The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Born Optimist

We've all used the phrase at some stage - "He's a born optimist," yet do we consider exactly what we mean by such a statement?
Surely everyone is a born optimist aren't they? Have you ever seen a pessimistic baby?

So where is all this complete distortion coming from?

In our growing up, by the time we come to understand what optimism, pessimism, beliefs, facts, generalizations and distortions all mean, we've already got our own versions of them - as contours of our perception. The thing is, we may have grown into an understanding of all these constructs, these shapings mapped out as contours of our perception, however we have hard-wired them into our young minds as being "real".

At this stage we are still very early in the timescale of life's learning curve. A large part of our library of life still has empty shelves, shelves waiting to be populated by knowledge, by experience. So who is telling us how to be our own librarian? As our own librarians we need to know which experiences, learnings, understandings and knowledge are fiction and which are non-fiction. Who teaches us how to code these things up?

Learning to be our 'librarians'

There is an interestingly neutral phrase - "family of origin" - which seems to encompass the very beginnings of this. After family of origin comes a wider circle of family friends, and then more formal educators etc. Other 'characters' and 'types' will move in and out of these circles - such as medical people, priests, people in the neighbourhood etc. All of these people have a degree of influence upon librarianship - some of the influence will be through repetitive interaction, and some will be less repetitive or even singular. There are other elements to influence as well - such as emotional imprints.

Now, while our learning about our own librarianship is hugely personal and unique - there is something our CHIEF influencers need to be aware of in helping us to become better librarians. There are many things that can be labelled as 'good parenting', however it is in the area of influencing the learning librarian where the most benefit can accrue.
You will hear many parents say, "I don't want what happened to me in my childhood to happen to my child." Most people have some things they'd like to protect their child from. It's all part of giving them better opportunities, a better 'start in life'. Many parents will go to great lengths and sacrifices in order to bring this about.

I would suggest however that it is in that trainee librarianship, the things we need to know in order to become balanced and knowledgable custodians of our own reality, where the 'best start' in life begins.

The truth is - life happens.
Every day a set of new 'life books' arrive into the library and it's our job to code up the ones we want to keep and put them on the shelves in the right place. We might even want to read them and get to know more about them as well.
We also need to return some books to the central library as being not necessary, of no use, inappropriate or some such like. And that's good too, since there are things in life that are to be rejected in such a way.

And yet if our quality of librarianship isn't that good and we use our library to tell us what to believe, how to behave, who to trust - then it isn't that surprising that some of the things in our life will be 'out of sync' with how we'd like things to be.

Shelf Development

Many people see me about changing something malfunctioning in their lives OR getting back something they used to have OR being better at something they are doing. These things are all held in place in their lives because of their perceptions - their hard-wired view of what is real - their abilities as librarians to have filled their shelves (especially the non-fiction ones) with many volumes devoted to Pessimism, books from the "I can't" series and "Teach Yourself Limiting Beliefs".

They all want to do some Self Development, without having realised that they've been developing their selves all their lives. Trouble is they've been developing themselves with manuals from their own faulty library.
OK - I can lend them a book on X or Y, that will sort out just those things - X or Y. However, if that's all they've done, when they get back to "reality" then they are just going to keep taking books off those shelves marked as "non-fiction" without realising that they are pure fiction!
The key to what I like to show them is that they need to change their perceptions, especially about what's really real and what's just thinking about what's real.

They need to realise that it's not the books already in their library that are wrong, only the labelling on the shelves. So - the task of "re-developing" their selves is quite minimal when they realise they haven't got to throw away all the books! Curiously, might this be called "Shelf Development?"

So how to get back to or stay being a Born Optimist?

* By acknowledging that there IS NO key - only you ARE the key - and that this all starts NOW.
* By blending a lifetime of experience, learning and knowledge with the open-minded, wide-eyed wonder of a young child.
* By accepting that you've reached this point in your life in spite of coding up your books all wrong, in spite of never questioning all that hot-wiring that took place on your behalf - no matter how well intentioned it might have been!

Oh - and parents - watch out for your own inner acceptances being modelled by your children when very young. Just get them to keep questioning what is and isn't real and nurture in them a lifelong sense of curiosity and wonder.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brace or Embrace?

