Thursday, October 02, 2014

Training Our Emotions: A Path to Self-Mastery

Check out a great piece from Daniel Coyle on a mental trick utilized by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad.  As Coyle points out, we tend to think of our temperament as a fixed part of ourselves.  Some of us are laid back, some of us are driven and competitive, etc.  The All Blacks view temperament as a skill to be trained.  They conduct workouts specifically designed to keep them in the right mindset during games.

The trick described by Coyle makes the distinction between being in Red Head mode--filled with hot emotions--vs. Blue Head mode, which is cool, calm, and collected.  The players learn to identify physical, emotional, and cognitive signs that tell them when they're getting in Red Head mode and then use a cue to shift them into a more Blue Headed state.  The cue could be a gesture, bringing an image to mind--each player comes up with and rehearses their own cues.  

This is very akin to the self-hypnosis methods I described in an earlier post.  In a self-hypnotic routine, you enter a very calm, very focused state and associate a particular cue with a specific outcome.  So, in my example, I hold my hands in front of me, palms facing each other, and tell myself that there's a magnet slowly bringing my hands together.  As they get closer and closer, I feel more and more calm, more and more focused.  When the hands finally touch, I will be in a complete focused zone.

What makes the use of such gestures or triggers effective is that, with practice, they become associated with the state of mind that you want to cultivate.  A simple use of the gesture (such as putting one's hands together) can invoke the state that has been rehearsed in the self-hypnotic routine.  This is extremely helpful in the heat of battle--whether on the rugby field or on the trading floor.  

We tend to think of emotions and states of mind as things that happen to us.  Once we see them as skills that can be trained, we open the door to a degree of self-mastery that otherwise would be closed.

Further Reading:  Using Emotion to Change Emotion