Emotion helps hardwire

People tend to be hard on themselves.
I see this on the mat all the time; someone makes a mistake and they beat themselves up over it. Whenever I can, I try to eradicate this response. The culture on my mat is actually the opposite – if someone makes a mistake, I encourage them to ‘purge’ it immediately from their mind; I don’t allow students to berate themselves over a mistake. In fact, if they get it ‘perfect’ – then I give them permission to stop for a second and ‘celebrate’ the success. We do NOT celebrate mistakes – and by that, I mean I discourage any kind of ‘emotional’ reaction to mistakes.
Studies have proved that we tend to ‘hardwire’ responses to specific situations much more readily if we experience a strong emotional reaction. When we take a moment to think about it, it makes sense:
Our early ancestor goes down to the river to get water; sees a crocodile burst out of the wet stuff and pull a wilderbeast in to it’s death – powerful emotional response. So now we REMEMBER – beware the water’s edge! We only need see something like once and ‘learning takes place’. Powerful emotion makes for powerful memories and hardwires our physical responses.
So when a student makes a mistake, I don’t want them to indulge in an emotional response to that mistake – I don’t want any reaction to it at all. Conversely, when they do something the way we want it to be done - we do want to attach an emotional response to that experience – we do want to hardwire that success.
So never ‘beat yourself up’ over errors – but do ‘celebrate’ success. Strong emotion cements learning. Check your habits.


Anonymous said…
I'm not sure of this one, I think it is different for different people. Some people learn best from a fear of failure, it drives them. I hate getting things wrong, and I do go away and think about it all night, but at the end of the day I feel I get the most from bjj/mma because of this - it means I am always paying attention, and am always giving 100%.
Mike said…
hmm....interesting one. Malcolm your response may indicate you have a primarily "away from" motivation - which can serve you ok but also has some inherhent dangers.

I was listening to a work colleague of mine speak this weak - a guy who has been the sports psychologist to the australian olympic team for three successive events. One of the things he was talking about was how fear of failure may drive people, but it seldom builds long term sustainable results. He used the example of Cathy Freeman, upon whom was heaped a ton of pressure - lighting the flame (before she'd won a gold while many other gold medal winners were passed over), plus talk of her being aboriginal, and a woman etc etc all served to put tremendous pressure on her not to fail.

And she didn't she won the gold. But she never came back to the olympics again. In other words fear of failure can be a strong short term motivator but seldom a good long term one.

In fact if you look at many people with away from motivations (and I am one) one of the problems we face is we start to move towards a goal successfully but then have a tendency to drift off the boil. there's a number of strategies to address this, but the easiest I've found is to become more "towards" motivated.

Having said all that I'm not sure about ignoring mistakes. I like the approach we take in my day job of moving from win/lose, to win/learn/change. To dissassociate the mistake from the concept of a loss, and see it only in terms of the learn and the change you will make as a result. Which creates quite a different emotional context for mistakes.
Unknown said…
I tried this on the baseball field on Saturday. When I threw a good pitch, I allowed myself to celebrate it (internally). When I threw a bad pitch, I "purged" it (using the Robert Kiyosaki "wave washing the crap off the beach" image that John had described to us in the previous Shootfighting class).

Over 5 innings I conceded 4 hits, 2 walks and struck out 11. For those of you who aren't baseball fans, that's pretty good - and was my best performance this year.

Of course that's only one game, but I do think the mental conditioning made a difference - I certainly felt a lot more relaxed than I have been before. So, to follow on from Mike's discussion of "away from" motivations, I would say that to use such motivation long-term will sap you mentally. You can only run away from the bear for so long.

Popular posts