Friday, February 26, 2010

Live Your Greatness - Part 3

A friend on mine wrote this about flight in sport

Flight: the instinct that rules the lives of many

How often do you here a coach say “His mind’s not in the right place right now”, “It’s a mental thing”, or “He’s got to get his head right” or ‘its between his ears’? Sometimes the coach may be right, but too often the words are just another sporting cliché to disguise the fact that the coach him/herself doesn’t know what’s wrong. If it’s not a physical problem, it must be a mental one. Almost never considered is the possibility that it’s an unconscious thing. An ancient survival instinct kicking in and causing the athlete to underperform. The mental issue is that neither coach nor athlete understand the real root of the problem or know what to do about it. In the third of our series about how survival instincts create the stress that undermines sporting (and other) performance, we look at flight.

“Want the ball”, yells the coach from the touchline, “Get in the box, attack it!”. But his striker doesn’t really want the ball and he’s afraid to attack it. As the ball comes across, the striker hesitates, just a fraction, but it’s enough for the defender to get across and put him off. The striker goes through the routine anyway. He jumps, the ball glances off his forehead and sails harmlessly away. It looks like a reasonable effort, but deep down the striker knows he bottled it. On form, there would have been no indecision. He would have lost the defender, met the ball firmly and bulleted it into the net. But that seems like a long time ago now. Of course, it’s partly a mental issue. He’s on a long goalless streak, so he’s lost confidence. He tries to tell himself that all goal scorers experience this, that even Alan Shearer had his barren spells, but he can feel the coach and fans losing patience, and the pressure building. The greater the need to score, the greater the fear of missing. Relaxation has disappeared from his play, replaced by fear. Unknown to the striker, his fear is trying to protect him by holding him back. There is an unconscious game being played out here: if I don’t quite get there, I can make a decent effort; I won’t actually miss, so it won’t look so bad. Fear is pulling him back, causing him to hide and ‘flee’ from the very situation on the pitch that is both most stressful and productive for a striker; being one on one with the goalkeeper.

Flight is about escaping from perceived/imagined danger. It pulls you back, stops you from participating and means that you aren’t ready or relaxed enough to take the opportunity when it comes. It's about being so nervous that you can’t focus clearly or react spontaneously in the moment. So we avoid, we hide, but all the time doing just enough to make it look like we really are trying. And there is no easier sport to hide in than a team game, especially one played over a largish area with a significant number of players. Quite often fans, coaches, and even fellow players don’t notice when a particular player goes ‘missing’ during a game.

Flight, like any instinctive defense mechanism, is addictive. It spills over into the striker’s whole sporting environment. It impacts his training. It encourages the ‘development’ of mysterious injuries that defy diagnosis. And, as he becomes increasingly sensitive to, and seeks to avoid, criticism, it places strain on his relationships with his coaches and teammates.

The irony, of course, is that the downward spiral caused by flight’s hold over the striker doesn’t actually protect him at all. It simply guarantees that he will not be in the right place at the right time, that his goalless run continues and, ultimately, that he experiences/suffers the equally public and greater humiliation of being dropped. If only someone had talked him through the mechanics of the unseen drama being played out within him. And taught him some of the many techniques for controlling the intrusion of flight on sporting action.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Live Your Greatness - Part 2

Freeze: the first of our survival instincts

Have you ever thought about how survival instincts could be wrecking your life or limiting your game? No? Thought not! If you are new to my blog, check the first two posts to start with.

At our gut level we are all still cavemen responding to ancient survival instincts designed to keep us alive in emergency – these instincts are necessary but they have become hyped. Now they spill over into our modern lives restrictively, as if we are living in a prison. 

Today I'm blogging about freeze survival instinct in particular. We all have it.

Freeze is the instinct that gets aroused first milliseconds or seconds when danger looms.  It's the idea of first seeing what's going on in an emergency, being alert, taking it all in, being quite still, and then responding appropriately. This may be pretending to be dead or not moving in the hope of not being noticed. Freeze also happens in the last moments of the chase, when there is literally no possibility of "fight or flight" – if we are the victim we experience the freeze response and feign death by "playing possum".

Our survival instincts are extremely strong and quick. They are not overridden by thinking, because they appear first – before any thinking can even happen. And on top of it, they are independent of logical thinking (a different brain).

