The Two Paths That Lead To The Top: Which One Do You Choose?
Have you ever thought that losing was not an option?
During a game, do you tend to feel anxious when stepping on the field just before an important point?
Is it important for you to avoid mistakes because you believe it is embarrassing?
Each time you perform an action, you can go in two directions: towards pleasure or away from pain. The direction may vary depending on the situation, but each athlete has a dominant mode, which they use spontaneously.
For example, you could avoid throwing the disc in the endzone, because you don't want to throw in the wind and you shiver at the thought of causing a turnover. Or you could make a lateral pass to give the disc to your teammate who has excellent control of her throws in the wind, savoring in advance the pleasure of seeing your team score a point. In short, you either tend to move away from what you don’t want, or you tend to move toward what you want.
In NLP, this behavior is associated with the Motivation Direction MetaProgram. We can compare metaprograms to software in our brains which processes and classifies information, and then acts as filters guiding our decisions and actions.
One athlete can therefore use the pleasure-seeking metaprogram, while another athlete can use the pain avoidance metaprogram. If you answered yes to either of the questions asked at the beginning, your metaprogram may be causing you to try to avoid pain. If this is the case, you become more vulnerable to uncomfortable emotions like stress, frustration, fear, anxiety or embarrassment. In this article, I offer you a strategy to modify your metaprogram and reconnect to your passion.
Moving Away From Pain
To identify your metaprogram, pay attention to what you are saying to yourself. If you keep saying that failure is not an option, if you tell yourself that you want to win at all costs, if you aim for perfection and nothing less, chances are you tend to try to avoid pain. This pain could be the bitterness of defeat, or the embarrassment felt and the fear of judgment after committing a mistake.
Moving away from pain is a route that often leads to uncomfortable emotions, such as frustration, stress, and anxiety. If you are trying to avoid something, each situation can become a potential threat. When this metaprogram is activated, you perceive errors, defeat and obstacles as sources of pain. And since it is impossible to avoid them completely, you may rarely feel satisfied. Over time, you may begin to perceive your experience as a burden!
It is important to know that whatever your dominant mode, you can reach a high level in sport. However, during their careers, many players realize that they have disconnected from pleasure. They forgot that they first practiced this sport because it was a passion, with no expectations and no overthinking. This is due to having developed a dominant mode oriented towards the avoidance of pain. Consciously or not, the coach’s or teammates’ expectations, media, or what is at stake are all factors that could have guided these players in this direction.
When you recognize your metaprogram, it helps you understand why, at critical moments, you experience stress, anger, or embarrassment. If your priority is to move away from pain - in sport, we can talk about avoiding failure, defeat, mistakes, obstacles - it is possible that when the stakes are high you feel mental and emotional resistance, because your brain indicates a danger, therefore a potential pain.
Moving Towards Peace and Satisfaction
Even if it is possible to reach a high level in sport by adopting one or the other metaprogram, the two paths do not have the same influence on the mind, the body and the emotions.
Our body has three main regulatory systems: the nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. These systems have a common language, that is to say that they use the same molecules, mainly neuropeptides, to communicate with each other.
Dr. Candace Pert, a neuroscientist who published over 250 research articles, discovered that emotions also produce neuropeptides, which means that they communicate with and influence our regulatory systems. Uncomfortable emotions like anger, fear and anxiety would weaken our nervous and immune systems, while energizing emotions like joy, appreciation, courage would make them stronger.
These findings were confirmed by Dr. David R. Hawkins in the field of applied kinesiology, who performed muscle tests while subjects experimented with different emotions in mental imagery. He demonstrated that some emotions weaken the muscular system, while other emotions strengthen it.
A metaprogram that is oriented towards pleasure could therefore have an energizing effect and improve the strength, vitality and performance of the athlete. It would pave the way for a more healthy, harmonious and fulfilling experience.
The Science of the Heart
The HeartMath Institute research team, made up of doctors, psychologists and psychophysiologists, came to the same conclusion as Dr Pert and Hawkins about the effect of emotions on the human body. To expose their findings, I first need to explain heart rate variability (HRV).
The response of heartbeats to stress and physiological changes is called heart rate variability. After more than 50 years of study, it has been discovered that HRV is the best indicator of whether a person may develop a disease.
The HRV is measured using an electrocardiogram. When we study the heartbeat, we notice that there is generally a slight variation from one heartbeat to another; for example, if your heart beats at a rate of 70 beats per minute, the time of a beat is not exactly one seventieth of a minute. So, over a period of one minute, the average is 70 beats, it is possible that one beat may not have quite the same duration as the next beat.
