The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Understanding the Sporting Terrain

There are two sides to gaining mastery in sport – one is in the technical skills of the game, and the other is gaining mastery of ourselves.

Although I do coach the technical side of certain sports, it is in the mastery of the self, I believe, where we don’t coach enough and where we don’t coach early. Now if you add into that equation the fact that understanding ourselves plays a huge part in our lives in general, then you can understand why I believe society is “missing the boat” in many, many ways both in sport and beyond.
Mapping the Terrain

There is a terrain in sport, a vast area that - in most perceptions - lies between poles at the extremities; poles that we might refer to as zones.
In sports performance many athletes and players are drawn towards either one of the “zones”. These we have come to know as being either “Comfort” or “The”.

As with everything defined by the definite article – “The Zone” is the zenith, the pinnacle, the Holy Grail almost, of the performing state. And probably because of that mythical or seemingly unattainable status as a state, by design players tend to settle for ‘second best’ and go for comfort.

“In the comfort zone I can be myself, and feel no pressure,” is something I often hear – and yet these self-same people will happily tell you they like a challenge, which is quite contradictory! These are the “I want to have my cake and eat it” players when it really boils down to it. And, both in reality and metaphorically, we find that when cake is boiled it is rarely edible. Le Proof of this particular morsel of patisserie is unrewarding and forgettable!

So why is the Comfort Zone so debilitating?

To the left of the shaded area of optimum performance is an area of low motivation and stimulation – an area of not much pleasure from competition. It is – essentially – the Comfort Zone. The game is too easy, the challenge is well down the scale – so how do you feel? Is the level of satisfaction of beating a weak opponent higher than compared to winning a tight match with someone of equal or greater ability or potential?
We all need some level of stress going on in competition for our performance to blossom – but we certainly don’t need the stress to be beyond and to the right of the shaded area. This is the place where our game falls apart and our ability to perform totally collapses. Here there isn’t even a cake to eat, let alone boil!

The Purpose of Practice
So the Comfort Zone is only for those seeking second best at best! And it is why I like players to become familiar with working outside it in practice. Practice should be for two things only – (a) grooving and conditioning already learned actions and (b) pushing back the boundaries of experience and learning new actions beyond the Comfort Zone. Doing this in practice provides a safety net for all the work in progress – and gives us a chance to take all our learnings from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

Practising outside the Comfort Zone reveals much about a player’s emotional intelligence and their consequent ability to perform under pressure in the cauldron of competition. If the amount of self-applied pressure (judgements, expectations, opinions etc) is too much for a player in practice, then their ‘bath of emotional tolerance’ is already filling up. If they are aware of this from previous performances, where they were catapulted into the over-stressed right hand side of the optimum shaded area, then they might seek to maintain being in their Comfort Zone in competition. This way they will play “well within themselves” and none of the bad stuff will emerge. Or to put it another way, they won’t add the pressure of competition to their already well-filled “bath of emotional tolerance” – thus avoiding it all spilling over!
So – how we operate mentally in practice gives us a whole raft of clues as to how we are going to deal with ourselves in performance. If it isn’t working for us, then we need to help ourselves by changing how we view the purpose – for us – of practice. We need to peel back the layers of “I” opinions, judgements and expectations.
To the twin questions “What do I want from this practice” and “How will I know I’ve got it”, we need to be adaptable. We need to perhaps view our practice as follows:
“If the purpose of my practice is not to discover more about myself, then it should only be to groove and condition a technical part of my game. How I execute the latter part of this planned purpose is, in itself, another opportunity to discover more about myself.”
Maintaining Equilibrium
Of course the graphic I have used above as an illustration applies to what generally happens for players on a day-to-day performance basis.

