Control the Controllables

Control the Controllables

Flow Sports

 

Most performers may have not been in this seemingly difficult situation I described in the story above, but most performers have probably felt the same way during a performance. Most performers, if not all, have had performances where we think ‘how on earth are we going to get out of this’. Our performances are often consumed with the desire to control situations, events and people outside our control. Whether it is hoping our opponent makes a mistake or praying that the weather turns, our minds are often preoccupied thinking and worrying about things we ultimately cannot control. Great athletes and performers know how to differentiate between things within their control, and not. For example, great athletes in competition know NOT to focus on the outcome goal of winning, but to focus on their process goals of the doing. When great players and performers are faced with a crucial moment during competition whether that be a match point, bowl, pitch, jump, turn, run, etc, do you think their mind is focused on the lifting the trophy smiling as they wave to their fans or imagining their opponent making a mistake, no, they focus on their movements and the next step in their performance. Their attention, no matter how tempting otherwise, is placed on what they can control in the here and now.

There is actually very little in the here and now outside of ourselves that we can actually control. We can have great influence but it is imperative this does not get confused with control. All the time we allocate energy to thinking and worrying about controlling tasks that are not in our control, we drain ourselves of useful energy. Imagine if we put all this wasted energy into the areas of our performance that we can control, how powerful would that be. The illusion is that we will gain more power if we can control these outside influences, however, the contrary is true. By trying to control the things we can not change we ironically end up disempowering ourselves as our focus and energy is expended externally. As we leak this vital energy, other areas of our performance, which would otherwise be using it, suffer. So why do we waste so much energy and mental activity trying to control the uncontrollables?

Our need to control ultimately stems from a fear of not being in control. If this fear did not exist there would be only absolute trust and confidence in ourselves. Not only is this fear to control counter productive, it is an illusion. This fear originates in self 1 as self 2 knows nothing of fear it simple just is. This fear originates form Self’s 1 attachment to the ego and need to win, look good, be accepted, excel. If self 2, not self 1 controls the body’s movements, then any attempt by self 1 to control the body’s movements are futile and wasteful when it could be better served applying simple directions to self 2. The conscious or self 1 naturally has an obsessive desire to control. When we are not performing to our ideals, the conscious often believes it alone is in control of the bodies performance, and demands it to perform better. Meanwhile the subconscious (self 2), who if left be would perform adequately from the many months of training, is only getting more disruptive signals from self 1 further decreasing the performance and chance of flow. This cycle continues when self 1 becomes increasingly fustrated with its lack of control and consequently becomes more and more obsessed with controlling the outcome. This continuum spirals deeper and deeper until self 1 either chooses to let go allowing self 2 to perform as it knows how, or the performance comes to an end. If self 1 simply directed self 2 to perform how it wanted to and then trusted self 2 to deliver, the performance would be back on track.

 

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Flow, Time, Now

Flow, Time, Now

Performance Skills

 

Many athletes describe the experience of flow as if time just stopped, they were out of their mind, and there was no concept of doubt only implicit trust and absolute confidence. Understanding time is key to allowing states of flow to occur.

The reality is time is a human concept that doesn’t exist except in our minds. It is a convention that us humans adhere to in order to make sense of this world, and manage our lives.
The universe has no real concept of time. Astronomical theories even believe black holes hold different parallels of time, a ship could spend one day in a black hole and come back to our galaxy only to find hundreds of years have passed. Clearly time is a matter of perspective, that we barely understand.

Even amongst our race we have measured time differently; for example the Chinese use a different annual calendar from ‘western’ calendars. As an individual our perception of time differs when we are a child when every hour seems endless, to when we are aged and weeks seem to fly by. Time flies by when we are having fun in the moment, but seems to last forever when we are watching the clock utterly bored. So time really only exists in our heads and in the apparatus we have created to measure it. Yet we have become obsessed with it. We plan our days by it, carry it around on our wrists, and get a sense of comfort and order from it.

Our conscious minds revel in the realms of time. Time has become a fuel for conscious thought. Our conscious mind lives in the past and future and struggles to exist in the now. If we take time to examine our thoughts we will find that most strings of thought can be connected to future projections or past experiences. It is very rare that we find ourselves simply enjoying the present, with no attachment to past experiences or future concerns or agendas. This obsession with living in our minds swinging to and from the past/future is one of the main culprits that hinders our states of flow.
Planning, reminiscing, and projecting are all symptoms of conscious thought, taking us away from the now. When we take our awareness into the future or past we create anxiety, doubt, worry, taking us further away from the resolute trust so apparent in flow. The future and past create a place for our fears to exist and survive. It empowers our fears to thrive and become real, taking us ever further away from our flow.