I have coached a number of rugby sides over the years, both junior and senior. One of the issues I have to broach with them is weather conditions and how to deal with them. The thing is - the weather, rain or worse, wet ground or otherwise, is not anything within our control. However, what we can control is how we can mentally adjust to those conditions – both on the outside and on the inside.

The other thing we cannot control is how our opponents make their own mental adjustments. Of course there is a resultant level of relativity between our mutual adjusting abilities, and this is the pivotal point of how the weather effect will affect both teams during the contest.

The approach is really about whether to Brace or Embrace. Do we brace ourselves against the conditions – or do we embrace the conditions and conduct our activities not so much alongside them, but within them. Both Brace and Embrace are about being prepared – however the notion is that one is helpful and the other debilitating. And with that notion comes the conclusion that it is ALL about our thinking, our mindset.

If we pre-frame our mindset as being one of brace, then there comes with it the idea of ‘steeling ourselves’, ‘gritting our teeth’, ‘being on our guard’, ‘biting the bullet’, ‘setting our jaw’. There is a sense of protecting what is inside from the ravages of what is outside.
Now in terms of the level of extremes this WILL be a useful consideration. Divers, generally, need to wear wet suits and skiers need to wear warmth retaining clothing. This is very much common sense, and no way does it come under the umbrella of Brace or Embrace. No, Brace or Embrace really encompasses enabling our ability to apply our skills within all reasonably fluctuating conditions.


So in rugby this will involve dealing with a wet or ‘greasy’ ball, wet and possibly cold conditions at our own skin level. And isn’t this perhaps the true sense of ‘conditioning’?

In the warm-up the players can get outwardly familiar with the conditions, by making their hands and certain areas of their bodies wet. This gaining of an outward familiarity with the conditions is going to be accelerated when the players really get in touch with how they are feeling about their surroundings. If they verbalise their feelings by reactive comments then it’s obvious that they are Bracing rather than Embracing. Likewise if their body language is stiffened, especially with elbows tucked into the torso, then that body language is an expression of how they are feeling. Our warm-ups on a wet and windy day are all about relaxing into, engaging with and totally embracing the conditions. There is a direct correlation between a relaxed and ‘embraced’ mindset and a lower level of handling or passing errors.

The Mindset

There was a curious example in the recent Wales v France Rugby international at the culmination of the 2012 Six Nations Championship. The game was held at the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff on a wet, showery day and there is a roof at this stadium. Wales needed to win the game to gain a ‘Grand Slam’ of victories in the competition and there were generally held notions that the greatest advantage would accrue to Wales from favourable or more ideal conditions, and that France were there to disrupt or ‘spoil the party’. Whatever the major thinking behind it was – the French team management chose to ask for the roof to be open thus allowing all the rain and associated weather conditions into the playing arena. The irony was - once the game got under way and there was a higher overall level of handling and other errors involving the wet ball – most of these were errors from the French players! The thinking behind their choice of an open roof had ‘backfired’ badly purely from, I would venture to suggest, their ignorance of Brace or Embrace. It was a classic case of “Fail to Prepare -> Prepare to Fail”. Whatever was thought and said to or by the French players, they clearly lost the quality of their skill-sets versus the Conditions, let alone versus their real opponents, the Welsh team.

Brace or Embrace and us

There are huge implications for Brace or Embrace in our own everyday lives. We all have occasional, one-off or regular and ongoing issues that we could deal with in a much better or different way once we change from Brace to Embrace.

Brace is not a fortress that keeps us safe from the marauders. Brace actually keeps inside the fortress a whole range of negative emotional thought and experience – so much so that actually it would be best for us to lower the drawbridge and ‘let them out’. To brace ourselves keeps that subversive 5th column in the midst of all our other thoughts and emotions – blighting our feelings, actions and decisions.

This can be noticed across a wide range of responses such as stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, pain, loss of confidence etc.

“Hold tight everyone – it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!” This is counter-intuitive! The tighter we ‘hold on’ - the more bumpy the ride gets, and we get to feel and notice every single pothole and rut in the road. If everyone was encouraged to relax and ‘embrace with your surroundings’ then the ride would be so much better.
In any equestrian activity the best riders are in tune with the horse and its movements – not ‘hanging on for grim death’! For doing things that way, grim death could arrive much quicker than they think, like when they fall off!

Sound familiar?

“I’ve got a meeting later and X will be there. X always makes me feel uncomfortable and I always react in a way I’d rather not, to be honest. Shall I brace myself for what I think will happen? Or should I relax, be natural and behave in a more useful way by embracing the memories?”

