Check out this interesting episode from Dave MacLeod’s youtube channel on mental training. Dave has a great way to examining the mind without falling victim to its limiting motivations. He describes major jumps in his mental performance that can give you insight into how you can improve your own mental game. I particularly like his insight about positive thinking.
He says “The third major jump in my mental performance in climbing relates to positive thinking, or rather the lack of it.” He expresses that the standard thinking in the field of sports psychology used to be that positive thinking causes improved performance. In his video, he experiments with looking in a mirror saying positive things and laughing. “You’re as bold as Alex Honnold. You can climb E11. You won’t be scared” He laughs because he senses how it’s not grounded in reality.
He talks about the short-sighted motivation behind positive thinking. “If you’re sure that you’re capable of the goal you’re trying to do, then maybe it’s too easy…Not knowing if the goal is possible or not is what makes climbing interesting…You have to feel like maybe you can’t do it. Otherwise, why are you even bothering?”
He realized that he’s had many negative thoughts while performing and yet he’d still succeed. Then after a decade of such experiences he began to wonder about revisiting the initial idea about needing to be in a positive mental state before having a good performance. The times he was thinking positive were times when he was climbing well. So, the direction of causality was actually in the opposite direction. Instead of positive thinking causing better performances, better performances caused positive thinking.
This realization diminished his worry about what his frame-of-mind should be and shifted his focus on the practical tasks themselves for performing well. He simply focused on the tasks that would make a difference in his performance, like developing strong fingers, placing gear well, precise foot placements, etc. His mental state was secondary to what was actually happening in the climbing situation.
You can’t fix the mind from the perspective of the mind. Another way to say this is you can’t fix thinking with more thinking. What Dave is doing is reflection and observation. These skills allow him to notice his performance and his mental state and not be limited by the motivations of the mind. This observation perspective allows him to perceive his whole experience more completely and direct attention more purposefully.