Understanding that the past and future only exist in our minds and time is a man made concept that we invented, helps us to understand that we are actually always living in the present, albeit not in our minds. Our body is a great reminder of this, although we can spend most of our waking hours in our own thoughts, the body lives and deals with what is now.
The subconscious manages and coordinates the body at an incredible speed. Every second the subconscious directs our blood flow, manages our neural messaging, processes our conscious thoughts, and a whole lot more in incredible efficiency and synchronicity. Considering our conscious mind struggles to process a handful of thoughts whilst our subconscious manages hundreds of highly complicated tasks effortlessly, I’m always amazed why we spend so much time letting our conscious minds pre-occupy our being. Although for the majority of our lives we are enslaved by our conscious mind our body is a constant reminder that a greater intelligence and processing already exists inside us, and only deals in the now. The body lives in the now and realises that there is nothing but the now. Our understanding that time is an illusion and is in fact very limiting, allows us to let go of our obsession with time and realise our natural state is actually congruent with flow. Which beckons the question, how come we don’t allow ourselves to be in the now and in flow more often?

Understanding what the now is, is often easier by understanding what it is not. Imagine (or do it) drawing a timeline down on a huge piece of paper, with our birth at one end and our death at the other. Now put a mark down on the time line where we are right now, reading this book, this second. Now as we take our awareness away from this book and in to our day, our week, and our thoughts that go through our brain on any given day. As a thought arises put it down on the timeline. Establish to what time period this thought is associated to. If it is 5 seconds in the past put it down just behind the marker of now. Are we thinking about something we should do later, or something that happened this morning? Keep doing this emptying the mind of your thoughts. When we have no thoughts left or at least 10-20 thoughts down on the paper, lets take a look at where they are on the timeline. If your like most of us humans, we can see very few, if any, of the thoughts we put down are actually in the now, in this second. So the now is not our thoughts, as they are directly or indirectly connected to time. Being in the now is being present with our awareness and senses to what is happening, without mind.

 

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Letting Go and Flow

Letting Go and Flow

Flow

 

Letting go is often simply an acceptance of what is. We often often struggle with the realities around us and choose to hold on to illusions, emotions, and perspectives in the belief that they keep us safe, comforted, and in control. The story above shows how the minds resistance can be strong when faced with unwanted fears. As soon as my father accepted the reality that the ball would land where it would land, and that the judgement of failure embedded in his head that had served him handsomely for a time was no longer necessary, he let go. When he hit the ball with no judgement of the outcome, he was released from his resistance and was in flow with what was simply happening. often the hardest things to let go of are the things that have served us well over the years, but as we all know, life moves on and what was needed in the past is not always needed in the now. Our resistance to change, the new, and accepting what is, is ever present in the conscious mind. The conscious mind often seeks an illusion of control, and embeds itself in the form of the ego. So the process of letting go is often an act of rebellion against the ego. As we dispel the myth of control the ego looses power and sinks its claws in deeper to keep existence. The more we become present, accepting and living in the now, the more the ego and conscious mind seize to exist and alter our behaviour. As we choose to embrace the moment and not our consciously decoded perceptions of what we experience, the closer we become to being in flow. So to let go it to let flow.

As performers we face this challenge at every corner. Do we hold on to the mistake we just made and beat ourselves up? What do we do with the doubt we feel when are performance is below par? How do we focus on our performance in the middle of a personal crisis? The list is never ending.
It is never ending because the act of performance itself forces us to let go, which ignites these struggles and resistance of the conscious mind. If the challenge inherent within the performance is equal to or above our skill level, then we need to be in a performance state of flow to some degree to successfully complete the performance task. In order to be in flow, we need to let go. So it is only natural that these situations where we struggle to let go, pop up continuously. What is important is how we deal with them. We can choose to cling on to our minds predicaments, creating a spiralling conflict within, or we can choose to accept what is and let go, let flow.

This process happens with surface conflicts and deep routed conflicts. Throughout life we pick up behaviours, conflicts, and even beliefs that do not serve our purpose to being in flow. Although they seem harder and more ingrained, the process of letting go is the same. As performers we can reach moments of flow even with great internal conflict existing beneath the surface, however flow cannot survive where there are blocks of resistance and conflict. The more conflict there is inside, the higher the chance our flow will be iinterrupted As Eminem put it, sometimes we have no ‘clean out the closet’ to set ourselves free. If freedom and congruency allow our flow to flourish, then surely the cleaner our closet is the higher our chances are for sustained periods of flow.

