Imagine it to be true

Posted by on Feb 22, 2019

See it…feel it…do it Do you see something in your mind when you think about it? This mind-bending question is at the core of the technique, theory, and practice of visualization, mental imagery, mental rehearsal, or any of the other numerous ways to describe it. In sport psychology, the use of mental imagery is profound and prolific. So is the research. Study after study, with and without the many combinations of factors or variables, mental imagery emerges as one of our “go-to” techniques because of the reliability of results over time. How it works has been a cause for disagreement spanning the ages in psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience, with its origins as early as the Greek philosophers. Aristotle believed thought was impossible without an image and Socrates assumed our perception of the external world consisted of mental images (1). I will spare you the historical overview but just know it has not been an easy road for mental imagery. “Imagination is what makes our sensory experience meaningful, enabling us to interpret and make sense of it, whether from a conventional perspective or from a fresh, original, individual one. It is what makes perception more than the mere physical stimulation of sense organs. It also produces mental imagery, visual and otherwise, which is what makes it possible for us to think outside the confines of our present perceptual reality, to consider memories of the past and possibilities for the future, and to weigh alternatives against one another. Thus, imagination makes possible all our thinking about what is, what has been, and, perhaps most important, what might be,” (2). To consider…possibilities for the future is the part of this quote I like the most. Whenever I teach an athlete to use mental imagery, the first question to ask is always, “Have you ever fantasized about winning?” Usually a curious pause is the answer as most of us are too embarrassed to admit this. With a little encouragement, a yes typically sneaks out followed by a laugh. Mental imagery is really a controlled fantasy. So there, now that you know you can do it, let me tell you how. Mental imagery is also called mental rehearsal, indicating the practice of a physical task without the physical movement and only cognitive work, or thought, as the rehearsal vehicle. Unable to find the citation now, I remember reading in graduate school a study where...

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Grammy Lill’s Chicken Soup

Posted by on Feb 14, 2019

Grammy Lill (Lillyann G. Parker) My Grammy Lill was one of my favorite people in the world for all of my life. Born in 1913 or 1914, no one knows for sure, she probably belonged in a different time. Tough, loving, smart, capable, and fiercely independent, I loved spending time with her. She was the one that passed on her early-to-rise gene to me so when she would stay over on holidays, it was always me and her up with sun, chatting about anything, just enjoying each other while the rest of the house slept. I loved her spark. I can remember as a child being mesmerized by her energy and power. She just had “something,” and it always drew me to her. Looking back, it was a combination, a perfect storm of multiple character traits making her special and extraordinary, with a rare versatility for a person of her generation, let alone her gender. Opportunity was very differently defined for a woman of my grandmother’s age. Learn to be a wife and a mother and marry the man they picked for you. But boxes of old pictures and long, lost letters to her twin sister tell an opposite story, a story of a brave, bold young woman, seeking adventure and loving to play. By the time she was my Grammy Lill, the escape to New York City as a twenty-year-old from a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, seemed impossible. The dances, the parties, the cruises, preserved in black-and-white, all tucked safely into her memory and only cajoled out when she allowed herself to slip into those magical moments of reflection and longing. Perhaps they were painful in some sense, so long ago, so young ago, so healthy ago. Perhaps keeping them tucked away like an old keepsake protected her, no, protected them, and kept a pilot light glowing, just in case. College was across the country for me, so our bond was kept close by our calls and my visits between semesters. We had a routine, me and Grammy Lill, and it was the best. Homemade root beer floats slurped noisily in her sitting room, while she kicked my butt in Rummy 500 with the tv on in the background. I can still see her glowing skin that she so meticulously tended to in her long and careful morning makeup sessions. Her hair was always perfect and beautiful, having...

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What We Don’t See…(Part 1 of 1,000,000)

Posted by on Feb 7, 2019

What we don’t see is all of the things that influence us from moment to moment. This is called part 1 of 1,000,000 because each of us could write this article each day for the rest of our lives and never capture the amount of unseen influences on us. So, I shall try to capture this with one small but massive experience in the hopes that it helps us all become more aware of the external influences that press on us, impacting everything about us, shaping our conversations and actions, and we have no idea it is happening to us. Our brains are so meticulously wired for survival, we often react and act without even noticing. One moment we are fine and the next we feel…off, weird, disrupted, upset, and if by chance we do notice it, figuring out the cause can seem impossible. We chalk it up to something we ate or an earlier conversation that didn’t go our way, but rarely do we connect it to something external, immediately and secretly influencing something internal. Here is my story for the day. Fashion is really not my thing or remotely in my comfort zone. Accessorizing is uncomfortable and most clothing is too. Not that I would rather be unclothed but jeans and a t-shirt are my daily uniform at home and keep me safe in my own skin. However, “business casual” is my work requirement and so I effort to find the closest to comfort in that world. Shopping is irritating, confidence-killing, and feels like a waste of time. More often than not, I leave a store empty handed only to slump into the next vacuous space of retail to siphon my energy away. My sister, Justine, loves fashion, loves to shop, and thankfully loves me so she is my main fashionista and wardrobe savior. Recently, she suggested Pinterest for me to get some new ideas and see what is happening in my business casual world. Late to the social media game, as usual, I venture forth to this platform and type in my search request. And this is when the madness begins. Picture after picture, which is really selfie after selfie, of emaciated child-women in clothing size zero begin to fill my computer screen. “Are you kidding me?” My mouth agape and my pulse quickening from disbelief or possibly disgust, I can barely stand it as I...

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“The Zone” or Just a Fantasy

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019

Kevin Costner in “the zone” in “For the Love of the Game” Imagine a mystical state where everything just falls into place. You hear some version of bells or chimes, or even a perfect silence, signaling complete relaxation. You see only your target, everything else simply and easily blurs or fades to a background, signaling complete focus. You feel effervescent, if that is something a human can feel, but you do, and it is because you are having an out-of-body experience as you systematically kick ass on whatever performance task you are engaging in. Kevin Costner’s For The Love Of The Game (1999) depicts a baseball pitcher entering “the zone” beautifully on film. He has a cue, “Quiet the mechanism,” and when he says this to himself, all noise disappears and we see through his eyes, only the glove of the catcher with all other distractions blurred out, leaving him in the zone. Watching it is mesmerizing and makes us forget this is fantasy and that entering this state is not so easy. Or is it? In the 1980’s, “the zone” was the talk of the sports world. There were books and authors and consultants all pedaling this high-performance state they promised to teach you to regularly and reliably obtain. Coming off the spirituality movement of the 70’s, this seemed entirely possible and so everyone was looking for this magic bullet for performance. Perhaps my angry tone is a reflection, or even a lingering on, of my historical relationship with the improbable promise of the zone. I swam many races, not as many as some, but enough to have a decent data base and I had exactly TWO swims in “the zone.” When I talk with other former high-level athletes (Division I or International or Professional), they report not many more than that, if any. So, what’s the deal with this zone and why was and is it still something we chase so blindly? It was my first qualifying swim meet and I was “shaved and tapered” in a planned effort to peak at an exact time, swim my life-time best time, and qualify for Junior Nationals in a single shot. No pressure. It was my first real year of swimming and I was already a senior in high school, so I was an old rookie. I didn’t come up the ranks in swimming, I had to cover them...

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