This variability in beat-to-beat duration, calculated by high-power computers, represents the HRV. The higher the variability, the greater the adaptability of the heart, and this corresponds to better health and a reduced chance of developing a disease.
There are several factors that decrease variability and heart rate and others that increase it. Stress, anger and other uncomfortable emotions decrease the HRV. Conversely, positive emotions, such as joy, pleasure, friendship, trust, appreciation and gratitude, increase the HRV.
The HeartMath Institute’s research team have researched the math of the electrocardiograph for over 25 years, and offers people tools to help them regulate their emotions. In The HeartMath Experience course (which I strongly recommend, you have now free access for a limited time), the researchers explain that when we experience emotional change - for example, when we go from joy to sadness, more than 1,400 biochemical changes occur immediately in us.
These hormonal changes are not fleeting; they affect our body for hours. Uncomfortable emotions release a large amount of stress hormones into our system, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Conversely, when we experience energizing emotions, our bodies produce regenerative hormones, such as the anti-aging hormone DHEA and oxytocin. Regenerative hormones increase resilience and our energy level, while stress hormones create chaos in our nervous system and drain our energy.
It is important to mention here that there are no “negative” emotions, because each emotion carries a message. The goal is to become skilled at decoding the messages sent by our emotions, then learn how to regulate them and generate energizing emotions.
The Path of Joy
What could a state of mind oriented towards pleasure in sport look like?
When you see each action as an opportunity to learn, to find out how much you have improved, to recognize your successes and to identify what you need to work on for your next tournament, you are looking for pleasure. Each moment brings you a form of satisfaction, no matter the end result. When you identify what you have improved, you experience joy and appreciation. When you find out what you need to work on, you feel motivated to go back to practice.
If, each time you perform an action in ultimate - be it a throw, a cut, or a mark, you enjoy the pleasure of practicing this sport that is your passion, in addition to appreciating being surrounded by your teammates, then you feel even more satisfied.
The more you focus your attention on contentment, joy and pleasure, your brain becomes programmed to direct more attention to sources of satisfaction and to feel them in a deeper and lasting way.
Your Strategy to Take the Higher Road
Is it possible to modify a metaprogram, to go from avoiding pain to moving toward pleasure? Yes it's possible !
The first step is to learn to memorize your successes and above all, to relive and integrate the emotions linked to it. For survival reasons, the brain is programmed to record failures and obstacles more vividly than successes. This means that we have to make a conscious effort to notice, celebrate and memorize our achievements.
If your metaprogram is geared toward pain avoidance, chances are you will excel at criticizing your performance, identifying your mistakes, expressing disappointment or frustration, and then memorizing what you need to improve. To reprogram your brain, you now want to do the opposite: comment on your performance, identify what you did well, express your joy and memorize what you have improved! This does not mean to stop analyzing performance, but it is important to do it at the right time. During games and game simulations, you want to train your brain to direct attention toward joy, willingness, determination, courage, gratitude.
The next step to transform your metaprogram is to identify the positive and energizing emotions that are most useful in helping you perform, and then learn how to generate them every day through mental imagery.
To achieve this, here is a simple technique from the HeartMath Institute: first focus your attention on your heart center, which is at the level of the sternum. To do so, you can lightly touch your sternum. In his book The Science of Self-Empowerment, the scientist and author Gregg Braden explains that wherever you touch your body, your body will direct awareness there. It is a signal; this is the first language your body and brain can understand. The second language your body and brain understand is breath. Slow down your breathing, and imagine that this breathing takes place in the area of the heart. Braden explains that doing this step sends a signal to your brain - it says “I am safe.” Finally, generate an empowering emotion - like joy, gratitude, love, peace - by imagining a person, a pet or a situation that makes you feel the way you want to feel. With each inspiration, amplify and spread the emotion in every cell of your body. Stay with that feeling for a few minutes.
The key to getting results with this short meditation is to train every day - not the day before the game! - to generate the emotion you would like to experience in games. Moreover, when you use this technique to transform your emotions in a difficult moment, your brain creates new neuro-associations, that is to say that it associates a new empowering emotion with a stimulus that was previously associated with an uncomfortable emotion.
Following Your Heart
In the end, you can choose to prioritize satisfaction, well-being and pleasure in your ultimate experience. It is just a matter of perspective. In which direction do you want to look? What do you choose to observe? To feel?
- Satisfaction that comes from recognizing the progress you have made ...
- Or the frustration that comes from realizing that there is still a lot to be done?
- The disappointment you feel because you believe you are not improving fast enough ...
- Or the will, the determination to move forward and go beyond your limits every day?
Acceptance, love, gratitude, joy and peace are powerful emotions that lift you up and give you wings. You can consciously choose to integrate them into each moment of your life.