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A Framework: Rethink Your Thinking

men in sport May 09, 2022

So far these articles have focussed on highlighting the common problems senior performance staff are facing with regards to high performance sport and the inner conflict deep within themselves.

Sharing these common problems has been received by many as a relief to hear that others within the world of performance sport are feeling very similar emotions. One piece of feedback has even been to say:

"These articles are giving me words to what I couldn't describe before."

The Practical Tools

I feel it's just as important to highlight what men in sport are asking for with regards to support and the practical tools to help them liberate themselves from the situations that are guiding their unhappiness.

"I want to learn about reflection and how to do it properly, and having a peer network to talk to confidentially to reflect and share the struggles and experience."

"How to take steps to acknowledge and respond to my feelings rather than react and control me."

"I want a clearer understanding of what's going on inside my brain, how to reverse that process with positive self talk, understanding the process of thoughts and what interventions can help flatten out the curve or bring it back up again, stop letting other peoples emotions influencing me."

"I want to have practical tools to bring it into life that I can resonate with - grounding tools to keep me present and brings me back down if I'm escalating."

"I need skills to understand my inner landscape, skills to manage my internal environment, be kinder to myself, happier with who I am, more skills to help my approach to knowing myself."

"I want self reflection models - being able to decipher what, so what and now what. I want to know how to decipher in my head that takes away the anxiety and increases the understanding of how I behaved, why I behaved that way and how to move forward with an action, thought or feeling."

The Pareto Principle

Examining our mindsets allows us to mount a self-aware response to the problems in our life. We simply can’t respond to our personal and professional problems in a meaningful way unless we also learn how to examine our mindsets as an integral part of how we show up.

“The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?” — Carl Jung

When we really take a moment and sharpen our awareness on our inner world, we realise just how much noise is going on within our head. It’s relentless, and when left unattended it becomes a freight train of anxiety that’s out of control. As I watch my mind in uncontrolled action, I am shocked and embarrassed at the narrative it makes up about the people, places and situations in my life. When esoteric concepts are held at the same time, you get to understand that you are not your thoughts.

Mindset suggests that there is only a psychological approach to understanding ourselves. I agree that our mental constructs and views are a crucial part to how we experience our world. And yet the human condition is so much more expansive than what we perceive with our mind.

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” — Abraham Maslow

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few)) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. By applying this principle to our thinking mind, we can have a highly effective filter system to check for errors in our perception.

With this filter system in place, we can free up space in our mind to just the 20% of effort needed to get 80% of clarity on what is really going on within our world. In other words we can begin to recognise when we are getting lost in our stories earlier, and ultimately learn to respond from a place of choice rather than continue the cycle of drama.

By doing this it frees up 80% of our awareness to tune into the sensations within our body. We can move from behind our eyes into our chest and abdomen and use our incredible body as a tuning fork to flow through life. We can investigate what exists below the surface — the topography of shifting sensations throughout the body. The trembly, tender, tense, light, numb, twitchy, thick, clenched, airy, floating sensations — all the bits of information that we often miss or outright ignore.

For this article I will focus on introducing a key framework to begin to effectively navigate the 20% of time we spend in our head.

Self Reflection Model: Mindframing

I came across the concept of Mindframing from Anne-Laure Le Cunff, she uses this model to define a flexible tool for creative people that want to grow through learning. It describes the process I now use in many aspects of my life in order to bring about awareness to my thoughts, feelings and actions.

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I've spent some time bringing it together in a way that, certainly for me, helps me get clarity on my unconscious habits so I can get perspective and influence my thinking and actions. There are three main frames to consider to master this principle:

  • Growth mindset
  • Self-authorship
  • Metacognition

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, a leading researcher at Stanford University, is the person who discovered the concepts of fixed mindset and growth mindset.

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them."— Carol Dweck

At the core of having a growth mindset is the deep belief that growing happens through small, incremental steps, rather than big overnight victories.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”— Carol Dweck

Metacognition

Metacognition is simply thinking about thinking. It’s your knowledge of what you know and don’t know, as well as all the strategies you use for learning about yourself. The metacognition mind frame means that you make an effort to stay aware of how you understand, perceive and act within your life. It also means that you are able to use this awareness to enhance the way you grow, by being witness to how you show up in your life.

Self Authoring

Self authoring is the ability to define and express your own personal authority. It means that you’re not relying on external authority to define your beliefs, values, and social relationships. Instead of relying on external formulas, you are able to rely on your own internal voice to make decisions on a daily basis.

At a deeper level, self-authorship means that even though reality is out of your control, you know you can control how you react to it and that you can shape your mind frames and reactions to external events.

Of course I could say much more on these, but I wanted to keep it brief so we can get to the main takeaway in this article.