 

For more info please get in touch or purchase our book on flow.

 

 

 

As we become more aware of our breath and deepen the in-breath and out-breath, we help deepen the mind body connection. To help this process visualise your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Start by becoming aware of where the air normally goes.

Does it go into your upper chest or maybe you breath air into your stomach? Practise sucking in air deep into your stomach until it’s full then allow the air to slowly fill up the lungs from the bottom up until there is no space left except the throat and mouth. Once these areas have been filled, slowly start releasing the air out in reverse order.

Keep practising this lengthening the breath every time. As you spend time lengthening your breath, you awareness will begin to go everywhere and anywhere. Where possible stay disciplined and keep focusing on the breath.

Simply be aware of what is happening inside your body and outside your body during the breath. Staying present to the moment or ‘now’, is a valuable tool in any circumstance. After much practise you can use this tool to anchor yourself to the present in a matter of seconds.

 

For more info please get in touch or purchase our book on flow.

 

 

Breathing and Flow

Breathing and Flow

Flow

When we own our breath, nothing can steal our peace.

 

Without our breath we die, and with it we thrive. We only need to hold our breath for more than 30 seconds to see how important it is to us. It is present in everything we do; yet rarely do we actively focus our breath. We simple expect our breathing to function at a level of perfection, all day, everyday.

 

Our breath reacts and changes, depending on our emotional, mental and physical states – if we are scared it increases in frequency, if we are relaxed it decreases in frequency. Furthermore, on the flip side the mind and body will have a physical, mental and emotional reaction to the change in our breath. This is why many performers use the breath to manage their states.

 

Fear is excitement without the breath – Fritz Perls

 

The breath is often referred to as our centre . It keeps us grounded, acts as our anchor for our well-being, and can be used to overcome the most challenging situations. Through breath we can overcome pain, change fear into excitement and even stop an amygdala hijack (fearful body paralysis). Free divers, like World Record Holder Erez Beatus, are masters at using their breath to help concentrate blood flow towards vital organs in their body whilst experience extreme stress at great depths. When holding his breath for over 8 minutes Beatus explains:

 

ÔÇ£I find the space between two breaths to be a powerful one- it enables me to tap into my fullest potential and be in a state of real flow.ÔÇØ – Erez Beatus (world renowned freediving expert and instructor)

 

To begin harnessing our breath we first need to become aware of it. When we change the rhythm, speed and depth of our breath, we will quickly notice distinct differences. By simply increasing the length of our in-breath and out-breath to 10 seconds each, in only a matter of minutes we can reduce our heart rate from a stressed 120 beats per minute to a resting rate of 60 beats unbearable nerves and knots in our stomachs to feeling at ease within our body.

 

Our change in heartbeat has an immediate effect on our nervous system, which dramatically affects the way we feel, think and act. The Heart Math Institute, an organisation dedicated to understanding the role of the heart, have heavily linked our heart rate control with performance: ÔÇ£More intriguing are the dramatic positive changes that occur when techniques are applied that increase coherence in rhythmic patterns of heart rate variability. These include shifts in perception and the ability to reduce stress and deal more effectively with difficult situations. We observed that the heart was acting as though it had a mind of its own and was profoundly influencing the way we perceive and respond to the world. In essence, it appeared that the heart was affecting intelligence and awareness.ÔÇØ

breathing flow

Graphic by Heart Math Institute

 

These significant changes can be magnified through training to achieve incredible feats. For example, in October 2012, Stig Severinsen broke the world record and held his breath, not for 3 minutes, nor 10, but 22 minutes!

 

Navy seals use a technique known as box breathing, where they breath-in/hold/breath-out/hold for equal amounts of time, in order to manage their states during training and combat. Jerath et al (2006) showed that Yogic Pranayama breathing has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders. In short, there is a range of proven breathing exercises we can utilise in our daily lives, to help us accomplish a variety of benefits like maintaining an optimal performance state.