“I’ve a dental appointment tomorrow – or I’m flying to Florida next week – I know what’s coming ‘cause I’ve experienced one or both of these instances before. Shall I brace or embrace?” Of course pain or anxiety and phobic responses are awfully real, yet even if there’s a logical back–up of thinking, (if God had meant us to fly he’d have given us wings is one that I’ve heard), it is still only thinking.

Pain is just a message from an invaded or damaged area of the body to the brain – which we have thrown a load of emotion at. If we brace ourselves for the dentist we’re keeping inside ourselves all the negative emotion from the last visit and all previous visits. Let’s face it – if we liked going to the dentist we’d remember all the ‘nice’ things about doing that. And, more to the point, we’d relax and embrace all those good feelings to enhance our anticipations!

I had a very restricting issue with swallowing liquids which cut across my unconscious ability to swallow. With every mouthful (or eventually every sip) I’d brace myself for the consequences if some of the liquid ‘went down the wrong way’. As soon as I stopped trying to think my way to a solution for this and realised I needed to embrace my own condition – things dramatically improved for me. With some help and guidance from some dear colleagues, I got inside, embraced and really got to know the pain and discomfort I was causing myself.


Protection is one thing – like appropriate clothing, or preparatory action, or sometimes plain common sense – and then there’s bracing against or embracing with the conditions, whether that’s the weather, the bumpy road, people or ourselves.

Consider some of your strategies in terms of brace or embrace and look at them another way. What different outcomes might you have got if you’d made those changes, and what needs to happen for you to embrace next time instead of the bracing you may have done in the past?

Of course it’s all a matter of our choice - not so much at the end of the day, but – at the beginning of ‘the day’. Because if we choose at the beginning of the day to Embrace then, at the end of the day, we will have had a much more rewarding, fulfilling and potentially happier day as a result.

Just a thought you understand!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting Warmer!

Remember that party game we used to play called ‘Hunt the Thimble’. Someone would leave the room and then we’d hide something and then call them back in. Their task was to find ‘the thimble’, or whatever we’d hidden, and we would give them clues if they were getting close or not by saying “getting warm” or “warmer” or “colder”.

Considering Life, and the way we are doing things we are doing, the learning and understandings that we have, the metamorphoses and transformations that we undergo – there are times when we get insights or ‘A-Ha’ moments. And it is these that seem, for me at least, to be rather like a resounding chorus of “getting very warm”.

The other thing to remember in Life is that once the ‘thimbles’ are found, we tend to usually tag them in such a way as to recognise them, so that when we next search we are able to find them straight away or certainly much quicker!

Now this brings me to the next stage of the game – the ways in which we hunt.

The Ways We Hunt

When we come back into the room there are many ways we can set about hunting the 'thimble'. If we just start randomly looking around in one area – on top of things, behind things, under things, inside things – WITHOUT listening to what the other players in the room are saying in terms of warmer or colder, then, unless we are very lucky, we might be looking for a very long time! So there are methods we can adopt to help the hunt, and attentions we can pay to the messages we are getting.

This is all very much conscious hunting. What if we were to alter and enhance our perspective by applying some unconscious hunting? To explain this I’m going to use the metaphor of being on horseback.

Horse Whispers and hoarse whispers

Once mounted on this metaphorical horse, I can take on a new perspective. The perspective that the way I hunted for 'thimbles' when on the ground is quite different on horseback. Up here I can see more and with greater clarity, I have more of an overview that my previous perspective would never allow.

The other thing about the metaphorical horse is this – Once you accept the notion that the previous way I was hunting was purely a conscious search, and that the horse is an unconscious engagement, NOW my way of hunting has become enhanced with another set of eyes, an additional degree of perceptive awareness, an extra level of hunting energy, to supercharge my 'thimble' search.

NOW it is not just conscious me, it is me and my unconscious horse! And when I am in harmony with my horse, we have a unified level of awareness that makes finding the ‘thimbles’ much, much, easier.

Of course I’m not always in harmony with my horse – my communication, shall we say, is not a Whisper! Sometimes I dismount and convince myself that today’s ‘Hunt’ is better conducted on foot. Needless to say, when the world keeps saying to me “getting colder”, because the way I’m hunting today is not hunting at my best, then I get irate, angry and frustrated with the world – and I blame the world, and everything and everyone in it, for the fact that I can’t find today’s particular ‘thimble’.