Action Step: (N.I.R.I) Method

I have adapted these four steps to the mindframing framework to enable them to act as a filter in the moment:

  1. Notice
  2. Interrupt
  3. Respond
  4. Impact
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Notice

This step requires you to be aware of an aspect of yourself you are struggling with, which takes courage. I'll use a real example from one of the 60 men I'm grateful to have spoken with so far:

"I worry about what someone might think or about something that might or might not happen that I don't have any control about, which increases my anxiety."

To notice therefore is to be aware in the present moment that you have anxiety over what someone may think or something that might happen. Just simply watch the response within you. At the start of this process for me I found this the most challenging step because I was so used to distracting and numbing my very familiar uncomfortable feelings.

Interrupt

Step two is to interrupt the old habitual habit of being and thinking by redirecting your thought. Using the example above, a great prompt to ask yourself would be Does this inform me, or does it affect me?

Informed means what factual data do you have from a situation that you can use to inform your action. Assumptions and guesses are not factual, yet your brain will enter into this flurry of prediction automatically. Notice if this is a new or an old feeling for you and be curious with what comes up. For me when I notice it being familiar, it's a pretty strong indication of how my old stories are influencing my current reality. Therefore it becomes obvious to me that it's an area I need to work with and let go.

Affect means what is happening within your body in relation to the situation. In a heightened emotional state your breath rate quickens, your heart beats faster and your nervous system gets you ready for action. An elevated heart rate does not mean anxiety, yet your brain potentially turns it into that emotion you experience. That means you can’t respond, learn, or access well thought out decisions.

The profound work by Lisa Feldman Barrett PhD in recent years has redefined many outdated beliefs around the mind and emotions. At the heart of her work is that our brains are interpreting our senses first and turning those into the emotions and states that we experience. What you consciously or unconsciously feel in your body, influences what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. These bodily feelings are known as your interoception, or in other words your interior perception. An emotion is simply an event where our whole brain is making meaning of internal sensations in our body, in relation to what’s going on around us in the world.

Respond

This third step is where you are taking steps to change, which may at first be a challenge. Linking to the example I used, by worrying what someone may think or by worrying over something you have no control about is leaving you in an anxious, empty unknown space within your own mind.

Dr Andrew Hubberman describes fear as the sum of anxiety + uncertainty. Uncertainty is in all of life. As humans, we find uncertainty more stressful than even the certainty of imminent failure. A 2016 experiment highlighted this phenomenon when subjects who were told they have a 50% chance of receiving an electric shock were more stressed than those who were told they will “definitely” receive a shock. 

Anxiety is our physiological response to the unknown, and this is where we can influence with great affect. We are not limited to our stress fight, flight, or freeze responses. We can choose to interact with our autonomic nervous system which is where breath and vision comes in. By consciously controlling how we breathe and moving from a narrow focus to an open focus gaze, we can self-regulate and manage our internal state positively to initiate our best response when we encounter challenges, disagreements and stressors. 

3 Things you can do now:

  1. Breath through your nose most of the time
  2. In the moment, double your exhale to inhale — 3 second inhale, 3 second hold, 6 second exhale x 5–10 rounds
  3. Soften your vision (closed eyes, nature)

Impact

The final step is to create a new outcome. Once you've re-centred yourself with your breath, begin to take action to understand your situation. Does the situation you're in and the people you're around draw you closer to your overarching purpose and values? Or are you in a situation out of alignment with your overarching purpose and values?

If it is aligned with your overarching purpose and values, what can you do to open up the communication and understanding for yourself of the people you feel will think badly of you?

If it is not aligned with your overarching purpose and values:

  1. What are you resisting?
  2. What are you putting up with?
  3. What would support you to increase your courage to realign with your overarching purpose and values?

Remember self authoring means that even though reality is out of your control, you know you can control how you react to it.

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Notice. Interrupt. Respond. Impact. Just four steps that can bring you from being "stuck in your head" to "making decisions more freely for myself."

This is just my adapted framework. It helped me learn how to come back when I lose my head, and how to take steps to acknowledge and respond to my feelings rather than let them react and control me. In the end, it’s all about learning to use the strategies that what work best for you. Remember, self-authorship is key!

If this resonated with you then join the next Masterclass "3 Steps to Build Your Dream Work/Life Balance" goes live 11th May 2022 at 19:30pm (BST) - REGISTER FOR FREE.

Learn what truly underpins effective boundary setting, the 3 predictable traps of why you don’t say no when you want to and how to become clear about how to measure any opportunity/decision against your non-negotiable to create harmony between your career and personal life.

There is a live Q&A after so you can join the conversation - REGISTER FOR FREE.

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Discover where you currently are in the 7-step process of change, the problems that keep you trapped in frustration, the path of moving from "I can't" to "I am", and the powerful guided reflection to support you in taking the next steps in your life.