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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Power of the Mind - Self improvement


By: Martin Palethorpe - Executive Coaching

It never ceases to amaze me how many Senior Executives overlook developing the number one aspect of performance that can position them ahead of the crowd and help them be dramatically more successful. I am referring to the power of the mind and the importance of being aware of and developing it.

It has long been acknowledged that the mind is what makes the key difference between success and failure in sport, but as yet its power is largely untapped in the corporate world. Lance Armstrong, Steven Gerrard, Tiger Woods, Ellen MacArthur astound us because they are great examples of people who have pushed themselves to the limit and reached their dreams and goals. As business leaders, what can we learn from them attitudinally to inspire us to achieve similar feats?"

If you think of the business leader who you most admire, how would you describe this person? Perhaps as follows: intelligent, sharp, strategic-thinker, entrepreneurial, good with people, ambitious, driven, hardworking, meticulous, open-minded – and what you might notice when you do this exercise is that the majority of the list has very little to do with their skills or knowledge, and a lot to do with attitude. Whatever level you are at in business, if you can learn to be more aware of and further develop your mindset, your belief systems, your attitude to yourself and others, you face huge opportunity to have everything you want in your career and more.

'Your mind is the only thing that limits what you achieve in your career'.

Much has been written about top sports performers' ability to operate 'in the zone'. It is in this state where the best results are achieved most easily. University of Chicago psychologist Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi has studied the equivalent state in the workplace, a state which he refers to as being 'in flow'. This is the feeling when you are fully motivated, inspired, passionate about what you are doing; when you are fully effective and powerful in what you are doing; when time flies by and results seem to just happen. What percentage of your working life are you operating in flow? And what are the times where you are not? There are a number of feelings that threaten you performing 'in flow' such as when you are disengaged, bored, unfocused, self-doubtful, feeling fear, or distracted.

We might feel these feelings in a variety of situations, such as:

1. Are you feeling bored or unsatisfied in your current role?
2. Do you have a lack of clarity or focus about your career direction?
3. Do you question or doubt your ability in your current position or future positions?
4. Do you feel fear or negative emotion in certain pressure situations ie. sales meetings at a senior level, speeches in front of 5000 people, presentations to city analysts, a final interview with a CEO?
5. Are there times when you feel others are better than yourself?
6. Are there times when the voice in your head is negative/ destructive against your performance?
7. Do you feel negative about others in way that impacts performance (yours or theirs)?
8. Do you have a paradigm/ way of thinking about yourself that might limit you?

So the question then becomes how do we control our feelings?

Would you agree that when you are feeling a certain way, your feeling impacts how you behave which impacts what you achieve? If you are feeling great, feeling successful and confident, then your behaviour will be positive and dynamic and the outcome is more likely to be what you desire. On the other hand, if things have been going badly, you are losing confidence and worried, this will show up almost unconsciously in how you are which somehow impacts others and your results. Does this make sense? So if we learn to control feelings at every moment, we can be far more likely to achieve better results.

There are 4 ways in which you can take control of your feelings now. Let's explore them and introduce some practical exercises.

Self-talk
Psychologists claim that we have 60,000 thoughts each day. Your mind is like a computer, and each of these thoughts has an impact on how you feel. The individual thoughts are either consciously or unconsciously programming your mind, which causes you to behave in a certain way. What percentage of those thoughts are positive ie.taking you towards your goal? What percentage of those thoughts is negative and seems to have the opposite effect? Even the most successful people constantly battle with an inner voice which can be destructive up to 50% of the time (that's 30,000 thoughts each day!)

Exercise
This is a simple yet extremely powerful exercise. Begin to increase your awareness of your self-talk. Self-talk can be internal, what you say to your self that no one else hears; it can also be external, that you actually communicate in language. Have a look for the following language and notice the impact on your feelings:

"I can't. I don't do that. I am not that type of person. I am not good at x. I have never been able to do y. I'll try. I am bored. I don't like him/her. This is a waste of time. I wish I had never started it. I feel helpless. It's impossible."