So what happens for us when our performance lies in the shaded area?
Well, in general, I would describe it as this:-
Our performance is executed and played out within a balance of conscious awarenesses and unconscious competences. Our skill sets lie within the latter, our tactical thinking and decision making lies within the former and our emotional wellbeing, in particular, lies around the pivotal point. In this regard it can be seen that the equilibrium of our emotional wellbeing is key to the quality of the entire functioning of our performance. And when we are
‘on an even keel’, we sail through the match!
We may come under pressure during the match, and if we want to keep performing at our best then we need to maintain that equilibrium. Too much pressure and either our skill sets break down or our tactics and decisions go awry. If we totter and wobble – in emotional terms – then the breakdown wobbles between skills and decisions, reflecting the extent of the emotional wobbling.
Take a look at any of your performances where things went out of kilter and I can guarantee that the above scenario was played out for you.
And here’s the thing – It all felt and seemed as if it was played out outside of you, or before your very eyes.
And the clue to what makes that pressure so real lies inside of you.
It lies within how you react to events. Before that, it lies within how your beliefs help filter, judge and interpret events.
The filtering, judging and interpreting are all part of a thought process – a process of giving things a second, third, fourth or more thought.
Thought grows like cell division until eventually we are focussing more on the thoughts than on the real stuff that’s going on on the outside – i.e. the action, the match.
Pressure, the very thing we know that adds to levels of stress in performance, is entirely made and perpetuated by ... ourselves!

Wobbles on the highest stage
UEFA Champions League Final 2005 – Liverpool losing 3-0 to AC Milan at half time. What followed, in an extraordinary passage of play lasting some six minutes, was that the score went to 3-3. In the minds of the AC Milan players there was a change of equilibrium when the score went to 3-1. Their individual and collective thinking reacted to noticing that change of equilibrium and the ‘wobble’ started. When the score went to 3-2 the wobble had become so noticeable for AC Milan players that they saw little else – on the outside. Meanwhile for them, on the inside, there was chaos and confusion.

There’s an interesting parallel between what happens when our computer locks up, and what the AC Milan players should have done next to stop the inevitable march to 3-3.
When our computer ‘hangs’ – when the software locks up – we follow a very simple rule of thumb. Switch Off. Then re-boot – hit the reset button. Most of the time with computers that does the trick, and, although we – in the guise of the AC Milan players – are not computers, we actually have the mental capacity to switch off. We can disengage with the very process that is driving this breakdown of equilibrium – if we so choose.
Our choosing comes from the understanding that it is OUR game that we (as AC Milan players) are throwing out of kilter – and not what THEIR game (as Liverpool players) is doing to us.
For their part in this drama, Liverpool just kept playing their game - no more, no less – and in doing that they maintained their own equilibrium. Let’s say they had tried to accelerate matters, by TRYING harder to score and thus equalise at 3-3. The mere act of trying harder would have upset their emotional equilibrium, causing a breakdown of skills or tactics and decision making, or a mixture of both. Trying harder doesn’t make it happen. Maintaining equilibrium gives it EVERY chance of happening – the rest is down to what the opposition do in every ensuing moment.
Of course what AC Milan players did in every ensuing moment up to conceding the goal that made the score 3-3 was to oblige their opponents by maintaining their loss of equilibrium!
Interestingly, in the remainder of normal time – and the period of extra time – the equilibrium of BOTH sides wobbled which meant that no more goals were scored.
However, when it came to the penalty shoot-out, there was yet another change in the relative levels of emotional equilibrium – since the contest had now come down to the 1 against 1 scenario of penalty taker versus goalkeeper.
And there’s another inevitability in these kind of “You-Me-Here-Now” cases, and it is this:-
When there are wobbles around, the goalkeeper is always in the ascendancy.

The Zone
Well, many people, including myself, have written about The Zone, and what the experience of being in it is like. And of course, because of that almost mindless state of just doing, it is where there is no emotion – just equilibrium. An equilibrium held firmly in place at an unconscious level.

Our skills are all on show – even those we weren’t consciously sure that we had installed yet as skills! This just goes to show that skills acquisition is a very fast process and is only held in conscious competence by our thinking, our opinions, our judgements and our beliefs.
Our decision making and tactics are seemingly without question because, on the face of it, there is no thinking taking place – only doing.
So where is The Zone?
Well this is rather like what happened for Alice ** when she sat pondering what was on the other side of a mirror’s reflection. She discovered, as we know, an alternative world – a world of the amazing, a world where the familiar becomes extraordinarily unfamiliar, a world that, on reflection, can be compared to being in a dream.
So, wouldn’t we always want to go there if we could? Wouldn’t we always want to perform to the ultimate level of our real abilities – well beyond the actual level we think of our perceived abilities?

