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The importance of the mind in sporting performance

24 Jul

2012 has already been a great year for sports fans, and it is set to get much better in just a few days with the London 2012 Olympic Games getting underway. The Olympics is a great showcase for sports and athletes across the globe, it pits the best against the best while we mere arm chair athletes watch on with excitement, cheering on our own personal favourites.

Most of the sports in the Olympics though focus very much on the individual. Unlike team games like cricket or rugby, at the Olympics the majority of athletes are out there competing all alone. Being part of a team can be mentally a little easier, allowing you to gain re-assurance and confidence from your team mate’s performance. In many ways, being in the spotlight as part of a team is a lot easier than being out there competing on your own. In many sports such as Athletics, Archery, Tennis and Gymnastics, the athlete is alone with just their own thoughts and performance.

100mFinal

Mental strength and focus is always on display just before the start of the 100m sprint final

Push to improve

Something that is often overlooked when we talk about sporting performance is the importance of the role of the mind in training. This was picked up in the recent BBC documentary series: Faster, Higher, Stronger. Athletes have to be mentally strong and ready to train every day for their event, pushing their limits almost every training session, disciplined in their diet and motivated enough to get up and do it all again the next day. It is this daily grind that is the building blocks of any athlete’s achievements, no matter their sport.

Mental Pressure

Mental pressure for athletes grows the bigger the stage of competition is…

This year at Wimbledon, we saw just how strong Roger Federer is mentally, coming back from 2 sets to love down early on in the tournament and finding his best tennis and performances right when it mattered most, in the semi-finals and final against Britain’s own Andy Murray. Even though many said he would feel the pressure of being in his first Grand Slam final in over 2 years, Roger was able to focus his mind on himself and his performance. It is this mental strength that can make all the difference between winning and coming close.

Mental strength though is not just about self belief, or being able to push your body to train each day. It includes being able to make the right decisions at the right time. The Olympic 1,500m race in 1984 illustrates the importance of the combination of athlete and mental strength. Seb Coe, the reigning Olympic champion, lined up to defend his Olympic title against Steve Ovett (the world record holder) and Steve Cram (Reigning world champion).  His training leading up to the games ensured he had the stamina of a marathon runner and the explosive speed of a sprinter when needed. Physically he was ready to win. However, his mind played a massive role, ensuring that tactically he made the right decisions in the race and he executed the right strategy that would see him retain his Olympic title. This is even more impressive since he ran a poor 800m only a few days before. All of this he was able to achieve under the microscope of the world on the biggest athletic stage there can be.

Seb Coe strikes for Gold in the 1,500m final in LA Olympics, 1984

Seb Coe strikes for Gold in the 1,500m final in LA Olympics, 1984

At the Olympic Games this year, athletes like Usain Bolt will feel the world’s eyes on them as they line up for their own personal events. They must remain mentally strong and mentally focused on delivering the performance of their lives. This can be hard to do, especially when as an individual so much is placed on this one single performance. Many of the athletes would have been training for the past 4 years solidly for the Olympic Games, if not much longer, and to know that all that hard work can be rewarded or for nothing, can be all too much for some.

Techniques to stay mentally strong

Hypnosis in sport can help athletes focus, and increase their concentration levels, blocking out other distractions. That’s going to be important for every single athlete at the London 2012 Olympic Games this summer.

Hypnosis techniques can be used to help improve performance by considering the athletes pre-performance, performance and post performance attitude.

Pre-performance attitude helps athletes train hard and to work hard on their sport, focusing their efforts to get the most from their training regime. Performance attititude ensures a good strong mental attitude during the athletes sporting event. It helps them put into effect all the skills they have learned from all their previous training sessions, and helps the athlete produce their best performances when it matters most. Post performance attitude helps an athlete reflect and learn from their performances, addressing areas that can be improved and remembering areas that went well.

There are also a number of hypnosis approaches that help athletes:

  • The inner game: This is mental practice and includes mental visualisation of what the body is about to do
  • Direct suggestions: This is where the athlete focuses on their best performance to date and remembers that, keeping it in their mind.
  • Staying in the moment: This helps athletes focus on the moment as opposed to being distracted (something that is becomes increasingly important at bigger sporting events)

Positive thinking

As the summer of sport continues, and we sit by and watch the Olympics unfold, keep in mind the pressures they must feel and try to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes at that moment.  The difference between winning that Gold medal could all come down to mental strength…

Spring Clean your Mind

30 Mar

So spring is here, it’s starting to get warmer, the days longer and the flowers are starting to bloom. With warmer and longer days, we all feel a little fresher, able to cope with new challenges and we all seem to have a little more energy.

