So this week, I am gearing up to the London Marathon on Sunday the 17th April.
I travelled to London to register for the race officially and pick up my race number at the marathon expo at London’s ExCel centre. It is a massive event just attending the expo. There are more free samples of energy bars, protein snacks, sports drinks and other goodies that I could have skipped lunch!
I bought a commemorative t-shirt and hooded top as well as treating myself to the official London marathon pot of Vaseline, which I have bought each year for the past few…
I love being around fellow marathon runners. All those people that are driven enough to take up such a challenge. All those people who have trained in all weathers, often by themselves, sweated, struggled, found the time to commit to running 26.2 miles on the packed out streets of London together. I love being around those people who had the discipline, the drive, the courage, the self-motivation and the inspiration to do this – and they all smile with their fellow runners, get excited and start to get social as the big day approaches. It makes me feel good just being around these people, chatting to them, sharing jokes and fun, aaahhh… I could go on and on and suspect I may be already…
The London marathon expo event and the race itself always makes my mind drift back to my role as personal development coach in the BBC1 TV series “Run for Glory” a few years back now. I had to devise a particular technique that drew on many modern psychological fields and one that was all encompassing of many essential ingredients that had benefited me during my own marathon running successes throughout the years.
The participants of the TV series all had very particular and personal reasons for running the London marathon and were running to raise awareness of their good cause. One of which was a man who was/is HIV positive, two ladies had overcome cancer, one had a son with terminal illness. Despite none of them being athletes, they all successfully completed the marathon with the training guidance of Olympians Steve Cramm and Sally Gunnell along with a set of psychological techniques from myself.
I wrote about this before, and with all my excitement about London marathon, I had to share it all again today.
A few years ago there was a piece of research carried out in the US that stated that athletes often say that when they are playing well, be it shooting hoops, hitting baseballs, catching passes – the ball appears bigger. Likewise, they say that when they are in a slump the ball appears smaller. When Mickey Mantle hit a 565-foot home run he said, “I just saw the ball as big as a grapefruit.” But Joe “Ducky” Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals said during a slump that he was “swinging at aspirins.”
The study by University of Virginia psychologists found a correlation between batting averages of softball players and how big, or small, they perceived the ball to be. The study documents that when the players were hitting well they clearly perceived the ball to be bigger. And when they were hitting less well, they perceived the ball to be smaller.
The interactions between mind and body, as well as between our perceptions and our actions may be as interlinked as athletes believe them to be, according to the paper that appeared in the December 2005 issue of the journal Psychological Science. There are many such similar pieces of research that demonstrate how perception and the images we replay in our minds directly affect our performance.
If you agree with evolution, it took us around 70,000 years (a very short amount of time in relation to the age of our planet, for example) for us to transform from smart ape-like beings to Homo sapiens with a sense of self and conscious awareness.
Many believe that our speedy advances are due to modern speech or, to be precise, the ability to internalise speech and so create internal dialogue. How we use that internal dialogue and those cognitions is central to much of modern therapeutic interventions and personal development of today.
The suggestion that your internal dialogue could be the key to understanding the special attributes of the human mind is hardly new though.
Even the Ancient Greeks and the 17th-century philosophers of the Enlightenment – particularly Thomas Hobbes – made reference to the possibility. And Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man: ‘A long and complex train of thought can no more be carried on without the aid of words, whether spoken or silent, than a long calculation without the use of figures or algebra.’
As a result though, it is only during the more modern era that it has begun to dawn on psychologists that our internal dialogue may have a very important role in fashioning the human mind itself, going far beyond logical thought to include the entire apparatus of our higher mental powers. Much of the evidence is being gathered outside the boundaries of traditional psychology by researchers in fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, linguistics and educational psychology as well as the fields of hypnosis which is where my great passion lies.
Of course, every thought and utterance that we say to ourselves is affecting our physiology. There was the experiment done by Norman cousins, author of Head First : The Biology of Hope and the Healing Power of the Human Spirit, and he had blood drawn and they tested his blood levels and his immune levels and then immediately after that for one hour he meditated on feeling peaceful feelings. He filled his mind with a simple meditation technique, with ideas and thoughts that were strong on everyone around him being peaceful and everybody finding peace all around him.
He did that for one hour and at the end of that hour had blood drawn again and it was shown that some of his immune factors went up 200% in his blood. This was just based on the thoughts he was thinking for one hour.
Being heavily involved in the field of hypnosis, there is a well known “trick” that you can play with the mind: You can take an ice cube and tell someone who is in hypnosis, that you are about to place a red hot coal on their hand, and you place it on their skin. Of course, I do not recommend anyone doing this, but it is a great (some think ‘theoretical’) example of how powerfully your thoughts affect your physical body.
The ice cube goes on the skin and having told them that it is a coal that is hundreds of degrees hot, the body has a hard time telling the difference between extreme hot and cold anyway. With about 50% of the people the skin actually burns and even creates a blister with fluid inside of it as a result. All thanks to the mind sending the exact information to the body for it to begin the healing process. By the way, pleeeease stop any thoughts of trying this!!
So I wanted to devise a technique that allowed our unlikely marathon runners to clear out any unwanted thoughts and plant progressive powerful thoughts so that their brain could work for them as well as their legs.
If you really want to learn how to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts and begin to prepare yourself for overcoming sporting challenges, or in any other aspect of your life, get used to being in charge of your mind. One key is to remember to focus on your desired outcomes as much as possible. As a general valuable rule; what you focus on the most is what you get.
A great way to do this is to start to run yourself through this procedure as often as possible:
Firstly, if you keep reminding yourself that you have difficulties training or running, then you will continue to have difficulties. If you tell yourself that you can’t do something then you are perfectly right, as the old adage goes. Continue to deliver progressive and positive messages to yourself, be open and ensure that you do not keep on reminding yourself how to have problems.
