What are the major roadblocks to progress in high performance environments and how do you move past them ?

It is certainly true to say that anyone looking to succeed at a professional level in a high performance level, then acquiring a solid bedrock of  core knowledge and skills  is non negotiable.The courtroom lawyer must know the legal principles,court procedure and how to cross examine ; the professional footballer must work on touch, ball striking , heading and positional awareness; the professional poker player must understand preflop ranges , postflop lines and factors which are relevant to adjusting from standard ranges and lines.

But knowledge -even at a high level-is not enough to guarantee high performance.  In all of the examples above, the very best distinguish themselves by being able to put that knowledge into practice in an optimal way. They execute what they know under pressure. If everyone who had the  theoretical ability required did in fact execute at the level of that ability in a consistent fashion irrespective of circumstances, the terms ‘clutch player’ or ‘big game player’  or ‘choking’ (a recognised term in performance psychology) would be meaningless:everyone would be performing to the level of their technical ability consistently.

Of course, we know that is not the case. You may have seen a professional athlete falter under pressure and perform well below their capabilities.For example WNBA and NBA players are 5.8% and 3.1% respectively less likely to score from a free throw in the last 30 seconds of a tight basketball game, even though they are in mechanically executing the same skill  they have performed many times before both in practice and in less immediately pressurised game situations.

The same is true of knowledge professionals. My work with traders and poker players contain frequent  examples of decisions being made under  pressure which run directly contrary to what they had learned and even reminded themselves to do should the situation arise.

The essential point here is that if you don’t know how to do something you need more knowledge. But if you know how to do it and find yourself just not doing it under pressure  that is not a knowledge issue:it is a mindset issue.

In his book the Mental Game of Poker , Jared Tendler talks about a process of ‘injecting logic’ , moving towards resolution of detrimental mental programs. Certainly, understanding and challenging any flawed logic in patterns of behaviour is important. For example,studies have shown that professional footballers who take penalties more quickly after the referee blows the whistle to allow the penalty to be taken have a poorer success rate. If a player consciously believed ‘getting it over with’ was helpful, then this flawed belief  needs to be corrected. In all cases, a change in behaviors which  undermine performance under pressure can only happen if the individual accepts the need for that change.  However, accepting the logic is all too frequently just not enough. There are many examples where the individual already fully accepts the logic that their behaviour under pressure was the very opposite of what they already  knew they should have done.

Can you think of an example from your own experience when you acted quickly and  in a way that after the event was so clearly wrong that you thought ‘Why on earth  did I do that ?’

A really common example from professional poker is there are many players who have analysed that they have trouble folding in certain situations which they have analysed endlessly but, under pressure,they describe a feeling of being almost mentally ‘hijacked’ to repeat the behaviour they know to be wrong. This is because our subconscious  instinctive system 1 brain  is so fast acting that it steps in and acts before our logical system 2 brain has time to engage and ‘inject logic’. This is what the author and psychologist  Daniel Goleman terms the ‘amygdala hijack’.

Why does this happen ? Our fast acting subconscious instinctive brain is very useful to us. It means we can carry out the majority of everyday tasks ( for example movement, eating )  without engaging logical thought . In evolutionary terms, it was also very useful to be able to quickly engage a fight, flight or freeze response to existential threats from wild animals hundreds of thousands of years ago:pausing to ‘inject logic’  would increase the likelihood of death.

However, that quality of instinctive speed does have a flaw in the modern world. In reality, most events in the modern world do not represent the same existential threat faced by our ancient ancestors. However, we still have adverse life experiences which create emotional responses and the instinctive part of our brain still tries to protect us in the only way it knows. So our  brain stores these in the form of neural pathways and when a strong emotion is evoked our system 1 brain acts on the emotion but  only has the blunt tool of  a  rapid fight, flight or freeze response, even though that  can be out of all proportion to the ‘threat’ in question. The free throw late in the basketball  game, or facing a large raise  on the river in poker can be seen as  pressure but it does not really compare with facing a large, hungry and dangerous wild animal on the Savannah!

So  what is the answer ? ‘Injecting logic’  even to the point of complete resolution  in the conscious mind cannot solve the problem if there is a detrimental subconscious mental program which causes us to act before logic gets to have it’s say. This is where hypnotherapy is such an effective mode of treatment because it directly addresses the root cause of this  by changing the neural pathways which have processed a  past experience into a disproportionate or unwanted response.As a modality specifically designed to address the subconscious, hypnotherapy is the very best means of  bringing about the paradigm shifting change in behaviour and performance that injecting logic cannot achieve.

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