 

ÔÇ£Once I m geared up I ll double-check, triple-check everything, make sure I m cool and then when it time to go generally I ll be freaking out – you ve got to turn that negative fear into a positive fear – that when I ll take three deep breaths, and throw myself into the unknown.ÔÇØ Chris Douggs McDougall (World Record Holder Base Jumper)

Many performers often tell me how dedicating time to focusing and exploring their breath is time consuming. Fitting in an extra 20 minutes to their already jam-packed schedules often never happens. Instead, what works very well is focusing on the breath for 1 minute every hour in the day. There is always time to take 60 seconds here or there. This discipline is a great way to build a regular connection to our breath and ultimately I-Flow.

 

ÔÇ£I think connecting with the breath is probably the biggest thing for me. Connecting with my breath at the deepest level, like right down into the hip, into the hips and push my breath. Being aware of my breath and doing a number of breaths very, very consciously brings me further into my body, and that where I need to be. Quite often my scattered and very short attention span takes me out of my body, so coming back into my body.ÔÇØ Tom Carroll (World Champion Surfer)

 

By bringing our breath into our conscious awareness we create a powerful bridge between our conscious and subconscious, and the connection between our mind and body – giving us the opportunity to find flow. Whether we want to decrease anxiety, manage our energy output or heal our body, we can exploit the breath on both a physical and mental level to make the necessary changes. For example, if we are about to perform in front of a crowd, and our anxiety suddenly spikes, and our mind becomes full of negative thoughts, we can quickly focus on breathing-in positivity and breathing-out negativity. If we sustain this exercise for long enough, we will find that we are left with only positive thoughts and feelings helping us to perform, as we want. With practice we can dramatically reduce the time required to achieve the same results, making it an ideal performance cue. We can use this process to breathe-out doubt, a recent mistake, or some frustration we are holding on to. We can even practise breathing-in flow. If we taught younger generations how to breathe during their performances, exams and learning, imagine the leap forward each generation would take from this one simple lesson.

 

Aligning our Performance Levels

Aligning our Performance Levels

Flow

 

A widely accepted break down of the layers in which we live, thanks to NLP, start at a SPIRITUAL core, that defines our purpose in life. Out of which we create our IDENTITY which form and effects our VALUES and BELIEFS. These values and beliefs determine our COMPETENCIES or skills and knowledge we choose to learn and engage in. Our competencies predominantly affect our BEHAVIOUR which is also affected by, and creates, our ENVIRONMENT and context In which we live.

These levels essentially make up our reality. We engage with life and Information at different levels at different times, and use these levels as a sort of funneling system to pass through new information. This new information or stimulus passes through these levels making changes to our complicated processing until it is bloked by one of the levels. It may get blocked because it conflicts or disagrees with the current information within that level or is busy with another agenda. Information continues through these levels affecting each level as it passes to the higher or deeper level. For change to happen at each level we need to make a change at the deeper level than the one we want to make a change at. This process is continuously happening every second, every day as we see, touch, think, feel and hear the world infront of us.
For example, we may hear someone say that we need to train everyday for 4 hours to be a world champion. As we process this information we may accept this in our current ENVIRONMENT and the information may be confirmed by the people around us. It may fit nicely into our BEHAVIOUR and training regime as we already allocate 5 hrs to training every day. We have the skills and COMPETENCIES to endure this training scheme, however, this information may conflict with our BELIEFS. Maybe we have seen another champion only train for 4 hours on only 5 days a week, or maybe we believe it is the intensity of our training, not the quantity that makes the difference.

If we don’t accept this new Information at the BELIEFS and VALUES level, we will never change our COMPETENCIES and BEHAVIOUR to align with this new information for any extended period of time. We may try to train for 4 hours every day, but after a few weeks, if we don’t believe this strategy to be true, this regime will slowly start to fall away.

 

For more info please get in touch or purchase our book on flow.

 

 

Recovery and Performance

Recovery and Performance

Flow Sports

 

Recovery is not just a signpost. If we see it, we have to take that exit, so we can live to perform another day.

