Mental Grip

Rowden 2011

The Problem

Why are so many of us inclined to mess up at the precise moment when messing up is the last thing we want to do? Why are we so prone to fail when we most want to succeed? For years the paradox of ‘choking’ seemed incomprehensible to psychologists and sportsmen alike. It is only in recent years that neuroscientists have glimpsed the answers, and they are both intriguing and revelatory.

In effect, experts and novices use two completely different brain systems. Long practice enables experienced performers to encode a skill in implicit memory and they perform almost without thinking about it. This is called expert-induced amnesia. Novices, on the other hand, use the explicit system, consciously monitoring what they are doing as they build the neural framework supporting the task.
But now suppose an expert were to suddenly find himself/herself using the 'wrong' system. It wouldn't matter how good he/she was because he/she would now be at the mercy of the explicit system. The highly sophisticated skills encoded in the subconscious part of his/her brain would count for nothing. He/she would find himself/herself striving for victory using neural pathways he/she last used as a novice. This is quite often what happens when the very experienced player starts doubting and questioning or when emotion takes over. He/she then starts monitoring the performance! A recipe for disaster!

The Reason

What happens is that we allow emotion to take over and especially we start to ‘doubt’ our performance and question our ability to succeed and to win. We think too much instead of concentrating only on the task at hand. When we doubt, we start to underperform and to dwell on this and to try to find reasons. This of course is fatal! Our mind is so constructed that when we are focusing on losing, it then programmes itself towards helping us to do just this.

The Solution

What is immediately necessary for us to do, is to take control of our own mind and to consciously ‘think’ success and to banish doubt. This often needs a conscious and focused effort on our part and if we are subject to negative thoughts, requires a regular programme of positive thinking. It doesn’t matter how ‘far out’ and over the top this positive thinking may be, it will work.
In order to perform way above your maximum you must believe beyond, over and above what is logical and reasonable. Your belief in your own abilities must be absolute and you must be able to communicate this belief to your opponent by your body language! You must accept that the impossible can be possible and even normal. You must also accept that you can and should at times lie to yourself and that you will in fact be believed. Many top athletes do this and it is extremely successful. They tell themselves they can do the impossible and they do!

What you must also understand is that winning is a habit, the more you win the more your self-belief will be reinforced and the more your competitors will find it difficult to sustain theirs.

Ignore the logic and what should happen and imagine what you want to happen and see this happening in your own mind. Talk to yourself, remain positive and keep your mind on the right track, but above all talk positively all the time and do not allow doubts to creep in. In this way over a period of time you will change your self-image and the way you see and think about yourself.

Above all bear in mind that any mental programme must be (just like any physical or technical programme) carried out on a daily basis if you are an up-and-coming professional player. It can’t just be done when you have time or when you are having one or two bad results.

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