Spring Cleaning...Not just for the home...

Spring Cleaning...Not just for the home...

A report in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests there is a strong biological link between the seasons and our energy levels and our mood in general. With spring comes an increased level of serotonin, which makes us less lethargic, and far more optimistic. Ask yourself this, do you feel more motivated and ready for the day in the spring?

Spring clean

We’ve all heard that expression – spring clean – and it’s something most of us do in our homes, opening the windows and letting that warmer, fresh air circulate through our homes. But a spring clean doesn’t have to just relate to our homes, spring is a great time for an assessment of your own mental health.

A spring clean of the mind is all about self-reflection, looking back and dealing with your past, and then focussing on the future. Canadian researchers found that there is less serotonin (the brain chemical associated with improving our mood) circulating in the brain during autumn and winter. Seasonal, decreased serotonin levels are linked to decreased mood and increased lethargy.

Our very own Avy Joseph, Principal of the College, explained in a Daily Telegraph article that over the winter months many of us get stuck in a feeling of unhappiness triggered by an event, such as a marital breakdown, that we can’t get past. “You have to challenge those beliefs that trigger the feelings (such as a belief that you are a failure after a divorce) and then accepting what has happened judging yourself as a failure. Understand that whatever happened is an event fixed in time and that life, like the seasons, moves on. Accept yourself as a valuable person who has imperfections.”

But how can we do this?  Avy explains: “Bad things do happen but you can recover from them. Reflect on your life regularly; set aside a small amount of time to ask ‘Am I going where I want to go?’ And take time to meditate or relax, to be still and accepting. And then think of ways to be positive, to appreciate the world around you”

By doing this we cleanse our minds, ready for whatever new things the spring and summer months have to offer.

Personal Growth

Spring is a great time to cultivate friendships, invest in relationships and to explore our own personal growth, through books and courses, for example. Many of us have lots of interests we would love to follow more, or things that we want to learn but we never seem to make time for. Making time for personal growth can give you a new way of thinking and behaving in the world .

At the College of Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, spring is a great time for people to discover and explore an interest in Hypnosis, Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy. It’s one of the reasons why the college runs its foundation course in spring (starting the end of April). It’s a part time course that runs over weekends, so it doesn’t affect your day to day working life. These types of courses are perfect to help you feed your interest, but are flexible enough so you can fit them into your daily life. For some, taking new courses can even lead to a fresh career, a fresh start to their working lives.

Spring in your step

So this spring, take the time to clean out nor just your home, but also your mind. Give it a good clean with some self-reflection, look to the future and be positive, and then take advantage of those increased serotonin levels, the warmer and longer days, and feel that spring in your step return…

Christmas family strain

16 Dec

How many films have been made all about the stress of family life over the Christmas period? Quite a few. Many of these films are comedies, and most end with everyone enjoying their family Christmas. But the reason we find these films so funny, is because we can relate to that Christmas family stress all too easily.

Family can be a real strain at Christmas

Family can be a real strain at Christmas

On a serious note, many of us actually get highly stressed and feel anxious about Christmas, and these anxieties maybe about one of the following:

  • A need to have everything run perfectly and for everyone to appreciate your efforts
  • A need for other people to show the manners that you expect them to have
  • A need for everything to be easy and comfortable

You may have just read that list and thought to yourself these are all reasonable expectations. But if you are feeling anxious about any of them, then something isn’t right…

 

What’s reasonable?

It is reasonable to want things to run perfectly. It is reasonable to want all family members to appreciate your efforts. It’s reasonable to want all family members to behave appropriately and it is reasonable to want everything to be easy and comfortable. Anxiety is, however, triggered when you transform your wants and desires into needs and demands. When this happens, everything HAS to be the way you want it or else.

This type of thinking is at the heart of anxiety and stress, and at Christmas time, this can be amplified. At Christmas you become anxious about family members who are not acting warmly towards one another; or family members you may have problems with; or family members who behave in a passive aggressive or discourteous manner; or family members who do not chip in and help or simply a family member you just don’t like very much.  It’s these scenarios that we find in many Christmas films, and they are scenarios we all relate to on some level.

