The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Don't Think of a Black Cat!

The human mind does not process deletives.

If I say "Don't think of a black cat," you have to first of all think of a black cat in order that you can try and carry out the instruction.

So for a place kicker in rugby or gridiron, or a free thrower in basketball, "I mustn't miss this kick" or "Mustn't miss this throw" will be more likely to lead to a miss - as the player's internal dialogue focusses him towards the positive element in what he's saying - "miss.."
He'll most probably be also considering the consequences of missing the kick or the throw, and piling the pressure upon himself, and his physiology will start to reflect this and tighten up. He'll be consulting the MAP of his kicking or throwing world and remembering the previous instances when he missed, what happened, how he felt, how everyone else felt, the responsibility, and so on. This map is now also highlighting all the hazards and difficulties. Suddenly it seems he's trying to kick a concrete ball into the smallest of target areas.

Negative instructions bear a particularly bitter fruit when the stakes are raised. Playing a wrong note or missing a catch in practice is no big deal after all. But the same process in context on stage or in a packed stadium adds an entirely different set of pressure variables.

They placed a piece of gymnastic apparatus, the beam, on the floor and invited a group to walk along it. At four inches wide it posed no internal or external problems, no physical or mental difficulties. The same beam was then suspended between two tall step ladders and the group was again invited to walk along it. Reluctance spread like wildfire as the consequences were significantly raised. Falling off was now an issue as there was a prospect of pain and injury. Small losses of balance would (they thought) be magnified and lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. If that same group had been taught to walk blindfold perfectly along the beam, would height above the ground have been an issue?

Many performance shortcomings can be laid at the feet of our internal dialogue, where our thoughts and words echo around the chart-room where we keep our Maps of the World.

At times like this it is vital to have a strategy to deal with physical and mental distractions, and internal dialogue, in a positive way.

* Establish a habitual thought pattern to lead into the skill or performance process.
* Perform deep, abdominal breathing which gets a good supply of oxygen to the brain and around the body, helping more rational thought processing, relaxing joints and muscles so they can function properly within the requisite technique.
* Set up a set of anchors to be fired at particular pressure moments. Anchors that elicit a beneficial state of mind and/or body.
* Use localised trance to activate or close down certain areas of the body.
* Use momentary visuaization to focus or override input from the five senses.
* Use an internal dialogue inhibitor such as a) a floor to ceiling eye-roll or b) a dampener for micro movements of the tongue by resting it delicately close to the upper set of gums.

Some of the above are routines, some are emergency 'tricks'. The routines can be built into a more complex strategy that you know will work for you. Set it up and test it out in practice. Practice is your "beam on the ground" scenario after all! The more you set it up in a "blindfold" kind of way, the more control you will have when the real situation comes around, when you are "2-3 metres above ground without any safety net or landing below".

Dealing with stressful and pressure moments in performance, which you know will always be there, is your key to mastering the process and getting the outcomes you want - with or without a Black Cat!


Monday, August 16, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

I was talking with a client the other day who was "sick and tired of failing."
This was very broad-brush so I metaphorically held up for her one of the cue cards to break down generalisations - "always??"
She laughed, "No, not really. I'm really angry and depressed about a venture that failed about nine months ago."
"Ah, so it was the venture that failed - not you?" I asked.
She smiled and nodded, adding, "but the way I'm feeling has started me comfort eating and drinking again, and it frustrates me big time 'cause I've no perseverance or self-discipline. Things were going so well before."

So her train of wellness was happily chugging along until an external factor derailed it, which is the kind of scenario we all encounter from time to time. Except that for her, now, she's so intently looking back in anger and self-judgement that she's actually "walking backwards" into the future. Since by it's very nature the future is somewhat unknown, walking backwards into it is likely to be full of pitfalls, trip-ups, tip-overs and a whole load of things to keep derailing that train.

"Picture this," I said,"you're running a bath and the phone goes. You go to answer and get engrossed in conversation. Suddenly - OMG - the bath is overflowing! What's the first thing you do?"
"Pull the plug?" she asked.
"What's the FIRST thing you do?" I repeated.
She thought, then lit up like there'd been a dawning. "Turn off the taps - THEN pull the plug."

