Mind Over Sports

I was once watching a television interview with Bob Dylan and the announcer asked him what plans he had for the future. Dylan replied that he couldn’t share that information with him and his audience because if he did, it wouldn’t happen. Dylan was way ahead of his time and instinctively knew what would (or wouldn’t) happen if he shared his goals and intentions.

It’s not uncommon for athletes and coaches (and others) to set goals for themselves, but an article written by Derek Sivers (sivers.org) has pointed out the importance of not revealing those goals/intentions to others since it could have the opposite effect of what you may have intended. Here’s a brief summary of what Derek wrote:

Shouldn’t you announce your goals, so friends can support you? Isn’t it good networking to tell people about your upcoming goals? Doesn’t the “law of attraction” mean you should state your intention, and visualize the goal as already yours?

Not at all. Tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions (goals) are less likely to make them happen. Announcing your intentions (goals) to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed. In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a “social reality”, even if the solution hadn’t actually been achieved.

NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer has been studying this since his 1982 book “Symbolic Self-Completion” and recently published results of new tests in a research article, “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?”  Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions (goals) private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.

Once you’ve told people of your intentions (goals), it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.” You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

It may seem unnatural to keep your intentions (goals) private, but try it. You’ll be amazed at the results.

USA TODAY columnist Nancy Armour wrote a great column in today’s USA TODAY about Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker James Harrison giving back his sons’ “Participation Trophies” because they hadn’t earned them, something Ms. Armour was in complete agreement with. As am I. After reading the column it reminded me of something I had written in my new book, “Psycho Self-Imagery” about how the Self-Improvement Movement in this country was heading in the wrong direction. Here’s what I wrote:

“The self-improvement movement in America is heading in the wrong direction, exploiting needs of people who want a quick fix. One of the founders of the positive thinking movement built an entire industry based on a false premise: You can affect behavior in people through positive affirmations; that is, by standing in front of a mirror and telling yourself how wonderful you are. Or by rewarding school children with gold stars for mediocre work; or by engaging in positive self-talk to turn your life around. Best-selling books speak to us of The Personality Ethic, Unlimited Power, Personal Power, Cognitive Behavior & Success Triangles.

Self-proclaimed experts tell us how to reach peak performance, how to master the art of selling, how to deliver superior customer service, how to tap into the power of focused thinking and how to be a great communicator. But none of these approaches takes into consideration the self-image, or self-esteem, of their audiences. Individuals take action and respond to situations based on how they feel about themselves – and this is something they seldom address.

People have grown wealthy in this country by posing as motivational speakers, but I don’t believe you can motivate anyone. Inspire, yes. But not motivate. Motivation must come from within, and the higher an individual’s self-image, the greater his or her motivation.

It has often been said that certain coaches are great motivators. What really is meant is that these coaches create an environment for their athletes to build their own self-images and then motivate themselves.”

While watching the Red Sox – Tigers game last night on television a fight suddenly broke out in the Tigers dugout between catcher James McCann and short stop Jose Iglesias…and it was caught on national television. Tigers Manager Brad Asmus tried to smooth things over saying such things as “It shows that they care” and “this is not uncommon on any sports team.” I’m sure Brad Asmus is a nice guy but he must not know anything about how to create positive team chemistry and team bonding. If he did, that fight would never have happened. I won’t go into detail now, but I’m an advocate of teams becoming support groups and talking about their issues in private rather than having them show up on national television. Manager Asmus should call in a sport psychology consultant to help him. Notice I didn’t say “sport psychologist” because a sport psychologist is not allowed to help athletes with their personal problems and if he/she did he/she could lose his/her license since that’s the domain of the clinical psychologist. The field of psychology is very territorial. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers have a team meeting, get some things off their chests and clear the air, and start winning games. That’s how it works.

Let me go on record that I am a big Tom Brady fan and when news came out that he was aware that his team’s footballs had been deliberately tampered with, I couldn’t believe it. And now, a knowledgeable sports reporter from the Washington Post says that he was deliberately mislead by Commissioner Goodell. Here’s an excerpt of what Dan Steinberg wrote:

“Still, that’s mostly trivia and fact-checking. Being deliberately misleading about whether or not Brady openly admitted to discussing the allegations with the assistant during those conversations is not. This isn’t about whether or not anyone took air out of footballs, or whether or not a quarterback knew anything untoward was happening. This is about whether the commissioner of the NFL cares at all about accuracy, and whether he can be believed when he belches out his 20-page decisions. Last week, I made the mistake of assuming he could. I’ll try not to do that again.”