Well, amidst these rhetorical questions lies a number of very personal factors. These are factors about our view or map of the world – a map drawn for us by our knowledge, our beliefs and experiences.

Some of us live our lives very much ‘in our heads’. When we do, there is a disengagement with the rest of ourselves in such a way that we lose a sense of our mind-body connections. They will still be going on, but at a conscious level there is little or no acknowledgement of them. If an amazing performance happens to us then we will seek out the logical explanation of what we did and leave it at that. The Zone, for us, is some weird and spooky thing that seems to happen to others. We do what we do, we’re in (conscious) control and nothing like that is going to freak us out – if we can help it!
“When I don’t play so well then it’ll be because of this reason or that excuse – not because of something I did or didn’t think of and certainly nothing whatever to do with my beliefs and my map of the world. I have no wish to play my sport as some kind of headless chicken – my head is my control centre and I need it.”

However, if we do want to go there – to The Zone – on a regular basis, then what is our next step? Like Alice, we need to find out where is the mirror of our contemplation!
Well, I like to think that the mirror of contemplation is the shaded area on the graphic I used earlier. What lies behind this is – for each and every one of us – our own unique and particular Zone. If we try and go there without understanding what the shaded area is all about, then we’ll just bang our heads and break the glass.

Digital Tales
I’ve had many dislocated fingers in my life and, in recent times, I’ve avoided visits to A&E departments in hospitals by putting them back in place myself. OK they slip out and back in rather easily – but the point is all about replicating the event that caused the dislocation, while at the same time re-pivoting the equilibrium in the knuckle joint. So what is the comparison, the metaphor, I’m looking to use as an illustration here?
As I described it earlier, The Zone contains no emotional equilibrium, just a perfect equilibrium where skills and decisions can just flow throughout the performance. If I want to step into The Zone then the only barrier to my going through the mirror, like Alice did, is to discard – in the very moment of stepping – all emotion. Similarly, if I want to manipulate and relocate my knuckle, then it requires zero emotion in the moment.

Some years back I visited my local A&E with, yes you’ve guessed, a dislocated finger! I was not yet adept at self relocation and even some 5 hours after the injury, none of the medicos had succeeded in putting things right. In fact, so rigorous were the young houseman’s attempts that the A&E sister warned him of permanently damaging my hand if he were to continue! At the time there was a doctor, a refugee from the war in Croatia, working at the hospital as a cleaner. (He was unable to then practice as a doctor in the NHS.) They sent for him as they had an idea that he might solve this injurious conundrum for both them and me.
He spoke very good English in a relaxing yet engaging soft voice. He took hold of my hand and asked me to look at him and just pay attention to what he was saying. Moments later and without my really noticing any manipulation whatsoever, he showed me that my finger was back in place and that all would now be well.
I learnt much that day, although it would be some years before I was to learn how much!

There are many ways we can get better at our game – whatever that game may be – or even better at the game of life. However, it starts with our map of the world, and in particular, our sporting world.

We need to understand the part that practice plays relative to our mastery of technique and self. We also need to understand the part that practice plays in our performance. Once we have reached the level of understanding of how those two pillars of our sporting relationship work to serve us, then we are ready to make the quantum leap.
Yes, players can work on their technique alone and make many advancing steps to becoming more accomplished – only for it all to collapse like a boiled cake when they enter the cauldron of competitive performance.
And always – like driving on the wrong side of the road around blind corners – we will eventually meet up with ourselves. This encounter inevitably begs the question – “What Now?”
At some moment, in competitive sport, we will always meet ourselves, in some different guise. So wouldn’t it be good to know – ahead of the game – that WE are the one who has the understanding of the two zones and the nature of the terrain that lies in between; that WE are the one who knows about the other side of the mirror; and, above all, that WE are the one who has not just mastery of technique, but also the mastery of ourselves.


** Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass ~ Lewis Carroll

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Silence of the Ticking Clock

"Between the lines of our thoughts are vast uncharted territories.  Ask this - can I free my self enough to go there?"

I was doing a bit of one-to-one work with a young cricketer which involved my feeding him tennis balls to hit - but with a fast repeat on the feed. I stood about ten metres away and fed six balls underarm in the time-space of between 6-8 seconds. For him, the exercise was to hit each ball as it arrived roughly back in my direction.

