The link between the mind and the body is very powerful. We only have to observe someone’s body language to know what sort of mood they’re in. But does it work in reverse? Can the body change the mind?
There’s a theory called ‘Embodied Cognition’ that says it can. Quite simply, if you want to feel more powerful then adopt a powerful posture or to feel more relaxed adopt a relaxed pose.
Carney et al. (2010) found that when people stood or sat in powerful poses for one minute — those involving open limbs and expansive gestures — they not only felt more powerful but had increased levels of testosterone flooding their systems. Powerful poses take up more space, so spread your body and open up the arms or legs. When you dominate the space, your mind gets the message. With practice it can be a shortcut to gaining a positive confident mindset.
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As the young cricketer left the practise nets after a difficult session, he looked dejected and close to tears. He had endured a torrid time in the nets. He had been bowled several times, struck more than once in unprotected areas of his body and when he did manage to get bat on ball it was generally mis-timed and poorly executed.
What was the cause of this? Well, this youngster had just taken a step up from junior level to senior level and he was struggling to cope with the extra pace and skill shown by his new teammates. He had shown a lot of promise at junior level but with the seniors he looked out of his depth.
“I’m just not good enough” he told his coach as he trudged off, “I may as well give up”.
That sort of thinking is commonplace in sport and is usually the trigger for coaches (especially mental training coaches!) to start working on the athlete’s “positive thinking skills”. Teaching them to pick out the positives in their performances, visualise great technique and mentally rehearse excellence. Seeing yourself in a positive light is certainly better than the other alternative but there is a big problem with positive thinking. Take the example of our young cricketer. No matter how much he used positive thinking he was still going to lack the skills he needed to play at this new level. No amount of positive visualisation and affirmations will deliver this for him, only proper, structured batting training will enable this to happen.Without the necessary batting training, positive thinking will only lead to an increase in what psychologists call Cognitive Dissonance. This is an uncomfortable feeling people get when their beliefs and perceptions do not match up with the outcome of their actions. So in essence by focussing solely on positive thinking with the young cricketer, we would probably have just added another negative emotion to his already fragile state.
The solution to the young cricketers situation (and many other sports performers) is for him to work on his technical skills. Skill development training can be supported, and even accelerated, by the use of good mental training techniques but sometimes there is no alternative to just developing your craft.
Enjoy the game,
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