Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mental Management - Directive Affirmations

Before we get to the last level of participation, let’s take a performance tool from Lanny and apply it to daily life. One of Lanny’s teaching points is that your self-image can be changed through directive affirmation. He recommends that you create an affirmation of what you want to be and then state it as if it already is and your performance will improve. Further, if you do not meet your directive affirmation goals you actively dismiss that moment as “not like you”. Do not let a poor performance one time affirm the negative self image.

For example, I have been using a scuba diving based directive affirmation for some weeks now. While it was created for my challenging dives I made it broad enough to apply in other areas of my life so that I can practice and strengthen it even when not diving. My directive affirmation targets a specific behavior I want to change and I must fight my self-image to effect this change.

In my case I tend to passionately engage in any problem that comes along. This stems from a long history of dealing with problems; I have been the “go to guy” for fixing things for a large part of my career. However, my solutions were based on a need for speed and sometimes there are problems that require careful consideration before acting. Speed solutions often subconsciously lead to physical responses. Tense muscles for fast reactions, tunneled vision for problem focus, and shallower breathing for higher oxygen transfer rates. These are exactly the wrong things to do when you face a scuba diving challenge! My problem solving habit had to be broken and my directive affirmation was the first big step in that.

To improve the self-image you need to visualize the positive change you want and then build the directive affirmation that is “like you”. If you perform in your new self then that is “like you”. If you do not succeed then it is a temporary moment and it is “not like you”. I needed to be much more relaxed in my problem solving, it should be like me to face a challenge and act coolly and properly. My directive affirmation is:

“I respond to challenges with calm precision.”

This is great for scuba; it means that when any difficulty comes along I calmly pick the best solution and execute the actions efficiently. I do not “react” but “respond”. My actions are based on thought and are not the first emotional reaction that comes to mind.

In scuba diving you need to be able to respond to a variety of challenges. Your air supply is low, your buddy is out of air, you get separated from the group. All sorts of things can happen but you generally have time to respond and go to the surface and fix it. In cave diving you can not go to the surface, there is usually several dozen feet of rock between you and air. You must solve your problem right then, right there. That is why there is so much training involved in cave diving; you have to be practiced in how to respond to all the likely challenges. My directive affirmation makes it like me to solve these challenges properly.

How about you? Are there behaviors you want to do differently? A directive affirmation can be used to stop smoking, improve spending or exercise habits, or even revitalize personal relationships. What can you choose this week to make your life better?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mental Management - Just say "no".

The dives I didn't make might be the best ones. The mental management project is actually working. This series of posts is not hypothetical; I am testing Lanny Bassham's Mental Management system and myself in a fairly dangerous laboratory.
In scuba diving there is a golden rule; "Any diver can call any dive at any time for any reason, no questions asked". Scuba diving is fun but there is risk. Any time you feel it is not right to continue a dive you can end it. This past weekend I had a great class even though there was a lot of performance anxiety involved. I'm pretty good with mental things and absolutely stink at anything requiring relaxed and coordinated movement. Okay with numbers but I can not tell left from the other left.

Leading up to the class I had been listening to my head and dealing with issues as they cropped up. I committed to the class in that I would not "wimp out" and try to find an excuse for laziness or being overly self-critical. However, there is a line to be drawn and I faced it Saturday morning.

Like I said, there was a good bit of performance anxiety going into the class. But Saturday, in my dry suit, I tasted some primal fear about this dive. I wanted the class. My instructor, Ronnie Wakefield, is good and I trusted what he had taught us so far. After tasting the fear for a few minutes, trying to see if it was just performance anxiety, I realized this was a totally different flavor. No idea what it was at the time but it was not the same.

So I called the dive. That was tough for my ego but it was the right choice. Ronnie and the other student supported my decision and helped me out of my gear. While they were diving I really worked on understanding where my head was, to understand what caused the fear. Fortunately I have a lot of experience wandering around my brain. The fear I had tasted was not caused by one big thing but several small stressors . I had not dried my gear from the day before and I really don't like getting into clammy cold socks and thermals. I need to replace the too small boots on my dry-suit as they cramp my feet. Some one had mentioned low visibility and the spring was already looking crowded. While the class was a growth step for me, as a good class is, there were several new pieces of gear and new skills that I needed to grasp.

The root cause was the accumulation of discomforts and challenges that my brain knew would cascade quickly. I would not have gotten into the water happy and things would have gone down hill from there. So I kicked my ego aside and called the dive. Once I knew what the issues were I set about fixing them. Cold clothes got put in the sun to warm up. I made a mental note to get with Steve Gamble and talk about dry-suit boot replacement, and I put the memories of yesterday's fun dives to work to hype me up for the afternoon. After lunch I went back inside my head and made sure things were cool. The fear was gone we had a great dive.