However, once I return to trusting my horse and all that it brings for me, then I can mount up again and get back to finding the 'thimbles' with ease. The overriding notion is that trusting the horse becomes something essential to the game, when we realise that it’s capabilities as a hunter are vastly superior to just our own.

The 'Thimbles' of Life

The ‘thimbles’ of life, even down to that real BIG ‘thimble’ – the meaning of Life – are all mysteries there for us to solve, to discover where the 'thimbles' are. And isn’t that part of our engagement with ‘the game of Life’?

Of course, like all games, our level of engagement determines the amount of pleasure we get out of it. In a way that’s the one of the points about Life - the more the engagement, the more the pleasure. The thing is, when we are totally in the zone of playing, there is never any assessment of fun or enjoyment – we are just doing. All the assessment comes after the doing, during periods of reflection.

But, you may say, there are many other points to Life that no one could ever construe as being akin to games or fun. Or is that part of the illusion that we have accepted through our years of ‘growing up’? It must have come from somewhere, because we certainly aren’t born with it! The illusion that Life is a struggle, a trial, a bitter-sweet experience, something we have to take medication for, right down to something we aren’t allowed to have?

It’s just a thought!


So as you undertake another day of games of hunting 'thimbles', consider some of the ways you can change your methods of hunting. Consider also some of the ways you can tag the 'thimbles' so that next time you can recognise them more easily. Remind yourself that part of ‘good hunting’ is listening to the clues from the chorus as to whether you are ‘getting warmer’ or staying out in the cold.

Above all, remember that it is a game which you can make as serious or as light hearted as you wish, and that within all of this there is a degree of pleasure which is determined by your level of engagement with the game.

Getting warmer yet?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Putting some thought to warm-ups

Over the years I have been involved in and have delivered a whole variety of pre-activity warm ups. Now I say here pre-activity, because although warm ups are associated primarily with sports competition, they also take place in every area of performance - from music and the arts, to business presentations, right down to simple activities in everyday life.

The generally accepted idea is that this area of preparation falls into two distinct categories - physical and mental. Certainly in the area of sports and teams I have worked with this has been so and, while I used to treat them as distinct almost to the extent of being mutually exclusive, I now work from the premise that the quality of mental readiness is the best thing to drive both the quality AND the effectiveness of the physical warm up.

The mental preparation, the mental warm-up, starts in the changing room; however - the quality level of mental readiness starts long before any individual or member of a team enters that changing room. The purpose of the mental preparation is to then view the level of readiness and recognise what the next step is.

So where do I, as a mental performance coach, fit into this scenario for my players?

Well, it used to be all from the premise of state management and how best I could bring each player into managing their own state from moment to moment. With individuals this was more impactful, because of the depth of our rapport and the "intensity" of my guidance. Now with teams it was much harder to deliver and was dependent upon the numbers in the team. Although it was generally effective, there would be occasional periods of synchronicity - amazing moments of collective zen - where the team almost behaved in one unified state. In these times they achieved everything the processes they were executing were intended to do.
The thing was, I was always looking for more effectiveness in what I was doing for them - searching for things that would bring a level of more consistency in their ability to access and maintain good states of mind, and, dare I say, even regularly capture more of those pure flow or zen moments.
It was, certainly in the sporting side of my work, rather like the search for the holy grail!

I watch an inordinate amount of high level competitive sport - not so much for the spectacle or the partisan involvement - but rather for the sheer nature of what the competitors are doing, how they are doing it, and - most especially - how their ebbing and flowing states of mind are being played out in terms of their physical manifestations. The viewable part of their mind-body link, if you like.

Robots and Love

Now if these competitors were unemotional robots then the outcome of these contests would be down to which cybernaut had the best physical and tactical attributes. Since the statistical data of the robots would be measurable and known beforehand - there would probably be no real purpose in playing out the competition to see who is best - it is a given. The only thing that would bring the contest to life in meaningful terms would be the pleasure, the love, of playing the game. Of course robots have no comprehension of emotions such as pleasure and love - and therein is the reason why we, as humans, really play sport. It's about play, pleasure and love - all really powerful and positive human emotions.

