Sports performance, as every serious sportsperson knows, is as much about what's going on in your head as what's going on in your body. We've all seen top-notch golfers lose their game for years on end, or sprinters lose those critical hundredths of a second that make the difference at the finishing line, due to a seemingly insurmountable anxiety about the outcome. My sports performance hypnosis sessions are based on the latest psychological research into what distinguishes the top performers from the rest, and how successful athletes get that edge. These three sports hypnosis tips will help your clients fine tune their game so that, whatever sports they engage in, they’ll get the very best from themselves, physically, mentally, emotionally. They'll learn how to cultivate — and maintain — the attitudes and determination that will take them to the next level.
"It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were."
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience"
When working with maximizing performance for a client in any field, I consistently focus on three elements. These are vital:
1. Do they actually believe they can do this?
Once upon a time, it was believed that to run a mile in less than 4 minutes was impossible. It couldn't be done. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister did the impossible. He ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. He had dragged the impossible into the possible.
And then something strange happened.
The limit of the possible shifted, not in the bodies of contemporary runners, but in their minds. The year after Bannister's historic run, no less than 100 other athletes ran a sub-4-minute mile.
Nowadays, it's become the norm for good athletes to do sub-4-minute miles. I'm guessing most of those 100 athletes could have run faster before 1954, but it took Roger Bannister to give them permission to do the 'impossible'. The sporting world experienced a collective major cognitive reframe.
This sweeping away of limiting beliefs, known as the 'Bannister Effect', holds good not just for sports but for all areas of life. Beliefs shape (the perception of) what is possible.
So before working with a client it's a really good idea to discern their beliefs around what might be possible for them. They might tell you they're working towards a certain aim, but do they secretly feel it's impossible?
As I write this, no one has ever run a marathon in less than 2 hours. I've heard it said it is 'impossible'. Is it really?
Climbing Everest was thought to be impossible. So was mechanical flight. So what can we do once we spot a limiting belief in the impossible?
2. Make the impossible possible
Recently I worked with a young high jumper. He had developed the idea that he just couldn't jump higher than 2 meters, a literal and figurative barrier he couldn't even imagine surmounting.
I asked him whether he would be able to jump 2 meters in length. He laughed, and said that of course he could do that, with very little effort. Reframing height into length might not seem much like a solution but it started to shift his perception.
I then hypnotized him and encouraged him to think about the height of the bar in terms of length — suddenly 2 meters didn't seem so much.
I had him hypnotically rehearse approaching the bar with the sense that it was measured in length rather than height, as strange as that sounds. He could see himself inwardly high jumping as he sat in my recliner.
During his very next competition he jumped 2 meters 5 centimeters. We had reframed his limiting belief by talking in terms of 2 meters not actually being that much distance if we thought about it as length. This may sound strange to the logical mind, but in hypnosis the traditional laws of physics do not apply.
One woman felt it was impossible for her to play violin in front of a live audience. I suggested that during the real performance the room and audience disappear in one sense just as, mysteriously, we "become one with them". And the music flows through all of us together. Framing the situation as being about a conduit for the music, not about her, was really powerful. We extended this idea in hypnotic trance so she could actually begin to experience it. She told me later that "it was as if I became the music, and so did the audience."
We can help our clients experience the Bannister Effect either by pointing out that others have actually done the 'impossible', or by reframing the 'impossible' so it feels different to the person.
Converting height into length, or musical performance into a collective merging of experience are just two examples, but the possibilities are infinite. Reframing is much more than simply telling someone to look at it differently.
3. Find the magical optimal sports performance state
Japanese martial arts recognizes a concept known as "Mushin". Mushin describes a state in which one is completely free from thoughts of fear, anger or ego during combat, or, in fact, any situation in life. This state is similar to the concept of 'flow' or 'being in the zone'.
The thing is, the state of optimal flow always feels like home to people. It's how they feel they were meant to be when they compete, or make love, or connect with an audience, or whatever it might be. Often they describe a sense of having 'become one' with the game, or the music, or the experience.
Just as in hypnosis, during these magical performance states, all thoughts of 'performance' vanish, and the analytical, controlling conscious mind fades to let in the vast reservoir of perception and perspective that is the subconscious mind. Paradoxically, this fascinating state of flow arises not by grasping for something new, but by letting go.
"Find your flow by letting go". It's strange, this paradox – that just as we let go of ideas of winning or losing, we become more likely to win or do well in an activity.
The truth is, we perform at our best when all thoughts of performance and winning fade from the mind. The peak performance state of flow can be easily triggered by the use of hypnosis, though traditionally top performers, in whatever sphere of life, have waited for the state to come to them. When we help our clients reliably enter the flow state, we help them fulfill their performance potential.
So what does it feel like to be in flow?
One of my tennis player clients put it nicely: "Being in flow feels like stepping aside from the usual rigid boundaries of everyday life. I felt as though I could slow the ball down with my mind even when my opponent was, in reality, hitting it really fast. To me the ball was in slow motion and I had all the time in the world. I was completely absorbed in the current and immediate activity for its own sake. There was no thought of before or after, success or failure, 'how am I doing'. I became what I was doing."
In this state you can be doing amazing things with a tremendous sense of engagement and detachment, saying just the right things in just the right way in your presentation, or moving very fast but still feeling like you have "all the time in the world".
Stillness in motion, infinity in a split second, lightness and ease in the most complex of activities. You can help your clients access this beautiful state during hypnosis by describing it to them. Or you may find it useful to explore times they've experienced it in the past, and re-invoke that feeling. You can also suggest that this delicious state of being will be triggered quite naturally by just engaging in that activity in future.