 

How to manage those anxieties

If you find you are anxious or stressed about any of those family scenarios or issues, then how do you manage that anxiety? Well here are a few pointers that will help you manage your anxieties better:

  1. Accept imperfection. No one is perfect and your Christmas day does not HAVE to be absolutely perfect. Remembering this will help you feel more relaxed.
  2. While it would be fantastic that everyone showed appreciation, you certainly do not need it to have a great time. It’s not a reflection on your worth, unless you make it so. If you do, then you will feel stressed, so don’t judge yourself negatively.
  3. Remember that you don’t control other people. If someone acts in a way that you are not happy with, don’t get too stressed about it, rather address the situation, calmly but firmly explaining why that behaviour is unacceptable. Remember, if it’s not a major thing in the scheme of things, you can choose to tolerate it.
  4. You are in control of what you say and do. Imagine the things you are worried about, and think in advance of ways in which you can deal with those things. Most of the time anxiety is maintained because we spend mental energy trying to ensure the bad things don’t happen.
  5. If you really aren’t looking forward to being with a particular family member, then remember that it’s only for a limited time.
  6. Always remember the bigger picture and meaning of Christmas. The message is always there –  celebration, peace and good will to all. Make sure you don’t lose sight of this.
  7. Focus on what’s important, by doing this it enables us to handle tensions and stress far better

Our unrealistic expectations are often provoke Christmas stress.. So set realistic expectations and look to enjoy the Christmas period, with family and friends.

Merry Christmas…

A Happy Survey

9 Dec

Recently in a survey we held with Top Sante, we attempted to measure people’s happiness. A tricky one you may wonder, how do you measure happiness? Well to answer that, we need to know what happiness is.

Happiness

How happy are you?

Happiness is a reactive response to circumstances – we aren’t happy, for  example, when we stub our toe. Often “happiness” measurements in the field of psychology are a measure of wellbeing or our quality of life. Demanding to be in a constant state of happiness is just not possible – it’s essentially inconsistent with our own reality. So in essence, “happiness” is a choice we make about how we feel about our quality of life and our wellbeing, both mentally and physically. With this in mind, we were able to create a number of questions, grouped together, in order to measure our “happiness”.

Here are some interesting points from the survey….

Cheerful and in good spirits

One of the questions within the survey made a basic statement, “I feel cheerful and in good spirits”, to which the respondents had 6 options to answer. A good result from this question was that no one answered “Almost Never” to this statement, phew. Interestingly the majority of those questioned (38%) opted for the “Somewhat Frequently” response, while 18% answered “Almost Always” – lucky them…

Curiously as we get older it seems we are more likely to opt for the “Somewhat Frequently” response, with 10 times as many 36-40 year olds opting for this response compared with 18-25 year olds.

I enjoy new activities

Our happiness is not just about our emotional health and well-being, it’s also about our physical well-being. To get a sense of physical well-being, our survey asked how much “I enjoy new activities”.

Here it seems the younger we are, the more likely we are to enjoy new activities, perhaps that saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes from us not wanting to try new things as we get older. However, these results could also mean that as we get older we know what we enjoy and equally, we know the kinds of activities we won’t enjoy. Again, the “Somewhat Frequently” response was the most popular (38% respondents selecting this option).

Feel how you think

When unpleasant, frustrating things happen, we can hold two sets of beliefs about them. Healthy or rational ones lead us to feel sad, annoyed perhaps even regretful, while unhealthy or irrational beliefs lead us to feel anxious, depressed or self denigrating. If we have healthy beliefs, then we will be able to move on, and be happy again.

Another important aspect to our emotional and mental well-being is monitoring our progress in life. It’s good for us to set regular time for personal reflection, to check how we are doing and to ensure we haven’t regressed into some old habits, or ways of thinking we are trying not to do. If we are progressing well, then we will be happier with our day to day lives and our accomplishments.

The way in which we think, is the way we feel. So essentially, we are saying that happiness is a choice you can make…

10 Tips for a stress free Christmas Lunch

2 Dec

Christmas can be a tough time, the office party (not embarrassing yourself), flying elbows while doing your Christmas shopping, and of course, planning and cooking your Christmas lunch – especially if you have family and friends coming to yours!

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Lunch. Don't let it stress you out...