A fairly simple exercise, of course - and I've used it on many previous occasions to illustrate a number of things, viz:-
  • The sharpness of his visual concentration
  • How he re-sets into his stance after every shot
  • What happens when he doesn't re-set to 'ground zero'
  • What happens when he watches where he has hit the ball
  • How light he is on his feet
  • How integrated his stroke-play is with his body movements
These are what I would call the top 6 "outer" discoveries from such an exercise and there is much to notice and learn for both player and coach from them in technical terms.
  • The depth of engagement, absorption and focus on the data of the moving ball
  • His sense of balance when grounded in the stance
  • His ability to hold the stance at 'ground zero' rather than inching forward after every shot
  • His ability to disengage and progress to 'next task'
  • His balance, agility and fluidity of motion relative to the ground
  • His balance, agility and fluidity of motion relative to himself
With the last two, the stability of his head (and therefore eyes) is hugely significant - as is how his feet are making contact with the ground.

So that's all technical feedback which will help him advance and condition his technique, and move along the endless ladder towards Mastery.

Familiarity with the "Oh Dear" response

Of course everything and nothing does ever end there now does it? And we know - as with all things in life - that there is so much more that can get in the way when we are doing, when we are performing. Even in practice, like this simple exercise, we lay down our "pitch" using our beliefs about ourselves - beliefs based upon ??? (Well, you decide!)

We are not robots, even though we might consider that some of our abilities are robotic. We can make repetitive and robotic responses in countless processes, in the a la mode as illustrated by Forrest Gump

Here's the thing though ...
Forrest Gump's outward abilities all extended from his inner ability, as some might call it, to disengage from his thinking.

The lad I was working with in the simple fast repeat ball-hitting exercise fell into the self-dialogue trap. Shots 1-3 all had good outcomes. Shot 4 had a poor outcome and his response (as I heard it) was "Ohhh" in a sinking and downward tonality. Shot 5 he missed the ball completely, Shot 6 he scrambled to play poorly (as it turned out) and more "Ohhh"s ensued.

Now we've all done this - and still do - on many occasions in the course of life's learning and conditioning. So what's going to help us most, at this moment in time, in terms of learning and moving on? Teachers, parents, coaches, friends, fellow life-players - all have a role to play here, as well as ourselves.
The trouble is that many of them, like many of us, fall into the self-same emotional and linguistic traps - traps characterised by "Ohhh" responses.
When babies are learning to walk, what happens when they fall over? For them there's no emotion in the act of falling - only a response to pain or discomfort after landing. They don't think "I can't do this, I'm useless, I'm rubbish, I'll never get the hang of this." The thinking comes later.

And yet, although the thinking comes later, the auditory familiarity with the conditioned response "Oh Dear!" starts at the same time as we become familiar with hearing our name. How we code up such a phrase, in childhood, says everything about how we perceive it, re-code and then use it for ourselves.

Inner Learnings for Players

So we took a break and I talked to him about what is there for us to discover in the non-technical side of the ball-hitting exercise. I talked about humans and robots doing the same exercise, where robots are only as good as  they are programmed and where humans are limited only by their propensity to distract themselves.

"Look how it started with the first 3 shots," I pointed out. "Focus was drawn, movement flowed, balls were hit, outcomes satisfactory, thinking nil!" He nodded in agreement.
"After Shot 4 there was judgement of outcome as being unsatisfactory - and then a response to that judgement with a behavioural response. We all heard you say 'Ohhh' and you also FELT something different on the inside compared to the first 3 shots. All of this - for you as a human - was destined to get in the way of the next thing you were about to do, which was to play Shot 5. The robot wouldn't have had this problem. The next GoTo in his program would have executed as normal."
He smiled and, although I'd stated the obvious for him, he now had solutions placed in his in-tray instead of someone saying 'pull yourself together'.

Pull Yourself Together

Rather like the childhood coding of "Oh Dear!" we all have a coding of meaning in the phrase "Pull Yourself Together".
And yet, if we examine it robotically, what are the words saying here!?
There is a presupposition that "yourself", or your "self", is somewhat fragmented - is broken into a number of parts. The advice, in order to take the next step, is to bring these parts that were previously split asunder, back together again - to be re-integrated.
Now, telling someone to "Re-integrate Yourself!" would carry minimal emotion and a totally different perspective of advice - but there is an assumption in there that we (or the I we are advising) knows how to allow that re-integration to take place.

