Investigating mental training is so intriguing because, as we dig into it, subtle ways of understanding and using our attention are revealed. It’s especially helpful when we can develop practices to improve our mental game. Knowing that being mentally fit requires us to have our attention focused in the moment, gives us a central tenet to guide our investigation and practice. 

We give students specific processes for focusing their attention, so it’s on task and not on what they fear. It’s cool to come across other disciplines that give evidence that supports this. One such discipline is General Semantics (GS), which was developed in the 1930s by Alfred Korzybski. GS digs into how we use language and how language uses us. If we don’t become aware of how language uses us, then we’ll fall victim to it. 

Korzybski’s tome (Science and Sanity) on GS is laborious reading. I’ve read through an abbreviated version, but other GS authors present his material in ways that are easier to read, understand, and apply. One such author is Ted Falconar, who wrote Creative Intelligence. A simple concept in GS is “the map is not the territory.” This means that the map we perceive in the mind, is not the actual territory out there in the world. Unless we’re aware, we’ll use the map instead of the territory. We’ll focus our attention on a false mental map, instead of the real territory we’re engaging.

Ted Falconar relates how the flow of our attention determines whether we rely on the false map or investigate the real territory. Let’s say we’re on-sighting a difficult route. At stopping points, our attention is focused in the mind to do critical risk-assessment thinking. Then, when it’s time to climb, we shift our attention to the body, to climb. On-sighting, however, has many unknowns: what holds should we use; how should we use them; will we be able to use them? Such questions direct our attention into the mind, using memory to understand what actions to take. This splits our attention between the body and the mind, causing hesitation in our commitment, and fear. 

We can understand how fear is created by investigating the two ways our attention can flow: to reinforce the map in the mind, or to investigate the territory (the climb). First, attention can flow to reinforce the map, if we allow our attention to flow from the object to the observer. We see an object, a small hold. The visual sense impressions flow from object to observer; from the hold to us. Then the mind mixes the sense impressions with memory. We rely on past memory to determine the usability of the hold. We don’t understand the territory (the hold) because we have our attention focused on the map (past memories of small holds).

Second, attention can flow to investigate the territory. We reverse the flow of attention by directing it from observer to object. Our attention flows from us to the hold and into its details. We do this intentionally by using our sense of sight and touch. We look for subtleties in the object (hold) like its shape, size, and orientation. We feel the hold and how our hand or foot integrates with it. This shifts our attention to the territory we’re engaging and allows us to understand it as well as possible. We’re not perceiving what’s possible based on past memory; we’re determining reality based on engagement with the hold, now. 

Motivation determines how our attention will flow. The mind’s natural comfort-seeking tendency causes our attention to flow from object to observer. This reinforces our mental map, what’s already comfortable for us. 

It takes awareness, intention, and effort to reverse the direction of the flow of our attention. In other words, we need to be motivated toward stress, not comfort. It’s more stressful to direct our attention from observer to object because we’re leaving our comfort zone and entering the unknown. Therefore, a shift in our motivation is critical. 

We also influence the flow state, an optimal state of performance that all athletes strive to attain, by how our attention flows. We create a dual situation when our attention flows from object to observer. We separate into two distinct things: climber and rock. The climber fights with the rock, preventing any flow from occurring. 

We create a unity situation when our attention flows from observer to object. We connect and integrate with the climb, blending with it, so there isn’t a dual situation anymore. Observer and object, climber and rock, unite; duality shifts to unity. This helps us attain the flow state. 

This may sound like a complicated process, but really there’s a simplicity to it all. Motivation drives how we’ll use our attention. The mind’s comfort-seeking motivation causes our attention to flow from the rock to us, mixing with past memories that keep us within our comfort zones. We believe the false map in our heads, instead of the reality of the territory we’re engaging. All that’s needed is awareness to change how we’re motivated, so our attention can change direction. We willingly engage stress by directing our attention toward the rock. We see a positive, one-pad-wide hold on a slight angle. We feel it, wiggle our fingers around to grab it, and pull on it. We leave the map behind and enter the territory. What the mind feared is transformed through actions. Duality shifts to unity; we become one with the rock and flow with it.

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