The whole idea of the Christmas Lunch can actually cause a lot of anxiety and stress, as we try to ensure that everything goes perfectly. So here are our top 10 tips…

  1. Plan realistically. Don’t demand perfection with your Christmas lunch, and in any case, what would perfection be? We recommend you adjust your expectations to what is reasonable on the day, taking into consideration Christmas Eve and morning, and how long you want to spend preparing and cooking on Christmas day…
  2. Reflect on past experiences. Reflecting on past experiences will help you form good plans. We all learn from mistakes and experiences in our past, Christmas lunch is no different. Remember shortcuts that have worked in the past, and how you and others, have managed the excesses of Christmas spirit.
  3. Have a contingency plan. Obviously, worst case scenario, something goes horribly wrong, you have a power cut, the Turkey has been cremated or it all simply goes “belly up”. So, have a backup menu, something you know doesn’t take long, and is enjoyed by you and your guests. No matter what, you will be sitting down to Christmas lunch with a smile.
  4. Remember not everyone will like everything. Everyone has different tastes and things they like and don’t like. Whatever they don’t like or leave, is in no way a reflection on you or your food. (I won’t eat the sprouts for example).
  5. Don’t take it all too seriously. Enjoy the day, relax, don’t take lunch too seriously or yourself.
  6. Ask for help. If you need help, then ask for it…
  7. Remember the kids. Ensure children are catered for (within reason). Also remember to have something to occupy them. Christmas day is really exciting, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to sit through Christmas lunch, being rather well behaved (though desirable).
  8. Who cares if you have forgotten something? If you forget something, then don’t let it bother you, it’s not the end of the world or a complete catastrophe unless YOU think it so.
  9. Keep perspective. Remember this is only lunch!  It doesn’t HAVE to be perfect we are human and fallible after all.
  10. Christmas is about celebration. Remember Christmas is about celebration of family and Christian values, enjoy the day no matter what. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. And over all these virtues put on love, which blinds them all together in perfect unity”.

So there you have it, our top 10 hints and tips on enjoying a stress free Christmas lunch. We hope you all have an enjoyable Christmas and New Year…

Can New Zealand learn from using Sporting hypnosis in the RWC 2011 final?

21 Oct

This weekend sees the Rugby World Cup 2011 Final fast approaching, and no doubt there are a lot of scenarios running through the players’ minds; lots of emotions flying about and, on the day, lots of
adrenaline too. For many, you only ever get one shot at becoming a World Cup winner, so on that one day you need to take control of your emotions, your fears, your hopes, and focus on playing the best you possibly can, bringing your “A” game.

New Zealand Haka - focussing the mind?

New Zealand Haka - focussing the mind?

In many past World Cups, New Zealand have entered as outright favourites, but for whatever reason, they haven’t performed on the big stage, winning the world cup just once back in 1987. So could the New Zealand rugby team gain anything from using hypnosis? The simple answer is yes, and that all sportsmen and women could benefit massively from hypnosis, and many already do.

What can hypnosis do for the sportsman / woman?

Hypnosis in sport is individually designed to meet the need of that athlete no matter what sport they partake in, and at what level.

Here is a list of some of the areas in which hypnosis can help:

  • Increase concentration, control internal dialogue and decrease awareness of unimportant external stimuli
  • Enhance sensory awareness and muscle control
  • Control anxiety, anger and emotionality
  • Enhance motivation and enthusiasm
  • Increase energy levels, feelings of invigoration and endurance
  • Enhance performance skill
  • Increase confidence and self efficacy
  • Control perception of time and focus on the present experience (time contraction or expansion)
  • Resolution of unconscious blocks or conflicts
  • Management of discomfort
  • Muscle memory
  • Deliver mental strength

Many of the areas listed above help rugby players dramatically, increasing their discipline so as to not give away penalties, ensure they focus on their role within the team, to ensure they feel motivated,
enthused and full of invigoration and endurance…

At almost all sporting occasions you will hear the commentators talking about mental strength, mental preparations, attitude and believing that they can win. These are all areas where hypnosis can help.

Hypnosis and the athlete

It is typical for many athletes to come with a negative self fulfilling prophecy, or “worry” about their performance / capabilities. This is a problem at all levels of competition, but once at a professional level, mental attitude plays a massive role in the difference between winning, and losing.

Using hypnosis, performance can be improved by considering:

a)      Pre-performance attitude

b)      Performance attitude

c)       Post performance attitude

Ensuring an athlete’s mental attitude is right before the big game ensures they focus, train hard, avoid nerves and are ready for the big occasion. Mental attitude during the game ensures they focus and play / perform to the best of their abilities, blocking out distractions. Post performance attitude helps identify what went right, areas to focus on and ensures positives are always taken.

Some hypnotherapy approaches

Hypnotherapy is when hypnosis is applied in a therapeutic setting. There are a number of approaches to using hypnotherapy for sporting performance, here we will list just a few of them, illustrating how hypnotherapy can help all round performance, concentration, and ability.

The inner game: This is all about mental practice and attitude, helping to mentally prepare and handle the pressures of the game, the crowd, and even pressures athletes place on themselves.  The athlete mentally visualises executing precise motor skills under pressure, at the same time, they visualise a physical experience in their bodies, which strengthens neural patterns.