Self help begins when we know how to re-integrate; we can direct our own destiny beyond this fragmentation of self. And it is here where we particularly need to be on firm ground.

For my young player, it wasn't "Ohhh", but what went on just before that, that caused his distraction, that 'blew' his mind into enough pieces so that he couldn't apply his technical abilities to Shot 5.
So - what went on?

Shot 4 - the outcome was judged. He ran what he saw as a result of his applied technique past his beliefs and in-built expectations, and gave himself a low mark - in the moment. Some thought-energy had been gathered to drive this process. The player's feelings and gasp of "Ohhh" came next, which were responses on the outside to what had happened 'on the inside'. And we can describe this as noticing our thinking.

This exercise contained no instruction to judge the outcome - how or where the ball went to. It was merely to hit ball, return to 'base', hit ball, return to 'base' etc.
And he started out by doing just, and only, that! Then there was an error, a judgement, a breakdown, a blowing-apart.

We ran the exercise again several times, and he had great moments of absorbed thought-free engagement interspersed with occasional errors and on or two more "Ohhh" moments. It was good to hear him laugh after every "Ohhh" however, because in there is the severing of the bonded belief that judging like that is always a permanent necessity.

Between the lines of our thoughts are vast uncharted territories

If you listen to the ticking of a clock, I'd invite you to notice the silences between the ticks. Focus on them and really get in touch with them. There's purposeful information in there.

And we can direct our attention using our R.A.S (our perceptive filter), to notice more about those silences - rather like we can use the R.A.S to direct our sensual attention to pretty much any where  we might choose. Although it's not widely accepted, we can even direct our senses of smell and taste as well - and I speak from experience here in the process of "Like to Dislike" **

So - in terms of performing a program of sequenced actions - our thoughts, we know, get in the way of being able to best perform those actions. Between the lines of those thoughts are the profound stillnesses of the Flow State. They are, indeed, uncharted territories. We cannot describe them, we can only use metaphors to paint a verbal picture of what the territories are like - for us.

Yes, the clock is set to tick - but without the silences there is no tick.

And so, for each and every one of us going through life's performances there is really only one question we need ask:

"Can I free myself enough to go there?"

** - Like to Dislike is the process of 'mapping' the sub-modalities of something we like onto the holographic location of something we dislike.
My personal experience is described here:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Injury Loop

The Freeze Response
A few years back I encountered the following video on YouTube where a polar bear is being pursued by a team in a helicopter in order to tranquilize the bear and so be able to tag it.

The fascination of this video was the illustration of the discharge of the freeze response in the polar bear’s autonomic nervous system. Part of the video shows the “discharge” footage, and the rest is part of a presentation of Matrix Re-imprinting with EFT.
Let me say here that I am not a practitioner in EFT. However, it is clear from the comments by the presenter that the discharging of the freeze response, for us as humans, is hugely relevant. He talks about how we are “caged” animals, and how we react naturally after a car accident (say) until we are attended to in the sense of applying medication to “calm us down”.

The Injured Client
Recently I did some work with a client who is a netball player. About a month earlier she injured her knee during a match and had to be carried off the court. With no other players around she had jumped for a ball and landed awkwardly as her knee had failed to provide proper support. She had a clear recollection of the event.

Over the intervening four weeks she had a number of medical consultations including, the day before I saw her, an MRI scan. The pre-scan medical thinking was that she had an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, and the scan was to enable her consultant to ascertain the nature of surgery required.
One of the things happening for my client over those 4-5 weeks was body posture adjustment to compensate for her inability to straighten the knee joint. She had walked with crutches for some of the time, and then a stick. However, her description of how her knee felt – and how it appeared to the medicos – was as if nothing was progressing, and was as if the trauma damage in the knee joint was ‘frozen in time’.

