“In any game played with the body, it’s the head that counts.”
“And if you feel you can’t go on
And your will’s sinking low
Just believe and you can’t go wrong
In the light you will find the road”
– Led Zeppelin (In the Light)
I can’t recommend James Kerr’s book “Legacy” highly enough. It offers brilliant insights into a variety of topics all pertaining to team and individual success. For this post I’m going to expand on a particular topic pertaining to elite athletes: trusting yourself to let your subconscious take over, and to perform in a state the All Blacks players refer to as “The Light”
As an athlete you must strive to put in tons of high quality, mindful reps so that when the pressure mounts you can just compete. You don’t have to think about it. In fact, as Kerr points out in his book, thinking your way through it is extremely detrimental.
“Instead of just doing it, using the subconscious part of your brain, which is a very efficient deliverer of a complex task, people who choke exert conscious control, and it disrupts the smooth working of the subconscious.”
Crash had it right. “Don’t think, it’ll only hurt the ball club.”
When it comes to learning any complex task (or changing an element of how one performs said complex task) there’s four stages of performing it.
I spoke about this in a video a while back:
So, first things first – the athlete must spend the time developing their skills to the point that they can execute subconsciously. The first step is for them to learn to feel that they’re doing something sub-optimally. Next is to feel the difference when they perform it correctly. Ultimately the end goal is to change the old, faulty, and complex neurological patterning to the new, desired, and improved one – so they’re then able to execute it that way without even thinking about it.
The ultimate goal of the mental game then, no matter the sport, is to perform in this subconscious state as consistently as possible. It becomes about developing processes to be in that zone as often as possible and to stay there no matter how high the pressure mounts. Referring back to Legacy again, the All Blacks refer to this zone as “The Light”. The Light can be defined as, “a deep calmness in which you are on task, in the zone, on your game, in control, and in flow.”
Every athlete can relate to this feeling. Everything was easy, they weren’t thinking they were just doing! On the flipside though is “The Dark”, which can be defined as “fixated negative content loop of self-judgment, rigidity, aggressions, shut down, and panic.”. Unfortunately, every athlete can relate to this as well.
I truly believe it all starts with the work you put in. You have to put in the time and effort in order to be able to trust yourself in the moment even when shit hits the fan. You might be able to trick others, but at the end of the day you can’t escape yourself and only you know if you’re truly prepared or not. The first step to being able to consistently stay in the subconscious state and avoid overthinking is to work like hell to earn your own trust.
The Ancient Greek poet, Archilocus said it best, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we sink to the level of our training.”
However, there are plenty of incredibly hard working athletes that seem to shoot themselves in the foot anyway. Putting in the work to earn your own trust is only the first step. In my next post, I’ll outline a number of processes that can help athletes stay in the subconscious more consistently.