
- Integrate the thoughts related to self-confidence and excellence: letting go of expectations, tolerance and non-judgment, trust in your skills and your training… and/or any other thought perceived in the athlete that you have observed.
- When you feel an unwavering self-confidence, stay a few minutes with that feeling. Then open your eyes. It’s time to step on the field.
After your game, take some time to reflect on your experience. Describe how you felt, after you expressed the personality traits of a high-level athlete. Where did you feel it? How would you define this sensation? When making a mistake, how did you react? Did it feel different than usual? And how did you interact with your environment, with other athletes and your coaches? Did you notice a few changes in your behavior?
The Real Power of Visualization
We often talk about visualization as a means to practice new skills and increase volume training without risks of injury. But it goes way above that.
Visualization, when used to reveal this amazing player you know you have the potential to become, is beyond powerful. Practice visualization to embody the characteristics of any person you honor for their great skills and winning attitude. Enter their minds, and feel and act like this person to learn from their gifts and talents. By doing this, you will then add new strings to your bow and reach new heights on your path toward excellence.