Now my teams and players are not robots, so THE most overriding reasons for them playing their sport is for pleasure - for the love of it. What brings them to any contest (or even any practice session) is the sheer love of the game, and the next closest reason is the common bond of association with the people that are also involved.
If you think about motivation to practice; going to the gym or jogging on a dark, wet morning; or right down to something as mundane as ironing (almost!), there has to be love in there somewhere. Love of the activity or play; love of neat and smooth clothing; love of ourselves and what's best for us and feeling good about ourselves. If love isn't overriding all other emotions then we are less inclined to do something.


Now, although this vehicle (love) brings the players to this particular sporting encounter, they also bring their individual mental states - their 'baggage'. This baggage, like all baggage, can be of various sizes and contain a whole variety of things, issues, concerns, feelings etc., all things that go to make up their mood. In terms of a rugby team this will be (including substitutes) 18 different sets of baggage with 18 different sets of contents. So a mental warm-up needs to take account of this and, in essence, bring some alignment for the players in terms of pointing them in the same direction, (orientation), and get them singing from the same hymn sheet, (attunement).

Now for me to talk as they all sit listening is a very 'mainstream' way of doing things - even though many of the things I might say to them are 'off the wall', from a maverick mind-set, and so on.

Mainstream context, maverick content.
The difference came for me when I decided to double up on maverick, by taking a totally different line in terms of context. In my article called "Off The Wall" I explain some of the immediate details. (see February 2012 archive).

The key, I've found, is for them to (1) acknowledge the fact that their baggage is going to get in their way if they take it onto the field of play, and they'll trip over it or take their 'eye off the ball' in order to negotiate their way around it. In addition (2) for play to really have a purpose in terms of their love of it, they need to engage with that love.

Once that connection, or reconnection, is made then the mental warm-up is done - and the rest of the warm-up (physical) can be as short or as long as circumstances will allow or as I deem to be relevant. The thing I've found is that the physical warm-up should just be to awaken muscles and joints and re-familiarise players with certain technical or tactical processes.

Mistakes will happen in physical warm-up and these, dare I say it, are good for players who are in a high mental state. At this level players will view mistakes and errors as opportunities to make fine tunings and adjustments to those processes. They are not taken as being indicative of "not being switched on" or "lacking focus". They are merely bodies being woken up to the weather or pitch conditions, and levels of attunedness of the physical 'machines'.
When those same players make mistakes in the physical warm-up and they are not in a good mental state, there is a wide range of individual and collective self-criticism - because when in a low mood players will only recognise errors as being indicative of a lack of readiness, a lack of care, a pointer towards playing badly. And we all know what stations those particular trains of thought are heading for!

I also think of warm-ups as not just being pre-match. There are instances in the match where play pauses and then re-starts. Half times, drinks breaks, changing of ends, end of rounds, injury stops etc - these are all opportunities for warm-ups. They are all distractions in terms of the players' concentration and focus, so why not re-orient that concentration by deciding that all re-starts need some form of warm-up? Makes sense doesn't it!

Don't give it a second thought

In a recent match my rugby side were 17-0 ahead and needed one more try for a bonus point. With less than ten minutes left in the game the opposition scored. Now, several times in the past I have seen sides become almost paralysed by their own poor reactions to such a scenario - and these lads have been no exception. I can almost recite the script running through their thoughts, "We've let them score. If that happens again they'll catch us up and we'll have thrown this game away..." They then proceed to act out the script and "throw the game away".
On this occasion I was able to talk to them in a huddle as the opponents' kicker was taking the conversion. The point I made was that at 17-5 (or 17-7 if his kick went over) and less than ten minutes to go, it didn't matter whether they scored again or let alone how we might feel about that. The only REAL thing that mattered was that we needed one more try for a bonus point - and that everything we did between now and the final whistle should be focussed on that alone. I reminded them of their LOVE for what they are playing and who they are playing with. They scored with less than 3 minutes to go, secured the bonus point and their opponents were eclipsed without my players giving it a second thought!


Warm-ups are hugely relevant to performance and need to be effective rather than functional. They need to be flexible - and whoever runs them and however they are run, there needs to be an understanding of mental readiness and an engagement with the binding purpose that puts players at their highest level of mood or state of mind.

When we put thought into our warm-ups we need to be mindful of what that contains. When we put no thought in at all the warm-ups become robotic and, as we know, robots and humans (with all their emotions) are literally poles apart!