When she described all this to me it brought to mind the polar bear, and the discharging of the freeze response. It appeared that for her, at an unconscious level, the traumatic event that lead to the injury was being played repeatedly on a continuous loop. It was very much as if the physical, bodily memory of the event was frozen in time and had not moved on.
I know, particularly from personal experience, that the mind has a powerful role to play in facilitating physical recovery from injury, and even replenishment from exercise. So if the mind is stuck in a trauma loop then the recovery process is not kick-started either. Likewise, even after surgery to repair the knee damage, if the event memory was still frozen then her post-op rehab would most likely be severely retarded as well.

For the best of recoveries in an ideal world, her operation needs to be a total success, AND her mind-body links needs to be in a place of wellbeing.

Our Work
As an accomplished athlete she has a good, objective mindset around the power of mind-body links, injuries and other sport-related processes. We had worked before on specific issues in her game which she had been able to change very quickly, so I knew there was already a good understanding between us as to what might, could and would work.

I explained to her about EMIplus, (Eye Movement Integration Plus) which is described as ‘a brief and content free process for resolving psychological traumas and negative emotions.’
I decided to use this as I have used eye movement processes for some time and have witnessed a number of amazing outcomes as a result – from the transformative to the distractive. I use eye movement processes as a ‘hypnotic gateway’ and they can be particularly effective when dealing with issues as far apart as insomnia and physical pain. The eyes hold many keys in terms of how we run things on the inside.

Without going into detail regarding EMIplus – especially as there are those elsewhere far more knowledgeable and capable than I – it involved my client following certain specific movements of my fingers whilst holding her head still. Essentially, therefore, only her eyes would be moving.
In the course of our running this process, in fact after about a minute to be fair, there was a sudden physical change for her which caused her to shake and made me pause whilst she regained her balance. I continued with the process until I was satisfied there were no more noticeable perturbations in her eye movements. We then did a de-brief on what had happened with the “tremor” – how it felt, what differences were now noticeable etc.

She reported a complete change of inner perspective in her knee. How the pain and discomfort now seemed to have a specific location which coincided with the medical opinions regarding the ACL damage. The actual tremor she described as being similar to having a sudden onset of cramp, and that it had been felt in the quads at the knee end of her thigh. She also now had a definite feeling within the knee joint whereas before there had only been an overall feeling of rigidity around the whole area.
Much had clearly gone on here for her in mind-body terms and I felt it was time for her to take this felt sense of change into a place of familiarity. In other words she needed time to become comfortable with what was now different.

By way of ‘homework’ I asked her to create two films – through visualisation – of the original event in the netball match. The first was to be associated as if seen through her own eyes, and the second was to be dissociated as if seen by her as an observer. The content of the film was to match her original memory of the run up to the event action, right up to the moment her foot landed after the jump to catch the ball. The content was then to become what would have happened if she had landed perfectly and continued her next piece of action in the game.
I saw her again a couple of days later and caught up on how she was getting on with the changes that had taken place. First we did a little more EMIplus work with the visualisations she’d created for her ‘homework’ and then I did a little piece of work using Clean Space.

My thinking behind using Clean Space was this – the visualisation ‘films’ she had created of the event involved two perspectives. The Observer perspective had a particular geographical location relative to the associated perspective and I wanted to investigate what unconsciously coded information lay behind that relativity, for her.
Interestingly this also involved walking her timeline of the trauma event, the NOW of some 4 weeks later, the operation, and the aftermath or post-op future pacing.

To some practitioners this may seem something of a kaleidoscope of techniques and processes – to which I would say that dealing with clients’ specific issues often involves the kaleidoscopic approach, the mix-and-match, because EVERY client is different.
And since every client is different, I tend to go with what I intuitively feel will work best for them. I will, most likely, never use this exact combination of mini-processes ever again – even with this client.

The next stage is to see how her operation goes and then to follow up – if necessary – with anything untoward in mind-body terms that may be happening for her in the aftermath and her rehabilitation.

I’m comfortable and confident that we unfroze her unconscious where the trauma was concerned, and the changes both she and I noticed bear witness to that.
Was it all freed up by using EMIplus? That’s for you to speculate!
I certainly have the memory of what I saw happen for her from a few feet away.
It was as if she'd arrived with her knee encased in a large block of ice, and I'd watched as that block of ice broke into pieces and her knee was able to move on the outside and inside much more freely.