"So this anger," I said, "is it with some thing or some one?" It transpired it was someone, who was pretty much responsible for the venture problem. However it also turned out that steps had already been taken to expunge the anger issues (rather like turning off the bathtaps.)
"Frustration, then..." I asked next. "Can you tell me about it it?"
It appeared to be a generalised frustration that 'life was on track but now off track and although it'll be ok in the end I don't know when that'll be, and things will probably get worse in the meantime because...' etc etc.

PW: "So is there anything else about that frustration?"
CL: "Like being in a long, dark tunnel. I can see the light at the end but it's so small so I don't know how far away it is."
PW: "So that light - what kind of light is that light?"
CL: "It's a ray of sunshine."
PW: "And is there anything else about that ray of sunshine?"
CL: "It's bright and warm and all around. But just a long way off, and I don't know how far."
PW: "And considering tunnel, what kind of tunnel is that tunnel?"
CL: "It's very dark and I can't see what's there or anything around at all."
PW: "And is there anything else about that tunnel, very dark and can't see?"
CL: "Well I suppose it's like I'm stuck in it right here and now. And I want to be where the light is but can't see where I'm stepping."
PW: "What needs to happen for tunnel so you can see where you're stepping?"
CL: "Need to put up a few lights."

Now things were on the move!
She'd need to get in an electrician to rig up the lights, because she'd always ask an expert. Where from? Back at the other end of the tunnel, where she'd come in. So the tunnel has an entrance (behind her and quite near.) Is there an electrician there? Oh yes - but actually he'd need a lot of wires and a lot of lights. So what else would work? She'd get candles, lots of them, from the candle shop! And how would she light them? "I've got a lighter," she said gleefully.

We both laughed at this stage and she was getting quite animated as she worked with this 'tunnel' metaphor of hers. I asked about what sort of light she'd get from lighted candles, and she said it was a warm glow, like you'd get at parties. So I asked her about parties, and how she felt at parties and gatherings, and just got her to elaborate on THAT kind of experience.

Pretty soon she was moving down the tunnel towards the 'Ray of Sunshine', using candles to light the way, having parties, gatherings, times of good mood, and just generally being able to see where she was going.

"And where is frustration now?" I asked
"That is so helpful - can't say I notice any, as we speak."
"And I'm not advocating that you have endless parties as you move along the tunnel, you understand. It's just that you can make all the right choices about using the candles as you go."

In conclusion, I did invite her to leave around at home, in her handbag, other relevant places, some visual and kinaesthetic anchors that linked to this whole elaborate tunnel-and-light metaphor.
Candles and a lighter seemed appropriate.

She went away happy as a sand-girl!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Can you put it in a wheelbarrow? Beware nominalizations!

I was working with a group of young cricketers yesterday and we were talking about hitting various types of shots and what to do with our hands and feet in order to best play these. Finally, I asked them the question that actually stands for ALL ball sports. "What is THE most important thing you need to do when batting?"

There was a thoughtful silence apart from the sounds of brains in action until finally a very bright 9 yr old, probably the most talented young player I've yet encountered, blurted excitedly, "Concentrate!"
"Getting warm," I said, "So what is concentrate? I have a carton of fruit juice here with me. It says on it MADE FROM CONCENTRATE. Is it like that? Better still - Can you put it in a wheelbarrow?"
You know how kids tell you non-verbally when they don't understand and yet remain curious to know what it is you are talking about?
So I repeated, "Can you put it in a wheelbarrow? You can with concentrate for fruit juice - yes? So what about YOUR type of concentrate?"

There was a bit of laughter and someone mentioned 'trick question' - and yes I suppose it is a trick question in a way. However this lad had already been tricked into thinking he knew about concentrate until some linguistic NeLPer like me started to redraw this particular 'Map of The World' for him! The fact he failed to come up with an alternative definitely meant he was echoing "coach speak" or "adult speak" without a full understanding of meaning.

Then one of the others said, "Watch the ball."
"Exactly," I said. "Watch the ball. For us in cricket concentrate MEANS watching the ball, AND paying attention to other important things so we can best decide how to do what we want to do. If we don't watch and pay attention then we are guessing. Sometimes we'll guess OK, sometimes not."

