Watching Marin Cilic succumb to emotional upset in the 2017 Wimbledon Final was excruciating. Few people want to see an athlete embarrassed on a world stage. But it gives a stark example of the impact that our emotions can have on our performance.
Cilic’s inability to manage his frustration meant that he was unable to play his best game. As he got more upset, his game deteriorated. His emotional outburst and the spiralling down of his game led to a relatively quick end to his Wimbledon bid.
In comparison, Federer, who wasn’t playing his best game either, composed himself at the end of each point and doggedly played the best he was able to – and won the prize.
There are a number of mindfulness tools that can help us compose ourselves when upsetting things happen. My top three are:
Breathe deeply: Learn to shift your focus away from the upset and onto your breathing. Here’s a variation on the old saying of take a deep breathe and count to 10: Take a deep breath in for a count of four and then a deeper breath out for a count of six. Repeat. Repeat again. After 60 seconds the body will start to settle.
Distract yourself with something you like. There is a reason why cat videos are so popular – they are a great emotional distraction. Have a video or songs on standby to help you ‘change the channel’. Smile!
Move. Emotions are connected to body posture, so get up and move if you can. Jiggle your arms and legs if you are clenching in frustration. Stomp up or down stairs if you need to release anger. Find a piece of greenery and walk towards it. Open your arms palms upward, or put your hands on your hips to give you ‘attitude’.
The hard part is remembering these tools and techniques when you need them, so the key is learning and practicing the techniques before you need them.
Some suggestions: Find a physical class, a YouTube video or a mobile app. Put a reminder in your calendar to practice at least weekly. Make it fun. Buddy-up if you can.
What we call our nature, our personality, is a whole series of habits of thinking and feeling. For example habits of initiating, reacting or responding to others.
For many of us, our thoughts may be easy to shift but the behavioural aspect may take longer to shift. For others the opposite is true.
You CAN change your personality but there’s a vulnerable phase going from something that you know – the habit of being yourself – through this phase of not knowing, to a more stable new you. And it is a similar journey for organisations wanting to change their culture.
It’s hard to hold someone’s hand through the phase of wanting but not knowing if it will work. There are certain people who can’t handle the ‘agony’ of wanting something really badly and fearing they may not get it, so they resolve the tension by talking themselves out of wanting it. They learn to argue for their limitations. To argue for the negatives. To assume it won’t work. Then it is sensible not to want.
But it’s just a habit.
Want we want to learn is how to honour that habit and acknowledge that is going to take a while to change the ‘habit’. But if everyday I practice being a bit more hopeful, I move from having a belief that I can change, a conceptual understanding to a very embodied knowing that I have changed in the past and can change again now, or in the future.
we move from ‘I hope it’s true’, through little actions to ‘I know it’s true’.
Is it accompanied by a felt sense in the body when I am thinking that thought?
Sometimes when well acknowledged, it will reveal more about it’s fear and show you what it’s protecting you from.
As part of my intention to become a ‘maker’ more than a ‘consumer’ of information and stories, I appreciate James Clear’s advice today on How to Read Better.
The article suggests that if we want to become better readers we need firstly, to find a way to make our thoughts visible – by making notes – and then searchable. I agree that the best tool is Evernote and I am intrigued to find out more about Clippings for Kindle. I also make a note of the author and the concept, in the header section of my written journal so I can track down comments, though it’s still a manual process to flip through the pages. One day I will explore how to scan my journals.
Secondly, Clear suggests we need to connect the dots between the various ideas that we read. I do a lot of this already – asking myself “hmmm what does this remind me of?” and I can always improve by asking this question. E.g. applying my recent reading from BJ Fogg and his Tiny Habits, I wonder how I can set a tiny habit to capture one idea after each article / book / podcast?
Thirdly, summarise the main idea/s in a paragraph. In Clear’s article the main ideas are to practice making your reading memorable via searchable notes and by connecting the ideas with other things you’ve written. Then look for one thing you can apply immediately, even if application is writing a summary and sending it to someone who will benefit.
And I will add a fourth – appreciation for the author – so thanks James for your article and your ongoing improvement endeavours. You are a good role model.
I’m sitting at my computer reading a colleague’s article about choosing our highest values. I know what I need to do today to serve my highest value of contribution, but the temptation to go down a rabbit hole and start searching and consuming tasty new information on the internet is so very strong. However, I know that every time I satisfy that craving, I am missing an opportunity to choose contribution over consumption and I’m also missing the chance to strengthen my mental choosing muscle.
Thanks to my colleagues for being there for me virtually, it really makes a difference.
I’ll just take a deep, mindful breath, get started with my work and see how I go.
Sending good intentions to the universe doesn’t give us what we want… we achieve what we wish at a speed determined by our cultural beliefs and by the strength of the actions we take that confirm our intrinsic worth.
The MindBody Code, Dr Mario Martinez
For most of us it’s natural to presume the worst. As Rick Hanson explains, we are hard wired to focus on the negative – our ancestors who survived learned to do that best. And while we may think its still a dangerous world out there, many of the dangers are now ego-threatening rather than life-threatening.
Even if it’s natural to presume the worst, we can still to learn how to appreciate the good in our lives and in order to do that we need a compelling “why”, a useful “how” and a provocative “who” – “anyone can learn it – even pessimists like you or me”.
I like Rick’s Hanson’s explanation of three parts of our brain that need support, even if Dr Sarah McKay says it’s not strictly true:
• Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm. Rick suggests we practice “petting the lizard” – we can learn to tell ourselves “it’s OK, you’re scared and it’s normal to focus on what might go wrong – but it probably won’t”.
• Mammal – Limbic system, focused on approaching rewards. Rick suggests we can learn to “feed the mouse” – “eg. let’s break this big goal down into little sub-goals and reward ourselves for achieving each of the little goals”.
• Primate – Cortex, focused on attaching to “people like us”. My favourite – Rick promotes daily “hugging the monkey” – this means having people or pets we can hug daily and who will hug us back. A good hug releases oxytocin and looking into a dog’s eyes does too.
But “why” we may ask? Well for the answer to that question we need to talk with Barbara Fredrickson and find out about her Broaden and Build research and the positivity ratio. More next post.