From a psychological perspective, this language does no good for your mind or the mind of others. First things first, stop using this language. Only use positive constructive terminology from now on. Either, use the opposite language (positive opposites - see first box below) or a variation (positive possibilities - see second box below).

"I can. I can do that. I am that type of person. I am good at x. I can do y. I will do it. I am interested. I like him/her. This is a good use of time. I am glad I have started this. I feel in control. It is possible."

"I can't yet. Until now, I haven't done that, but... In the past, I haven't been that type of person, but… I haven't been good at x, but I will... I'll do it. I am open to being interested. What could I like about him/her? This is an opportunity to learn. It's possible that I could work this out."

Images
Visualisation is an extremely powerful technique that many performers (including world-class athletes) now use to

1. Change their state to a feeling that is most appropriate
2. To mentally prepare for the competition ahead

1. Change their state to a feeling that is most appropriate
Through visualization, at any point you have the ability to bring back any feeling you choose – such as confident, relaxed, happy, and composed. For example, if I ask you to see yourself on your last enjoyable holiday – you have the ability to bring back those feelings. See yourself in your resort in the sun with a drink in your hand, see the people that you saw, hear the noises that you heard, and think the thoughts that you had and immerse yourself in how you felt. Very quickly you can change your state.

Exercise
Think of a future challenging situation where you would normally find yourself in an unresourceful state eg. fear, concern. Decide alternative positive emotions you would like to experience, that will be most resourceful to you eg. relaxed, confident. Think of situations when you have felt those feelings in abundance. Then spend some time visualizing those situations, practicing bringing back 'relaxed & confident'.

2. To mentally prepare for the competition ahead
Through visualization, you can also mentally prepare for any event in an extremely powerful manner. Psychologists have spent much time analyzing movement in brainwaves. There is no difference for the brain between visualizing an event, and actually performing the event. This means that by visualizing you can dramatically prepare your mind for anything in future enabling you to be far more relaxed, more prepared and more effective. You could use this to prepare for something specific such a speech or presentation, and you could also you use it to prepare your unconscious mind for overachieving on your goals by the end of 2005.

Exercise
Write yourself the perfect performance script. Let's use an important event (speech, presentation, meeting or interview) that you have in the future. Write at least one page on what happens from this moment on. Write down all of your preparation, and all your actions, thoughts, and feelings. Be honest, but prepare yourself for everything going brilliantly. See you self at the event, doing what you do. Notice what you might think and feel, then prepare yourself how you will on the day to ensure a peak performance. Incorporate all eventualities into the script – what might not go to plan and then how are you going to deal with it positively? Once you have detailed everything possible, take time to re-read your script, then close your eyes and visualize it all.

Physiology
Your physiology also affects how you feel. The mind and body are one system, and anything that is happening in the body will impact the mind. Have a look at this list. Which of these presents you with the best opportunity to impact your performance?

1. Stand, walk, hold yourself like a champion at all times
2. Eat and drink only what is good for your body
3. Keep yourself fit & healthy with regular exercise
4. Breathe more deeply more often, especially when you are feeling tired, nervous or stressed. The increased oxygen intake is vital for you and enables you to relax more deeply.

Environment
Your environment also affects how you feel. Some people find it extremely hard to work in a messy office; others find it a challenge to work around negative people. Why not create your environment so that supports you being a champion in your field? Have a look at this list. What changes do you need to make to have most impact?

1. Your office/ desk environment
2. Your car
3. Your home
4. The people you work with
5. Your family/ friends
6. How you dress

Summary
We've looked at the basics of Performance Psychology, how to change a few simple things to have you feel and hence perform far better. It's now time to take a hold of all your feelings using the Performance Cycle concept to assist you; it's time to be the Lance Armstrong in your field!

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