As sports coaches (and in life in general) we often nominalise a set of collective actions into one word - which we understand as "code" for that set of actions. However danger lurks in that nominalisation because we can't "put it in a wheelbarrow", because (as it is) it is intangible. Think about words like concentrate - confidence - focussed - stressed out etc.

So how many nominalisations do you use, without REALLY fully understanding what they are code for? Have a ponder and notice what you notice - then ask yourself "Have I got the REAL and FULL EXTENT of what this is about?" You may make some interesting discoveries! You'll certainly help broaden your perspectives and perceptions. And that's part of what NLP DOES - not what it is IS!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Weaving spells with localised 'trance'

Weaving spells: hands and arms, legs and feet

For some time now I have been using ‘localised’ trance to coach the technical side of batting in cricket. Now this isn’t trance in the sense that those that I’m coaching are hypnotised or ‘put under’ – perish the thought! Clearly this wouldn’t work – no, this is using trance from the premise that for every conscious experience we are in a particular state (frame of mind, balance of consciousness), and as that state shifts throughout our waking experience then each change of state involves moving into an ‘altered state’.

Previously I have used this methodology in the course of coaching a number of sports, and it was only once I became a practitioner of hypnosis, did I fully understand the nature of states and the opportunities available when those states are in a process of flux or change. More recently I have been (and increasingly am) fascinated by the work of James Tripp and his advancing work in an area he calls ‘Hypnosis Without Trance’. This paradigm shift opens doors to endless opportunities – because now that coaches have a ‘label’ for what is taking place in terms of both micro-techniques and macro-techniques, then exploration into taking this process forward can start to gather pace.

Educating the body

The ‘mechanics of batting’ in cricket is all about educating the body in understanding and executing both major and minor motor movements with the head, hands and feet. These mechanics are then used, in conjunction with critical judgement of the characteristics of the ball in flight, to bring about the execution of any particular shot.

This is actually the structure used in any sport involving striking and catching a ball (or any object for that matter). In football for instance, these mechanics are executed by kicking, chesting or heading the ball; in bat or racket sports the ‘striking implement’ becomes an extension of the hand or hands, and the education here involves the hands manipulating the implement to best effect.

A particular session

I had a session with a 10 year old player primarily in order to help loosen her wrists, elbows and shoulders thereby freeing-up her ability to strike the ball with better control.
I started by asking her to swing the bat and play some imaginary shots. Her ‘top’ hand (the hand at the top of the handle) started off in a good position but at the moment of striking and the follow through afterwards this hand in particular looked extremely out of position and uncomfortable. I got her to play the imaginary shots one handed with a lightweight plastic stump. I asked her to “notice in your starting position you can see the back of your hand. Watch the back of that hand as you are playing in slow motion, and as you do, pay attention to what is happening to the back of that hand at every point along the way.” I then got her to watch me doing the same thing in slow motion. “Pay attention to what you are doing compared to what I am doing. Now gradually speed up what you are doing, still noticing the back of that hand and just allow your other hand to gently hold the stump and start to work in partnership with the other hand. Notice how different this now begins to feel compared to before.” Very soon she was swinging smoothly and freely from the hands and wrists, and the elbows and shoulders just appeared to have opened up automatically and now also had much more freedom of movement. I exchanged the lightweight stump for her bat and the action continued to work well.
I then laid a row of static balls on the ground and asked her to step forward and hit each one in turn. Her foot movement was bizarre, as she lifted it in the style of a prancing horse! I then asked her to show me how she walked down the street – noticing as she did how high her feet came off the ground. “Now, when you step towards each ball I want you to step only as smoothly and comfortably as you do when you are walking down the street.” This nailed it – and the end of the exercise was to go about 15m away and throw some balls down for her to hit and see now how she was doing it both in the step of the foot and on the movement of the hands.