In sports athletes are working in milliseconds when swinging a bat to ball etc, and a short freeze is all it takes to mishit or just miss. Hesitation comes from the freeze instinct.

One ice hockey player in our research was constantly bothered by hesitation when hitting the puck. After listening to PPDs he quit hesitating, put on 6 kilos of lean muscle (handy in contact sports) and transferred internationally. His coach saw the effects almost immediately. “He is a different player on the ice” he said.

An olympic archer was hesitating at the point of release of the arrow. ‘The most surprising thing is the moment when I pull the bowstring, pull over and then the clicker clicks, which is a signal to shoot. In that moment I stop and ...nothing. My head simply says no and I am standing and I don’t do anything at all with the arrow and I don’t shoot. Then I try to fight it and hope it will end up okay eventually.” PPDs worked on this effectively. She shot herself to no. 2 in the world, if you excuse the pun.

Freeze presents itself in life in the situation in which we miss. We can freeze completely under stress and leave the exam paper blank. We are silent when we need to shout “Stop!” or  “No!” We go blank. We don't react quickly enough. We remain silent too long. We can't think what to say in time.

The language quite distinctly describes this with phrases "scared stiff" or "frozen with fear"", “I froze in total panic”. ‘Rabbit caught in the headlights’ - freeze instinct “in action”.

This reminds of what my first wife once told me about her first boyfriend. They would drive to a field in the dark to snog. After a long session, he would suddenly switch on the headlights, rush out and grab a rabbit.

Many people are puzzled when they recall how they froze in the face of inescapable danger. Indeed, they are frequently filled with shame about their reaction to what happened. It happened to me downtown Bucharest a decade ago. My colleague had a purse strapped around her waist. As we boarded the airport bus, a gang of 6 big men surrounded her, cut off her purse, she screamed for help, I froze and was incapacitated by it and later I was really upset by my reaction; or rather non-reaction.

When we are in the freeze state, our heart rate drops, we get stiffer, hold our breath, sigh a lot and breathe shallowly.

I connect freeze to underperforming, to shrinking and becoming a victim to circumstance in the moment of action, which in turn builds into a general underperformance.

One person described it as blankness, as if she was not there. “If I am criticised, or if someone is angry with me, my whole body goes numb and my mind goes blank and I can’t make a decision. I am not there and I don’t want to be seen (a key freeze idea).”

Freeze can become our lifestyle. If we are an observer of life, any passive job can do this, or feel like a wallflower in any way, this may be because the stage of Freeze happened at birth or soon after, or it is a family trait we inherited, and has become deeply ingrained and we have made it into a career. This is not necessarily wrong- unless we feel limited in this role. We are all shaped by early influences like it or not. If not, try PPDs.

I am always struck by the cleaners I see in airports, stadiums, unis etc. They are mostly shy, passive, retiring people, who condemned themselves  to this life by what I would say with confidence their dominating fears. They, of course, would not be aware of this, but I would like to see a study, that explores this subject.

It's curious to see freeze all around as part of the idea behind the children's game of hide and seek and also tag. Hiding is the freeze, not wanting to be seen, and being found is about coming to terms with facing the fear. Survival instincts are the reason these games endure from generation to generation.

For further info and what to do about it visit greaterpeople.com and performance PPDs.

Till next week, then. Peter

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Live Your Greatness - Part 1

To start the blog I would like to talk about what I discovered and learned about survival instincts. How important survival instincts are and how they can undermine our life, therefore our rightful path to greatness and fulfilment of our potential.

It seems that at heart we are all still cavemen responding to ancient survival instincts designed to keep us alive – these instincts are necessary but they can also spill over into our modern lives in an inappropriate way.

“If you want to get ahead, you need to know how your head works.”

There are a number of steps in the process of becoming a great sports person or someone remarkable, of achieving our dreams, living our potentials, realising our talents.
With survival instincts, though originally designed to protect us so we can survive as species, there is now a basis of fears that are always trying to imprison us, and which limit our lives and that we are not aware of most of the time.