Basic lessons: Listen to your fears but don't be consumed by them. Analysis will either clarify the issue or expose the illusion. Mental Management still works; it is not false bravery but cool headed thinking that carries the day.

Are you facing something that needs examination? Do you need to call the dive or are you letting fear rule your decision? What is real and what is illusion?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mental Management when you can die Part 3

In sports there are three levels of performance. Most people start at the "Train to Learn" level. These are the folks new to the sport who are trying it out and enjoying something different. You enjoy a church softball league game and then go home to be passionate about something else. If you have several different activities here you're a more well rounded person that the average television watcher. What you should not expect is great strides in your performance if you only spend enough time and effort to just participate. If you play table tennis with your spouse once a week you should not get upset if your serve is not as good as an Olympian. They are consumed, you are having fun. On the bottom corner of my paper I wrote activities where I am at the "Train to Learn" stage. No condemnation, but there was no passion in those activities.

On the left corner I listed activities where considerable time and resources have been spent to learn more about and to help others learn more about. You do not always have to teach others if you are passionate about something. It is in my nature to encourage people so teaching is one way my love of something manifests itself.

At this point on the paper there are three topics. USPSA competition handgun, Linux computing, and scuba diving. In each of these areas my time and knowledge has gone past the "Train to Learn" stage; I've been a firearms instructor and Range Officer, 95% of my day job has revolved around Linux for well over a decade, and my level of personal bliss rises significantly when I am exploring underwater.

Lanny calls this the "Train to Compete" level. At this stage people seek out instruction. They spend time critically evaluating skills and work on challenge areas. Having a talent helps but hard work sets you apart from the crowd faster than talent. It is at the "Train to Compete" level that you see sparks of passion driving you forward. Your circle of friends includes people with similar interests, you act like those who lead the field, and your spouse starts to wonder if you're seeing someone else. Best keep your sweetheart aware of your activities or you may have to wind up doing everything around the house because no one else is there.

In the crucible of "Train to Compete" you identify those one or two passions by how your behavior changes. For a long time I beat myself up over poor shooting. My scores did not reflect my desires even when I knew what the process should be. My circle of friends includes top shooters, my wife knew which range I was on and she knew there was always time for her. Maybe not a lot, but there was some. Almost everything that was needed to move my game to the next level was in place, but it was a lack of Passion that kept me stuck for years.

Have you taken time to self-evaluate and separate things you are passionate about from the things you just do? There is a great mental relief in not expecting more results than your engagement level provides. Spend some time this week looking at what you do and pull out those things you are passionate about. Next week we will look at the top level of performance and you will want to know where your greatness lies.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mental Management when you can die Part 2

Fresh from that first step of real progress with my daughter I started processing another point Lanny raised. Remember, he is an Olympic gold medalist. If there's one group of people who can talk about what it takes to achieve success in sports it is Olympic gold medalists. A critical factor for repeatable success is what Lanny calls "Passion for the Process". Winning is fun but competing at the highest levels requires a significant amount of time and dedication. Even if someone has the natural capacity to perform at an Olympic level they will not do so without tremendous effort. That level of work cannot be sustained over a long time without a deep passion for whatever you are striving to master. What are you really passionate about? It could be golf, archery, shooting sports, table tennis, or coaching youth. Whatever you engage in directly relates to you as an individual. Your level of success will be fueled by your passion. Conversely, your lack of passion for an endeavor will limit you more than the talent you may or may not have.

This was a challenge for me. There are several activities on my agenda but few of them really connect to my passions. Finding your passion can be fairly straight-forward; look at what you dream about, think about, and talk about most. If your life revolves around fishing, then that may be your passion. Separate what you want to spend money on or want to accumulate from what you enjoy working on even though you have nothing new. A person who was passionate about fishing might spend time talking to others about what's biting where, keeps the gear clean and orderly, and knows all the local types of fish, best bait, and which of their friends can be called early in the morning for a great day on the water.

Sometimes businesses diversify when they want to grow. There is an advantage to be gotten in adding new products; if one line starts to lose market share the business is poised to grow elsewhere. While humans have a diverse number of interests, and it is probably healthy to try new things to keep your mind growing, we seem unable to be totally consumed by more than one or two passions at a time. Maybe I'm wrong in this but my gut feel is that you get one passion going at a time and anything else is a distraction. Deep commitment to a diverse personal portfolio seems to weaken our performance.

So there I was, stuck with trying to un-diversify and find my passion. I've been pondering career growth options and paths lately and one wall has several sheets of brown paper with my notes about things I should do, want to do, and want to do but don't seem to have time for. "Passion for the Process" started resonating with me more clearly and up went another sheet of paper. Cut square and tilted onto a point so that it sat like a diamond, the three lowest points corresponded to another of Lanny's talking points.

What passions do you have? What things are in your life that are distractions from what you are really created to do?