Setting up and using a chain of small state-changes

Now this is a fairly standard approach I make for players who have issues with either their hands or feet. The thing is that this method sets up a chain of changing states, very localised, in the hands and feet. Added to this is the instruction to “notice” and “pay attention” to what parts of particular limbs are doing in the course of some slow motion action. Part of the noticing instruction involves the visual, part involves kinaesthetic, and the RAS* is focussed to gather this sensual information. The player is now building an experience of competence at an unconscious level by my guiding them to utilise these altered states by getting them to focus on what is happening on both the inside (kinaesthetic) as well as the outside (visual).
Using the ‘walking down the street’ analogy as a means of correcting this player’s ‘pranced step’ is again far more effective than most other methods. Firstly it gets away from any “don’t do that – do this” instruction, which I always avoid because of the “DONT”; secondly I’m getting her to engage with a relaxed and natural process – just walking down the street. In order to show me how she does it, she has to go on an inner search for a long-embedded and now autonomic process, and then ‘get into a state’ of walking down the street. So immediately she experiences an alteration in state. While she is passing into this altered state, she is noticing by focussed attention, how her feet are moving relative to the ground and the rest of the body. Here too there is visual and kinaesthetic sensory input. It is literally one small step from this experience, to replicating it when stepping towards and striking the ball. I have found that in most instances this method of correcting the biomechanics of stepping towards the ball works once and forever. Why? I think it is because, once again, the correct action has been installed unconsciously while the player was in (or entering into) an altered state.

Farewell to conventionality

I could of course coach this conventionally by getting the player to perform endless repetitions of the motor actions. And in doing so, yes the actions would pass into muscle memory and eventual unconscious competence. However, using localised trance and the nature of altered states, means that players can advance quickly through laborious processes and start to get down to the REALLY important part of striking the ball – timing; through the development and improvement of judgement using hand-eye co-ordination.
I have even used this methodology on players with dyspraxia and achieved excellent results. It seems that because the programming that runs the motor movements has been installed unconsciously, the brain is able to run the programme in a much better way.

Another benefit I have experienced by using this way of installing technique in the unconscious is that part of this seems to become ‘hot wired’ into autonomic functionality. I have seen dramatic changes in players from one week to the next, knowing that they haven’t spent time practising the technique in the intervening days. Their unconscious mind seems to have done all the background processing necessary to raise the level of competence quite dramatically. What might be deemed as unconscious learning without practice.

There is clearly more to unconscious learning than meets the eye – (and hands and feet!).


* - RAS - the Reticular Activating System. The brain's perceptive filter.

Remember to breathe!

Our cricket club's Under 15s side had a match last Sunday morning. It was warm, pleasant and sunny and our side had batted particularly well and there was little possibility of the opposition matching our score. This type of match situation gives our skipper the opportunity to involve the less regular bowlers in the game.

One of the lads at the end I was umpiring was struggling to relax and bowl with consistency. In amongst the good balls were wides and his control was teetering on the very edge!

Earlier in the season he'd been in this situation before, but on that occasion I'd been watching from off the field of play so could only remark about it afterwards. I told him then about how much composure helps his accuracy when bowling and about how important breathing helps composure.

Back to this Sunday morning, and all I could hear from behind me as he came round to bowl the next ball was short and shallow breathing - almost panting - with an open mouth. After the next ball I caught his eye and said "Remember to Breathe!" He knew exactly what I meant and as he smiled his shoulders immediately relaxed. Everything went fine for him from then on and there was no more anxious panting.

Was this coaching while the game was in progress - something we frown upon as officials? Yes it was - though it wasn't coaching in terms of anything to do with the game. So my three little words said almost in passing had exactly the desired effect for him, and I had my excuse ready!

Breathing is so important in performance for relaxing the body and clearing the mind. When you are doing anything "under pressure" check your breathing first. Control it and it will then help control all that you are asking your body and mind to do.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Using carbon-fibre 'cheetahs' metaphorically!

"I want to sort my head out" said a recent client.