Allowing our body to recover is not simply giving it complete rest everyone and again. Sometimes the demands of our performances. Don’t allow the body to rest for sustained periods, be that hours, days or weeks. We need to look at our every day and see how we can allow our bodies to recover wherever possible. It is a mindset of putting recovery as a priority in our lives. If recovery is not as important as training, how do we expect to train with the same intensity that will lead us to flow and excellence. If we see our own recovery as our own responsibility and hold it as a higher level priority, the opportunities in everyday life will start to unfold before our eyes.
There lies an opportunity for recovery in everything we do. Even during performances we get small breaks of 2 seconds or 2 minutes, that we can use to help the body and mind to recover. For example, during a tennis match a player is given 30 seconds to start the next point. This 30 seconds can be used to stress about the upcoming point, or walk from side to side planning our next move. The slightest bit of stress can use up a small amount of energy that could be absolutely vital at a later stage in our performance. If we combine all the small energy loses from stresses throughout our performance, these actions and mental activity can take up a huge amount of energy. These stress lead to tightened muscle groups that should be relaxing, and often result in zero downtime for our key muscle groups between rest periods. Alternatively we can use these small rest periods to take long deep breaths, asking the body to be aware of what muscle groups need the most recovery and asking the body to give it more energy. Maybe we stand still, visualise pumping fresh blood to this location, or stand in a way that allows the muscle to relax and recover. There is a lot of research suggesting meditation has significant recovery outcomes similar to that of sleep, imagine what we could do with 30 seconds bursts of sleep during our prolonged performances. Maybe we become aware of a stretch we need to do, or the need to take on more water at the next break. In 30 seconds we can do a lot toad in our body’s recovery, let alone 60 seconds or 5 minutes. We only need to spend 20 minutes thinking about our own sport or performance arena, and examine the areas where we are not fully engaged in our performance, to see that multitude of gaps that open up where recovery is possible.

When we look at our life as a whole and the time we have in between performances, training and travelling, we can find lots of time to focus on giving the body the recovery it needs. Whether it is meditating on a train, or going to sleep an hour earlier there is a lot that can be changed to our existing schedule to help recovery if we hold it as a priority. When we do this it is worth looking at the type of recovery we are getting, as we may not need to have more downtime, maybe we need to make the existing downtime count for more. The level of intensity of our downtime can change dramatically and can greatly effect our recovery. For example, if our sleep it turbulent and frequently interrupted it may not be as effective as a relaxed deep may be. If our downtime in the evening is time with friends or family that make us stressed, then our muscles are unlikely to completely relax, and maybe causing us more tension in our neck and shoulders. If our holidays are action packed both night and day, the body is unlikely getting the rest it may need.

 

For more info please get in touch or purchase our book on flow.

 

Training and Performance

Training and Performance

Flow Sports

 

Training prepares the body for what to expect during competition. If our training lacks the intensity or skill required in our performances, how can we expect oursleves to perform to a higher level when it comes to our performances or competition. If the body has not experienced the intensity or skill before, then it does not know what to replicate when in flow. Training can provide an opportunity for the body to experience doing what needs doing in a more relaxed environment. If we perform a skill, shot, or sequence in training once, then the body has accomplished everything it needs to know to do it again. Physical and mentally the body knows what to do, it has provided the correct coordination, neurological activity, mind body connection, needed for the skill to happen. If we have done it once the mind and body creates a blue print, a source code or manual of how to repeat this skill again. What stops us producing this skill again and again, is the interference or disbelief of the conscious mind.

Repeating the skills over and over, allows the conscious mind to accept the ability of the subconscious, it builds confidence in this connection and stops thinking of the initial action as luck. As we repeat the skills again and again we strengthen the neural pathways in our mind body connection to access this blueprint, helping the conscious mind to continuously build trust that the subconscious can deliver the skill or action at will. Overtime the conscious trusts the subconscious so much to deliver this blueprint, that it seems to let go control and we perform this action or skill seemingly automatically, leading to what many people call ‘muscle memory’.

With this in mind, it seems wise to approach training with a different perspective than the traditional method of repeating a set of skills we require hundreds or thousands of time. If we spent a small percentage of our training time exploring new skills or actions that would improve our performances, we would create many new blueprints of new skills, actions and movements that would increase our ability at a much faster rate.
If we spent a percentage of our training time on building the trust between the conscious and subconscious this would allow us to access these blueprints, we have already created by doing the action once. This training would not only be relevant to this new skill but all new skills and existing skills we have learnt. Added to this the time we save by not focusing on repeating the same skill thousands of times in order to trust the body to deliver, we have a powerful acceleration technique to introduce new skills into our performances.
Dedicating training time to learning new skills and improving the mind body connection, does not mean we don’t have to practice repetition, on the contrary. We can also dedicate a percentage of our training time to repeating the skills we already know, to improve the trust between the conscious and subconscious for times when we find it difficult to let go of the conscious control over our actions, typical when the ego steps in.
The above is simply an example of how introducing even a small percentage of mental training into our standard training regimes can rapidly increase our overall skill level.

 

For more info please get in touch or purchase our book on flow.