I have recently been doing some work with a clinical hypnotherapist. She calls herself “clinical” so as not to be confused with the hypnotherapists of the entertainment world, making subjects believe that they’re chickens at the snap of their fingers…but her methods use basically the same principles.
One aspect that we covered, which is familiar to me from my study of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) is something called “Anchoring”. It could be very simply described as a little reminder to yourself or an action that, through habit, generates a certain behavioural response and is a useful tool for athletes of all levels. We all have many ‘action triggers’ in our lives – we might call them habits – mostly we are unaware and many of them are negative; that’s a different subject. Anchoring is a process by which we consciously control this natural tendency by choosing our desired outcome as well as the trigger that will generate it.
For example, I’m sure that you have experienced moments when you are running/riding along, feeling great, totally in control – perhaps with a favourite tune playing, on a wonderful sunny day or perhaps some dramatic scenery or weather. These are very important moments, and it’s good to really be aware of the feelings and soak them in so that you can draw on it when you are feeling less than average. You may also have experienced that hearing the same tune, or experiencing similar weather/landscape, reminds you of that great run or ride, how good you felt that day and some of that feeling comes back to you. This is the basic principle behind an Anchor.
During these moments you are operating in a certain mental state and producing certain type of ‘brain wave’ patterns. When in this state you are highly focused and in tune with your body. It feels great and you can overcome discomfort, pain, doubt as well as being highly aware of your surroundings . Mostly we operate with different brain wave patterns; susceptible to the distractions of the baffling outside world, trying to analyze and respond and getting caught up in variety of primal emotional responses. Those skilled in meditation and mental control can alter their state at will, however we can all can learn little tricks to return to this state. That’s why its important to be aware whenever we get there.
Music is a great tool because not only does it actually change the frequency of our brainwaves due to the embedded beat frequency (another topic again!) but it is also highly evocative. So, hearing that tune you had playing on that wonderful run/ride – you also recall the associated mental state. This is the basic idea behind an Anchor. You can use this connection to psych yourself up – just play the tune before races. Creating an Anchor takes this a step further, distilling that idea to a simple phrase, key-word or action that brings you back to that mental state. So, in a race, even though you are not allowed to listen to your ipod, you might start ‘playing ‘ the song, or repeat a line from it in your head. It’ll remind you that you CAN run well, your body knows how to. You just need to push aside the doubts, feelings of discomfort and ‘flow’.
Whatever you choose as your anchor should be regularly reinforced when you are feeling good. When i’m at race site, I’ll take my special playlist and do a short run, to end up on the finish straight with those great tunes playing, and me feeling alive and full of positive emotions. I really hone in on that feeling, freeze a certain line or word into my mind alongside the positive emotions created by the exercise and visualizing myself crossing the line. I’m creating, or reinforcing, my anchor and will use it when the going gets tough.
Music or lines from songs work well for me – other people write themselves little notes and key-phrases. Some tape photographs of loved ones to their bike or kit . Some have a ‘mantra’ that they repeat. It might even be that certain items of race-day kit are the anchor for some: it is very personal and really whatever works for you, you should go with. Those who take a picture of their child, or lost loved one with them through a hard event are using a very strong Anchor, probably without realizing it. The association with that loved one and good feelings are so strong that looking at the image, or even thinking of that person brings a flood of positivity and confidence to them instantly. Now that we understand the concept, we can practice this and make use of a very powerful performance aid.