Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Feeling Better by Thinking Straighter


Around 10 years ago if you went to a café you had a choice between a Nescafé Blend 43 and a cup of Lipton's tea. These days we are spoilt for choice. First we have to choose if we want a tea or a coffee...if it’s a tea is it black or white or a chai latté…and if it’s a coffee do we choose skinny or soy or almond milk and if we choose almond milk is it with normal or activated almonds? 

We make more choices in one day than our grandparents did a lifetime. How many more things do we fear now than we did then? How much more aware are we now, than we were when ignorance was bliss? 

Heard any of these lately? 
“Like begets like” 
“We are the company we keep” 
“We are what we think”

Life throws up challenges but the ones that can crowd us are the ones generated by our own internal voice because that voice is not really ever turned off. 

You have probably come across the principle of "garbage in, garbage out". The inputs into our daily lives (information, others’ opinions, life experiences) are not always positive. Some of us more readily adopt a more positive mindset and others of us not so much based on what we’ve learnt, perceived and experienced. 

When our gut or Somatic Intelligence gets "flooded", we react and may display unhelpful, impulsive behaviours. If as agile leaders we’re to adapt, be flexible, learn from experiences, take on challenges, we have to be able to work constructively from our Analytical Intelligence and our Emotional Intelligence as well as from our intuition and beyond our adaptive behavioural reflexive patterns. Therefore we need to be intentional or in control of our perceptions, our internal voice and our mood states.

Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck were pioneers of the therapeutic psychological discipline of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Their major premise was that we think, therefore we feel. If we can learn the discipline of tapping into and editing where necessary our internal conversations, we can more effectively control our mood states and release energy for performance. 

If we go blank whilst giving a presentation, it’s because we’ve lost oxygen to the brain. If we "awfulise" and "catastrophise" the notion of going blank and start to panic (somatic flooding), even though the audience may not even have noticed (remember our sense of time is distorted as we think faster than we speak), we are unlikely to be able to come down quickly and start operating from our brains. 

Michael Phelps, voted by Yahoo Sports as one of the all-time greatest, was considered to be so mentally tough in conceiving and accomplishing his goal of eight (8) (of 23 now) gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with his coach Bob Bowman, that people have referred to monumental efforts in goal setting and personal achievement as “Phelpsian” in stature. 

Phelps and his coach who concocted their “wicked plan” to win eight gold medals knew that Phelps would have to race 17 perfect/near perfect races. The enormity of the task was increased when one considers that in the single stroke events he was swimming against the best specialist freestylers, backstrokers and butterfliers in the world. 

Five of his eight medals were in individual events and of course to win the medleys with the American men’s relay team, he had to rely on them to swim at their best too; not something that came easily to him as he wanted his success to be within his control due to his legendarily high self-belief (he knew he was supremely talented, physically gifted and had done the work) and high self-efficacy (he knew he could cope with any spontaneous challenge that came his way and could draw on countless experiences in which he had done just that, for example winning a race once after a head collision with another swimmer in a warm up and then swimming concussed with blurred vision). 

How might we adapt mental toughness principles to help us adapt to change and better shift our own internal voice? 

a) Believe you can. Your mind sets the bar for what you can and cannot achieve. There is an important difference between arrogance and high self-belief. 

b) Have high confidence in your ability to manage obstacles that may arise whilst working towards achieving your goal. This is high self-efficacy. 

c) When a crisis strikes, try to accept the fact that stuff happens and kick into problem solving mode quickly. Push the reset button and exhibit high bounce-backability. 

So, the next time a challenge presents itself unexpectedly and at the risk of sounding like motivational hype, frame it as an opportunity to practise feeling better by thinking straighter. And if you do find yourself struggling momentarily, bring to mind one or two of those challenges you have licked and those tough situations you have survived. Therapists do this all the time with clients. It is a legitimate strategy known as the transfer of optimism. When things are tough, we deserve to be reminded of our achievements and successes against the odds ... even if we're the ones doing it!