I was watching the St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game last night on television and half way through the 14th inning the Cardinals were ahead by one run. It was a home game for Pittsburgh and the crowd was definitely rooting for their team, loudly. Here’s how Pittsburgh’s Website described what happened next: “Pittsburgh still had a chance with the middle part of their batting order coming up in the bottom of the 14th inning. Second baseman Neil Walker led off with a single to center field. All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen followed and made the crowd erupt. After falling behind in the count 1-2, McCutchen drove the next pitch to deep center field to give the Pirates a 6-5 walk-off victory. PNC Park was electric at that moment as the Pirates had brought themselves closer to the division lead.” That hit also allowed McCutchen to extend his 17-game hitting streak.

If one believes in PK (Psychokinesis) as I do, then I would say that all those people in the PNC stadium rooting for McCutchen to hit a home run, not to mention the vast television audience who was thinking “home run.” actually created that home run by willing it to happen.

According to the book, The Psychic Side of Sports written by Michael Murphy and Rhea A. White, during the 1970’s, “a number of psychics had come to public attention with claims that they could perform feats of psychokinesis (PK), that is, the power to affect objects by purely mental means…The existence of PK,” according to Murphy and White, “has been scientifically verified in many laboratories to the satisfaction of many reliable witnesses. Theoretically, PK ability can provide that extra edge which might explain some otherwise unexplainable athletic feats. But is there any evidence that PK occurs in sports?

“Most PK laboratory experiments involve influencing the throw of the dice. Subjects ‘will’ specific die faces to turn up, or to fall to the left or right. Willing is often mentioned by athletes. They often make many statements to suggest that at times they can actually ‘will’ things to happen. There are many golf stories about changing the flight of the ball through the power of the mind. Don Lauck notes that for years golf galleries had believed that Jack Nicklaus ‘could win whenever he wanted, could will the ball into the cup if he needed a birdie at the 18th.’

“John Brodie, (who formerly played for the San Francisco 49’ers) once discussed a touchdown pass he threw to 49’ers end, Gene Washington:

Murphy: When the play began it looked for a moment like the safety would make an interception. But then it seemed as if the ball went through or over his hands as he came in front of Washington.

Brodie: Pat Fischer, the cornerback, told the reporters after the game that the ball seemed to jump right over his hands as he went for it. When we studied the game films that week, it did look as if the ball kind of jumped over his hands into Gene’s. Some of them said it was the wind – and maybe it was.

Murphy: What do you mean by maybe?

Brodie: What I mean is that our sense of that pass was so clear and our intention so strong that the ball was bound to get there, come wind, cornerbacks, hell or high water.’”

The power of the mind is amazing. And even now during this 21st century I believe we’ve barely tapped into its potential. Especially in the field of sports.

There are a number of reasons why the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in (and should win) the World Series. First and foremost they have some of the best players in major league baseball, including Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Pedro Alverez, Gregory Polanco and one of baseball’s top closers in Mark Melancon. But they also have the best manager in major league baseball: Clint Hurdle. Those managers who have had adversity in their lives, as Hurdle has, have the greatest empathy for their players. Hurdle genuinely cares about his players as human beings first and then as athletic performers. And his players know it. It’s something you can’t fake. And if you combine that with his vast knowledge of baseball, plus the talented ballplayers he has on his team…you have a winning combination.

If you’re an athlete and happen to get into a tiff with your girlfriend or boyfriend or your significant other the night before you’re going to compete in your sport, here’s a tip from the late Charlton Heston, guaranteed to resolve the situation in an instant.

A few months before he passed, I happened to catch an interview with him on national television. The interviewer asked him: “Mr. Heston, you and your wife, Lydia, live in Beverly Hills, California, where the divorce rate is almost 80% and yet you and she have been married for 65 years. What is your secret?”

Mr. Heston thought for a moment then replied, holding up five fingers on one of his hands: “Five little words.”
The interviewer was astonished and said: “Five little words? Can you tell us the words?”
To which Mr. Heston replied: “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

Next time you have a tiff with your girlfriend, boyfriend or significant other the night before you’re going to compete in your sport, try using these five little words. They will diffuse the situation and will enhance your performance the following day. Guaranteed.

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Mind Over Sports
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