In athletic terms she needed to maintain standard timings for specific runs, and she felt that although she was physically capable in fitness terms, that a self imposed barrier - a kind of defeatist voice within - was telling her "you're losing ground, you're off the pace, you're not good enough". The end product for her was a kind of "can't do, won't do" scenario.
PW: "Has this always been the case for you? Always like this?"
CL: "No. I used to be well up to pace and put in good times"
And then she explained how someone had got on her case, critical, unfairly judgemental and prejudiced, and this was when things had started to go off the rails.
PW: "So how would you describe this situation as it keeps occurring for you?"
CL: "It doesn't happen when I'm playing other sports like rugby or lacrosse, all which involve running. These sports have a purpose. Only when just plain running, where the purpose is beating the clock."
PW: "So you're detached in other sports which have another purpose to them and fully engaged with this issue in ordinary plain running. So, what do you feel is happening?"
CL: "I'll tell you what it feels like. I run up against a brick wall and I can't get over it"
PW: "What can you tell me about this brick wall?"
This 'barrier' had a familiar ring to it and so I seized upon the metaphor she'd presented and decided to run with it.
CL: "It's sort of pinky red bricks and pretty high." I invited her to elaborate further on her pinky red brick wall."It's about 8 feet high, and 6 or 7 feet wide and about the the thickness of a brick in depth."
PW: "And is there anything else about this 8 foot high, 6 or 7 foot wide pinky red brick wall that is one brick thick?"
CL: "It's important to know what's on the other side. But I can't see over."
PW: "What needs to happen for you to know what's on the other side?" Quite a pause here.
CL: "Well I could go round but that would be cheating and would mark my time down. I can get over six foot walls like on assault courses, but not eight foot ones."
PW: "What needs to happen for you to get to the other side without cheating?"
CL: "I'd need a set of foldable steps...but they'd be really awkward to carry while running," and there was another pause and she chuckled, "a pickaxe would be very but that would be awkward to carry too." And then I waited for almost half a minute, when there was a totally physical response of realisation. "I could use sprung legs, using those blade things - whatever they're called." I think she meant carbon-fibre 'cheetahs'. "They would work brilliantly."

I invited her to visualize how to clear the wall using her 'cheetahs', going through the process, reaching up having sprung off them, vaulting almost and using her hands to pivot over the wall and landing the other side, and continuing with her run to the finish.
PW: "Make a film of this, enhance it on your mental video-console, add a soundtrack, make it as compelling as it needs to be for you. And how does this now feel for you?"
Her physiology had changed, she seemed animated, excited. Plus her head seemed somewhat 'sorted'.
CL: "Is that it? Is it really that simple?" she asked.
PW: "If you can see yourself doing it, then there's a high probability that you will do it in reality. Your unconscious has found a great solution for you - utilise it!"


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Nothing is ever nothing at all

Early one day recently I posted a link to a clip on YouTube from Blackadder 4. It was the one called “I Spy” and related to Blackadder and Baldrick playing I Spy which started thus:-
Blackadder: "I spy with my bored little eye something beginning with ‘T’."
Baldrick: "Breakfast. My breakfast always begins with tea. Then I have a little sausage. Then a boiled egg with some soldiers."

Some hours passed by and then, quite unwittingly I had 2 boiled eggs for lunch – with soldiers! I posted about making this discovery as well, by saying:- "Was this self-persuasion, self-induction or something even a little deeper? Or perhaps nothing at all?" And then I replied to myself – "No! NOTHING is EVER Nothing At All"

This got me thinking about how much there is in that phrase –
"Nothing is ever Nothing at All"

First up I looked on Google –
There was nothing specific, just a lot of arrows pointing to Ronan Keating’s song "Nothing At All".
Then I found a reference to Canon Henry Scott-Holland (1847-1918), Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral. He is most well known for ‘The King of Terrors’, a sermon on death, that starts:- "Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room."
Next, I remembered someone once saying that in Mozart’s compositions EVERY note has a purpose, and that no note he ever wrote could be deemed as "Nothing at All" or insignificant, without significance. Here, I felt, I was getting warmer to the argument of "Nothing is ever nothing at all".

Then I looked at the ambiguity between saying "Nothing is ever Nothing at All" and "Nothing is Never Nothing at All". It’s one of those phrases where emphasis on each of the words is key, and the tone of voice in which it is phrased also changes the meaning around the pivot of 'EVER' and 'NEVER'.

So, is "Nothing At All" an entity here, an argument where No Thing has a different meaning from Nothing. Is it like Disease – which is dis-ease? Or is it more like seminate and disseminate? And there’s also "Never", which is meant as "not ever".

This is all rather like the linguistic argument I propounded in the preface of "Don’t Think of a Black Cat" – where I took Shakespeare’s "To Be or not To Be – that is the question" and applied it loosely to the NLP presupposition "The Map is not the Territory" (where the ambiguities around the verb To Be are exposed). The Map is only a partial representation of how to navigate the territory – it’s not the reality of the Territory. I’ve done something stupid doesn’t mean I AM stupid. In the end I concluded that "If To Be is not To Be, then is THAT the question?" Whereupon at least one much respected friend and colleague who was totally baffled, summed up the whole book as "That kind of stuff leaves me stone cold I’m afraid. Does absolutely nothing for me."