There may well be times during your days or as you want to train or prepare for your runs, that old unwanted thoughts and beliefs creep in to your mind. These thoughts and beliefs need to be nipped in the bud. Your thoughts may be images, sounds, your internal dialogue or things you imagine might happen, or feelings and sensations. You want to stop these thought processes from spreading. You can accept them, acknowledge and let them go, then repeating them with something better and more useful and progressive.
Imagine that your mind is like a fertile garden and the thoughts that you have in your mind are seeds. All that your thoughts need to grow, is your attention. Your attention is like the rain and sunshine that the seed needs to grow. So, if you allow old, limiting thoughts and beliefs to continue to grow and then keep focusing on them, you are going to have a mind filled with fruit of the belief that you do not know how to overcome obstacles or worse still, a mind filled with failure or lack.
1. If and when old beliefs or negative thoughts enter your mind in any form (image, sound, feeling) that support any slightest idea about lacking motivation, failing or being unable to do something, then first of all you need to stop the thought. Shout “stop” to the thought in your mind to stop it from spreading. Just being aware of it is often enough to stop it going any further. Here you are acknowledging the old thought and choosing not to let it become a seed in your garden (you can even go for imagining that you are letting out an almighty primal scream on the top of a mountain, or even adopt my approach of “shut the hell up”).
One of the important things to know about this technique is the wonderful notion that “if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” With this process, you are learning to do new things inside your mind to stop the old pattern from happening on auto-pilot. Instead of just letting old thoughts rattle on and you putting up with them, you are now getting them by the scruff of the neck.
2. So, having stopped the old thoughts by shouting “stop” in your mind, now take two or three deep breaths from the area beneath your tummy button. The area that is known as “the hara” in eastern medicine and philosophy. Take some really good deep breaths, pushing your tummy out as you breathe in and altering your physiology so that you are standing, sitting or holding your body differently than you were previously. Hold your body in a powerful posture, the way that you know you can do when you do something well.
Have you ever imagined watching yourself travelling around on a roller coaster? Imagine watching yourself going round on it now and then compare this thought with the thought that you are actually on it? Looping the loop and firing around on the actual roller coaster. They are two very different experiences. Whether you associate with your thoughts in your imagination or step back and dissociate from them really affects your internal experiences.
3. So, thirdly, put the unwanted thought on to a screen of any sort. Just put it on to a screen to dissociate yourself from it. This stops it from becoming a further seed in your mind. Imagine you have a screen in your mind and any unwanted thoughts just get put on to that. Then send that screen away, make it smaller, smash it, “white” it out, just get rid of it in any way. Banish that thought from your mind. Can you remember TVs that had the knobs on the outside and if you turned up the brightness, the screen went all white? Well, imagine that with your mind’s eye and white out the old thought. Get rid of it.
4. Now bring up a picture in your mind of how you do want to be, in charge of your own mind, relaxed, experiencing the joy of success, crossing the finish line or just achieving your goal. Place that picture in your mind as if you were looking at it on a new screen.
These do not have to be perfect cinema screen pictures by the way, just imagine it as best as you can. If I asked you what colour your front door is, you have to imagine it in order to answer. Just imagine or even pretend that you are imagining and however you do this is the right way for you.
5. As you look at it, make it as vivid as you can. Add your favourite soothing sounds, maybe a favourite piece of relaxing music, or even imagine someone with a wonderful voice, motivating you or giving you sexy, alluring messages. I often imagine Marilyn Monroe huskily, seductively and softly whispering to me to go and do things that I initially did not want to do, hmmm. Then add some wonderful feelings to that version of yourself as you look at it. Where in the body are those relaxed feelings? Make the picture as sensory rich as you can. Use colours and details as much as possible.
6. As you look at this image of yourself in your mind, think to yourself, “I just know that is going to happen,” the same way that you know a brick will fall to the floor if you let go of it. Then, think to yourself, “I deserve that.” Really know that you deserve it. Finally, think that this is funny, humorous and refuse to treat it seriously. When we take our goals too seriously, we often make them too rigid, think to yourself that the journey to your desired outcome is going to be enjoyable and fun!
7. Next, step into that image of you in your mind. Wear it, act like it. When you pretend to be a certain way, you are learning how to be that way at the deeper behavioural level. Really, truly associate with it, feel the feelings of it and get it lodged into your unconscious mind. How does that version of you think, how does that version of you hold their body? Then do those things and BE that version of yourself. Mentally rehearse that future scenario in your mind.
This is so important, here you are acquainting your mind with that outcome, you are teaching it how to be that way. Spend some time on this step and really associate with that outcome. See what you would be seeing, hear the sounds of your success, feel the feelings that you would feel.
The simple fact that you can imagine what it is like demonstrates that you know how to do this; the potential already exists within you.
So, to recap, first stop the unwanted thoughts in your mind. Stop them in their tracks. Take some deep breaths and alter your physiology, then dispose of that thought. Replace it with a more progressive thought about yourself performing wonderfully and deeply. Think about your desired outcome and really allow yourself to move towards that goal.
Use this technique and start getting in control of your own mind. You have a mind of your own. Take charge, you are interrupting the patterns with this process. Remember, the images you allow in your mind, along with the sounds you play and the feelings you encourage all affect your performance, so get in control of your mind and choose what you allow on board. Think about that next time you try talking yourself out of training or filling your mind with the things that could go wrong.
You can bet the many tens of thousands of marathon runners on the streets of London this weekend will be very positive and progressive with their thoughts in the lead up to their big day….