Breakpoints of Chain Reaction
In a previous post, I described 6 steps that create fear in our minds. This is part II.
So, now we have examined what creates fear in athletes’ minds. Then what? Why this is important?
As a refresher, the steps to create fear are:
1. Something happens (true or fictional) ⇒ 2. Athlete notices it ⇒ 3. Athlete starts to think about it in a certain specific way ⇒ 4. Based on that the mind creates a certain response ⇒ 5. Possibly a feeling is created ⇒ 6. If it's a feeling it can be fear
If we break this chain of events, we will break the pattern. The athlete does not feel fear the same way anymore in the same situation. Perhaps the fear is lighter fear. Or perhaps there’s no fear at all, but totally a different feeling. The athlete can break the pattern at any step. Breaking the pattern is also one of the many ways to overcome fear.
To give you an idea, here’s a list of some examples what can be done to break the pattern in different parts of the chain, based on the above 6 steps. They are examples of the methodology. First, we analyze the thinking process, and then we break the process somehow.
I’ve divided them into two categories, CATEGORY I and CATEGORY II, depending on which step they can be useful.
This is the category that may prevent the feeling of fear altogether. These things can all be done before the feeling of fear has been reached (so before step 6).
- Break the starting point (step 1): Do as your coach taught you. Repetitions after repetitions: the better technique and routine you have, the more you are in control. This means less surprises. Therefore, the athlete doesn’t enter so easily to the whole disturbing chain of events. If our snowboarder Bob would have a strong routine in jumping, he wouldn’t need to think about the jump, he would just execute. The chain of events towards fear is not even started. As its best the athlete is doing what he knows, with ease, having all the resources he needs, and just executes, without thinking. That state is called a flow.
- Instead of noticing it (step 2), notice different things: Not noticing the things that make the athlete being afraid may sound both funny and impossible. But it’s really, really effective. It’s about the “cocktail party” phenomenon. You hear your name mentioned at a cocktail party even if there’s a lot of noise. We notice the things that are important to us, like our name. What we notice is depending on our core values and beliefs. Alice’s beliefs were different from Bob’s when they were both looking at the big jump. That’s the reason they noticed totally different things – even if the situation was exactly the same. With your conscious mind you can always chance your focus. Are you looking for good things or bad things?
- Think about it in a different way (step 3): only certain type of thinking, conscious or unconscious, leads to fear. Books can be written about this topic. If something “bad” happens, do you start to panic or do you see yourself as James Bond with a Martini on his other hand conquering the bad guys? How do you react on bad news? Are you wondering why we select a certain way of thinking if it’s not good for us? Our brain uses the connections, thinking patterns, that are strong and familiar. We have learned how to be afraid, and our brain knows exactly how to do that. Perhaps the athlete has been doing it over and over. Luckily, athletes can learn how to think differently. And brains learn fast.
Until this point, if the chain of events was broken, the athlete does not get the feeling of fear. Or the feeling is not as intense as before.
In this category, we have a situation where the athlete is already at step 6. He is already afraid. Legs are shaking, heart is pumping. Can he still get away from fear?
- Manage the intensity of fear (step 6): This is not most common phase where athletes and common people try to overcome their fear. Well, they are afraid already. You can add your preferred method here in this phase: Some people like to talk to themselves in calm way. Some people take their thoughts to a different place. Breathing. Pep talk. Reassurance. However, it’s not automatically a lost game. There are techniques that many people just don’t know how to manage the intensity of the feelings. Like spinning the feelings. Also, the change in the construction of the thoughts, submodalities, quickly will change the result. It’s like applying the last step of CATEGORY I again in this phase.
- Add an additional step 7: The athlete is afraid. But what does it mean to an athlete herself if the legs are shaking? The symptoms can be interpret as fear, or as excitement, for example. The key is to understand that even if the person is afraid, the meaning of fear can be changed. Perhaps fear is a good thing? Or it shows the athlete that he’s ready? Think of an adrenaline junkie. The fear is there, but it makes the athlete to try even harder instead of hesitating.
- Create a new loop: The feeling of fear can also be used to trigger some other mental strategy. So think it as a loop form step 6 back to step 1 (something happens, where something is “legs are shaking”).
In these two posts I have described some theory around fear and feelings. The reason I’m explaining these things is to show how the thought patterns can be evaluated. Based on the evaluation a new thinking structure, or process, can be created. These are examples of a systematic approach.
This is not the whole story, though. Feelings are affected not only by our thoughts, but by our physiology, too. And yes, we can change that. In these two categories I’ve given some examples what could be done; which parts of the process can be changed, and what are the effects. How to do these changes that are lasting, and fast – that’s another topic.
The bottom line is this: It is easier to change our perception of the world than change the world itself. It’s easier to change our thoughts and perception about the big jump, rather than ask the ski resort to tear it down.
If you want to jump.