Mental Training

Below is an article I wrote about “Mental Training.”  I became very interested in how the mind works, shortly after I had had an extreme “life and death” experience while teaching myself how to rappel down a 200 foot cliff.

The experience was so intense I almost gave in to a feeling which had come over me. My mind was trying to convince me that I was just having a bad dream, and that I should just “let go and go back to sleep!”   I had just I started going down, and I began going downward much too fast.

I had wrapped the rope around the spine of the biner, just like in the book, but I did not consider the difference a smaller 3/8″ Goldline rope would make. I don’t recall the book saying anything about that. Now, I was sailing towards the ground, with no idea how to slow down. 

My mind switched into hyper-drive trying to find a solution; and when it could not come up with a logical, realistic solution, it started to accept illogical ones. It told me I was just having a bad dream; my urge was to “just let go and go back to sleep!”

Wow! Had I, I would have likely been dead, or badly maimed. I did not have a belay, nor did we know about using a person on the bottom of the rope. They could pull on the bottom of the rope and that would create more friction, thus you could completely stop a descending rappeller.  Fortunately, I fought that urge, and just squeezed my brake hand around the rope as tightly as I could.  I ended up squeezing it so tight that when I reached the bottom I could not open my hand for several minutes.

With the knowledge I have since gained, I understand what I call the “Cop Out mode.” When people get in intense physical and/or mentally challenging situations our minds can get overloaded and we can freak out, pass out or lose control.  Much like the little Myotonic  goats or “fainting goats.”  When they are frightened it causes a sensory overload, and their muscles stiffen and they pass out/faint.

Since my life revolved around high risk activities I started studying everything I could about mountaineering, technical rescue, and how the mind works during intense, life and death situations.  The article below is my first article I wrote on the subject, which was published.  I included a picture of a related event where my knowledge changed my reactions, during the longest fall I have ever taken. 

The equipment, and my anchors held just fine, and my belayer did a good job of catching my fall, even though he apologetically said, “Sorry I stopped you so soon, but the ground was coming up.”  A skilled belayer knows that stopping a fall quickly puts more force on the anchors. They also note ledges, the ground, etc. and if it is a clean fall, they bring you to a smooth stop, if there is a need to stop you faster, they do so.

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Mental training is the key to acquiring new skills, turning those new skills into high-performance skills, and “shaping our future to come.”

“We do not do what we know, we do what we have learned.”

We learn things by training our minds to operate our bodies the way we want them to behave. This is where mental training comes in.

Mental training is a big part of learning and it is going on almost all of the time. Let’s say we want to learn how to shoot basketball free throws. We can either go to the basketball court and practice shooting free throws the trial and error way. Each time we shoot we try to figure out what worked or what did not work, then we adjust things some hoping it works next time.

“As a man thinketh so is s/he…”

If we can have a coach there to help us shoot, our trial and error training will likely improve much faster, but there is a problem with trial and error. The problem is: the mind remembers the mistakes, as well as the successes. When we miss, it paints a picture “in our mind” of us missing. This makes it more challenging because next time when we go to shoot, we may see the picture of us missing the shot, then we shoot a miss. “The mind moves towards its currently dominant thought.” If we see a missed shot, guess where the ball will go?

These pictures we store away in our subconscious mind, are like road signs, they help tell us where to go. If they are a favorable or good picture, then they most likely will benefit us. They help form our self-image. In our minds, we all carry around pictures of how we “think” we perform or how we “think” we do things, and it affects how we actually do things, in our daily lives. It may sound silly, but if we have pictures in our minds of us missing the hoop, then “there is a good chance we will live up to “that” picture; even if we are physically capable of a better more desirable picture.

In an interview hall of quarterback and sports analysis, Troy Aikman stated, “When you get to the elite level in sports, athletically, what separates the really great performers are the ones who are mentally tough and see things a little bit quicker than their competitors.” These athletes have the ability to move on after mistakes, maintain confidence and composure in the face of adversity, and focus on what is needed to execute each task successfully.

This bears repeating” “We do not do what we know, we do what we have learned to do.”

This is where mental training can help. For example, say we want to compete in a basketball free-throw competition. If we have a good coach who can teach us the concepts of our future pursuit, we will do better. We will “know” what to do. The next step is to “learn” those skills, or paint the correct pictures in our minds. After practicing mentally you will still want to practice on the court, but you will have good pictures in your mind, rather than all of the trial and error ones.

Your confidence will be better, and we all do better when we feel confident (not cocky), and studies support that. If we have two groups, Groups A and B (both groups have the same natural skills and abilities) and these groups of people practice shooting hoops for four hours, a total of four days; and then we test them to see which group shoots best, the results will likely surprise many of us. For example:

Group A will shoot hoops with the coach on the first and third day, for a four hour period. Then on the second and fourth day, they will practice shooting hoops, for four hours, on their own.

Group B will shoot hoops with the coach on the first and third day, for a four hour period. Then on the second and fourth day, they will practice shooting hoops, for four hours, on their own “mentally.”

Instead of going to the gym, they will wake each morning and go to a quiet comfortable place and spend the second and the fourth day “mentally” visualizing themselves shooting hoops and seeing pictures in their mind of themselves making the shot. Fine-tuning exactly what they must do to make the shot, then they shoot and make the shots.

On the fifth day, the two groups will go to a gym and physically shoot and count how many shots they make. Guess which one is most like to make the most hoops?

Here’s what the studies show. According to them, Group B would actually shoot and hit more hoops, than Group A, assuming natural skill levels are the same. The reason for this is that the mind, during mental training, has an almost perfect picture, to refer to, of how the shot is supposed to work; rather than the trial and error pictures of real life.

“The mind moves towards its currently dominant thoughts.”

If you are interested in this subject, here’s one of my first published articles. I was in my twenty’s when I wrote it, but since it is based on principles the information is still valid and useful. During my classes, I often refer to these specialty things – They are the little things that add up to buckets full.