Direct suggestions to improve performance:   Here the individual focuses on their best performance to date, accessing it in their mind and focusing on how they performed and what it felt like. The positives of this performance are emphasised. Suggestion is also used, suggesting to athletes that what they visualised, should be put into action, for example a runner, running at the same level they visualised.

With direct suggestion, a positive state of mind / belief system is established. Athletes are also encouraged to describe in 3 words their best performance; these are then used to “anchor” the positive state so that the athlete can trigger this state as and when they need it.

Suggestions for concentration: Staying in the moment is a big thing for athletes, ensuring they focus directly on what’s at hand and block out all forms of distraction.

Time distortion: Here the athlete “speeds through” challenging or uncomfortable moments while slowing down positive moments, making them last longer.

Self hypnosis: This can be taught so the athlete can effectively visualise and mentally rehearse their winning performance. This is often seen in action when watching “high jumpers” prepare for an attempt. Self hypnosis can also really help with muscle memory, ensuring your body moves as desired.

Keep in mind…

Hypnosis can really help performance in sport, it can help muscle memory ensuring athletes can repeat specific actions over and over again, it can help improve mental attitude and strength, promote feelings of confidence and endurance, and it can raise concentration levels and remove distractions. All in all, hypnosis can make the difference between winning and losing.

Core Values and why they are important

2 Sep

In the 21st century society there is  little reinforcement of values within our cultures.  Personal values are important to us; they are our moral compass, our reference point to know how we are doing in the world; without which we become discontent and often judgemental, deprecating of others and ourselves.

Importance of core values

Importance of core values

What are your values? What matters to you?

Every person has a unique system of values which inform their beliefs about themselves and the world.  Clear identification of your values help guide your reactions and motivate your behaviour even when facing personal difficulties.  It is about making a choice to live in accordance with one’s defined values.  Clarifying our own values is one of the most important exercises in our path towards personal fulfilment.

What do you really want to achieve? Not just at work, but in your life as a whole?

Core values exercises are very personal. These are the moments when you explore what is important to you – not to other people, society, or the world at large!  They are important to build confidence  and self esteem. Often when we feel guilty it is because we are acting “against” a core value we hold, though we haven’t consciously recognised we hold that value.

Often we have never really stopped to think what our value system is. Take time to identify your core values and consciously assess what really matters to you.

How to identify your core values

Our values should be choices rather than imperatives that “it MUST be so”.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) recognises the importance of healthy thinking – healthy thoughts are flexible, consistent with reality, logical and helpful.  When we think in unhealthy ways we think rigidly, illogically, inconsistently with reality and unhelpfully.  So values are choices, not dogma.

There are many ways of identifying your values; here are some of those ways:

1) Devising a life balance wheel is one way of exploring your value system.

The circle below may represent some of the significant areas that are significant to your life.  It is not an exhaustive list and you may wish to add something that is not on the list. (Source Joseph, 2009)

Core Values

Core Values

Choose at least five areas that are at the core of your life purpose.  Start by reflecting and writing a description of the person you would like be in each area.  Begin on the most important area and write
down a description for all your chosen values.

2) Take some time to reflect on your core values and list them on a sheet of paper.

Initially you may find it easier if you take a brainstorming approach and generate quite a long list.

Once you have made a list of your core values, then:

  • Go over the  list being much more selective and narrow it down to your top five or six.
  • Take each value and consider what it means to you.
  • Choose one to act on and begin acting in accordance with that value. Each month add the next value to act in accordance with.

Values may change with time as the world moves on, so regular re-evaluation is helpful.

3) Using Visualisation methods:

Imagine yourself meeting an inspirational figure and discussing values with him or her.

Imagine you are all most at the end of your life surrounded by people you care about and reflecting to them on your life.

Imagine you had an opportunity to give your message to the world and you had a short amount of time to present this to the world – what would you say?

Here are some core values you might like to consider:

Prudence* Temperance* Fortitude* Justice * Diligence* Love* Acceptance* Achievement* Altruism* Ambition*Appreciation* Authenticity* Freedom* Friendship* Fun*Respect* Harmony* Responsibility* Health* Balance* Choice* Beauty*  … and there are many more…

We hope that you do give working out your core values a go, and see what difference it makes to your life. If you have any questions about any of the advice here, do ask it below.

* Joseph, A (2009). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Your route out of Perfectionism, Self-Sabotage and Other Everyday Habits. Capstone Publishing, Chichester.