We have three distinct levels to our brain:
  • the thinking brain which we can also call the human brain
  • the nurturing brain or the mammalian brain
  • the survival brain well known as the reptilian brain
We tend to think that human brain is what matters. But actually our reptilian brain is undoing a lot of the good things we try and do in our life. It can be a lot worse than that. It can be really limiting our life. Our reptilian mind has habits that took 500 million years to train. The reptilian brain is afixed, crude, coarse and a very limited view of life.

So the concept of basic survival instincts (freeze, fight and flight) is easily understood by considering present day reptiles which were around at the same time as dinosaurs. A reptile has bad eyesight, and can mostly see only movement. When a reptile sees a movement, possibly a predator or a prey, it first stays very still hoping not to be seen and it is hyper vigilant before it decides what to do (freeze), its next reaction is to run and get away (flight), or to attack if cornered (fight) and maybe kill and eat or subdue and have sex.

We all have these survival faculties in us. They reside in our reptilian brain and are meant to activate only when we are in real danger.

When we are in acute danger the survival reaction starts a cascade of biochemical responses and activates the 'reptilian' brain; the body's adrenaline is secreted to activate quick responses.

Though mammals we are not longer animals only. Our humanity is not always serving us. We lost a lot of innate natural wisdom that wild animals preserved.  Contrary to humans, wild animals, in running to get away, use up all the adrenaline. They do not remain in an alert state when the real danger has disappeared.  We humans somehow weaned ourselves of this quality. We have the instinct but not the natural way of recovery and winding back down to zero.

If our alert system is not told to 'stand down' or to go back to a non-crisis situation, it will continue to generate and maintain a 'high alert status' in the mind and body and our overall health will be affected, especially our immune systems. Imagined threats can keep us in the over alert state.

We get polluted by the residual adrenalin in our bodies and slowly we create our adaptation illness. Stress, high blood pressure, anxiety attacks... etc.

The result is that
  • we are hyperactive and we lack focus and concentration
  • our central nervous system is very stressed and we can’t fully relax
  • we underperform on all fronts
  • we are imprisoned by our fears
  • we cannot embrace the magnificence of the present now which is called the zone in sport.
Next time let’s have a look what I learn and confirmed by experience and examples about individual survival instincts when I will talk about freeze. I wish you a great week.

Friday, February 12, 2010

How did it all start

It all started in my neighbour’s cottage. I stopped by to chat a bit with Honza, an ice-hockey coach and former pro. He told me about his new team he was coaching and since Honza knows that I was a homeopath for forty years, he turned the discussion to questioning me about natural ways to enhance his players’ talents and abilities. I don’t believe in coincidence so guess what?

By then my head was already buzzing with new ideas that would shift the technology I developed from healing and dealing with health issues to supporting people’s potentials and life fulfilment so they will not get to health problems at all.

During the many years of my practice in England and Africa and in other parts of the world I came to several simple conclusions and one of them was that people who enjoy their life, fulfil their potentials and therefore performed better in all walks of life, were healthier, with stronger immunity system, with greater zest for life and longer fruitful years to live.

So why wait for illness? It doesn’t have to come. We do not have to suffer through life and die of many illnesses if we allow ourselves to life fully, to dare to truly enjoy live.

My first step, which I have found works for me every time, is to get hands on. Reading books and research I find second hand by comparison. In my experience there is nothing like finding out for yourself. So I interviewed the whole ice hockey team, one at a time, to find out for myself what was the problem they each had with the mental game of ice hockey.

A fantastic challenge presented itself to put the ideas into practice. That was the beginning of the fruitful cooperation with sports people and athletes that lasts until today.

And the result is PPDs (personal performance downloads – you can read more about them on our website www.greaterpeople.com).

For past two years I was thoroughly researching many subjects connected with better or increased performance in sport and in life in general. I was drawing heavily on my forty years of my experience as a homeopath and therapist working with vastly varied environments with many interesting people and especially my patients and clients who were a true well of wisdom for me. I also ploughed through many books and articles which considered closely linked to our subject matter.

Our official website has good basic information but I decided to start this blog so I could share and discuss with others more of my thoughts and ruminations on various topics. Map the journey and navigate through the vastness of knowledge to better understanding.

There is no reason why you and I and all the other people could not live our greatness. And I am happy I can support that journey with my knowledge, experience and discoveries I made throughout my life.

I hope to share my path with you...