So what does it really mean, "Nothing is ever nothing at all"?

You know when you are in a conversation and the person starts to say something and then stops. We might say, "What were you about to say?" and often their response is ", it doesn’t matter..." or "Oh, it’s nothing." We all have that unconscious knowledge that it DOES matter, but there is something in their conscious mind holding back the saying of it. It may be they are still grasping at being able to express it properly – or rather, express it in a way that they feel might be best appropriate for us, or for the current circumstances – or rather express it in a way that still hides their true intent – or rather.....and so on. I find there’s a really useful conversational tool that allows them to keep that reticence and yet also allows them to express themselves in a way satisfactory to them. It is to invite them to say it metaphorically. It means they are opening up, and in a way that is not the black-and-white unshadedness of abrupt bluntness.
Or perhaps their use of ‘Nothing At All’ is actually a metaphor in their unconscious language for "I’ve placed what I really want to say behind a curtain – so you can’t see it" in a magician’s-style ‘sleight of thought’. By responding metaphorically both you and they are now communicating at an unconscious level far more than consciously. And the significance of that unconscious communication is all bound up within ‘Nothing At All’.

So, nothing IS EVER nothing at all.
• Every note in Mozart’s compositions has significance. Every note has a relationship with the other notes and with the silences that surround those notes. The very meaning of his music EXISTS in the often conscious nothingness of its appearance.
• Not many things may EXIST in a vacuum but a vacuum has properties, and therefore a vacuum is not "nothing" but is a relative state of nothingness. It does have EXISTENCE.
• In Ronan Keating’s song, "You say it best when you say nothing at all" - the implication is that unconsciously you express yourself to me in the most significant way without the need for words. And that the meaning of your expression EXISTS in that "Nothing At All".
• Canon Henry Scott-Holland’s "Death is nothing at all", in my perception, alludes only to the non-existence of a state of aliveness and not to a closure of the timeless nature of EXISTING. The ‘nothing at all-ness’ of death is therefore best understood at an unconscious level.

And what has this all to do with Blackadder, Baldrick and boiled eggs?

Why absolutely nothing at all! .....Or has it?

Monday, August 2, 2010

"I'm turning into my mother!" - Behavioural models

I went out earlier and our neighbour's dog was barking continuously though not in an annoying way. A couple of 6 yr olds were walking towards me and as they passed by I heard one say in his deepest voice,"That is a baaaad dog."
I chuckled and then thought about which of his close family members he was modelling with that voice that was clearly not his 'own'.

In our formative years we spend so much time modelling behaviours from those nearest to us - starting with parents, siblings etc and then as we grow, and our circle of 'known people' in our world gets bigger, we start to model more and more people.

Parents still remain the biggest influence, however. And for many mothers with young children, there will come that day - that defining moment - when they say, "I caught myself saying something to my child that my mother once said to me. I can't believe I'm turning into my mother!"

Of course for some this recognition comes as a startling experience, though it's as well to remember that these are what go to make up family traits and idiosyncrasies. They don't mean that she THINKS like her mother. or has every one of her beliefs and values, necessarily. They are behaviours and responses.

We have a family photo of myself, my father and my son (when aged about 5), on the beach and all looking at something in the distance. We are all side by side, standing the same way, holding the identical physical pose. Amusing, yet predictably understandable.

Specialised traits:
My father never used to mimick or use different accents when he spoke, but I can remember discovering (at about 7 or 8) how much people would laugh at impressionists and also discovered that with practice I could do it quite well. (Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov have a lot to answer for!) The older I became, the better I got. Its now just another part of what I am in behavioural terms. However my son got to model me from a very early age - and consequently he is a master of accents, mimickry and impressionism.

My daughter, although she lapses into 'other voices' from time to time, has done far less modelling upon my behaviour. No, her behavioural model has been more her mother - and I guess as time goes on she will continue making occasional discoveries that lead to her saying "I'm turning into my mother!"