Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Power of Our Thoughts: Self Talk and Performance

Alright, super addicted to Malcolm Gladwell at the moment and have been tearing through his books.  Last post I talked about the power of context and how that can be applied to the weight room and your training.  My inspiration for this post comes from Gladwell's "Blink," and touches on a subject that is under studied and not practically applied as much as it should be.  Hopefully this post convinces you to train your mind as much as you train your body.

Blink is a book that discusses the role that our unconscious has on our everyday lives and how we are able to make snap judgments that more often than not are correct.  The content that really got me thinking was the section on mental priming.  In this section, Gladwell details a study in which individuals had to look at lines of scrambled words and form a sentence as fast as possible.  Here is the example present in the book.

1.  him was worried she always
2.  from are Florida oranges temperature
3.  ball the throw toss silently
4.  shoes give replace old the
5.  he observes occasionally people watches
6.  be will sweat lonely they
7.  sky the seamless gray is
8.  should now withdraw forgetful we
9.  us bingo sing play let
10.  sunlight makes temperature wrinkle raisins

Here is the kicker, this may seem easy to you, but the moment you get up and walk away from your computer, you will walk slower than you normally do.  The researchers purposefully placed words in the sentences like "Florida," "old," "lonely," and "bingo" that are all associated with old age.  Your unconscious sees this pattern, associates it with old age, and in turn makes you walk slower.  I was blown away after reading that.

They also performed another similar test, but in one group the words were aggressive in nature and in the other group, the words were polite in nature.  People from each group were then asked, upon completion of the test to walk down a corridor and hand in their results.  The researchers placed a person who was talking to the person that the subject had to hand the results to however, and the idea was to see how long the subject would wait until interrupting the conversation.  You probably guessed what happened, the aggressive word group interrupted the conversation much quicker than the polite word group.  In fact the polite group subjects almost always maxed out the 10 minutes that was deemed the cut off time in the procedures. 

So your telling me that within minutes of the test, our behavior has been altered/primed by just reading a group of words?  According to the research the answer is yes.  So why are we not constantly reading and thinking about positive things and outcomes?  I do not know if you have ever stumbled upon self-help websites or self-help books, but they all speak to the power of positive thinking and positive affirmations.  This brought me back to a book that I had read in the past titled "Thinking Body, Dancing Mind" by Huang and Lynch.

Thinking Body, Dancing Mind takes the reader through all of the mental obstacles one may face in their journey through athletics, business, and life.  Chapters of the book are brief and contain subjects like the fear of failure, fear of success, dealing with slumps, fatigue, expectations, self-criticism, and much more.  What I think is unique about this book is that in each chapter it provides affirmations/sayings that can be repeated internally or read over and over again to combat mental challenges.

Sample affirmations from the text for re-framing failure.
"Success does not guarantee happiness; failure need not guarantee misery."
"Failures are lessons from which I learn and forge ahead."

Sample affirmations from the text for positive thinking.
"Calm and confident, I play well."
"I am in control and ready to roll."

As I read through many of the chapters some of the affirmations really struck a chord with me and I have continued to use them in every day life to control my inner chatter.  They may sound corny, but you can make up your own that mean something to you.  Who cares, it is not like you are saying them out loud, you are saying them in your head and reaffirming/reminding yourself to be positive and successful.  Hey there is proof that just reading certain words affects your behavior, so why not adopt positive thoughts and surround yourself with them.

No comments: