The WTPDP, the Walker Team Performance Development Programme has a process built into it that accepts the fact that people are harder on themselves than anyone else. It asks, on a series of company specific criteria for the future success of its teams, to rate themselves against each variable. Then their boss rates them on the same criteria. There’s a mediation process in case the scores are too far apart. I put this in place in Citibank many moons ago and the results were astonishing. Of the few mediations and the hundreds of reviews, it was rare, almost zero, that the boss’ score was lower than their direct report. People rate themselves harshly.
Why is this?
The answer is extremely simple. Self Talk.
We watch ourselves 24/7, 365 days a year. We watch ourselves, we judge others and ourselves, but we don’t watch others as much as ourselves. We watch ourselves day in and day out. We gravitate to observation of ourselves at night, drinking one too many red wines, in the morning unable to do a poo, we judge ourselves putting the washing in the basket and making a coffee. We watch, and we learn. We learn to criticise others but we learn most to criticise ourselves.
Self-talk or what is called NLP is the art of self-promotion as well as self diminishing. All too often, this diminishing voice becomes the dominant one. WE are, after all, very honest with ourselves. Sometimes frighteningly so. We are also aware of the pitfalls of self-aggrandisement.
Self-aggrandisement is a pedestal we place ourselves on that’s tenuous wobbly, easy to fall from so we are suspicious of any self talk that might err in that direction. It seems we’d rather put ourselves down than up.
The science of self-talk, good self-talk is neither aggrandisement nor self depreciation. The science, known by all great athletes and also anyone who has been through and living aware of, an alcohol addiction recovery process, is very precise.
No doubt you’ve heard of the 10 steps of AA. This is a demonstration, a good demonstration that self-talk is not done in isolation. Self talk is combined with behaviour. Behaviour, toward others and self.
Take an example here: somebody makes a mistake and it hurts your feelings. You feel bad toward that person. In other words, you judge them. You feel the anger that comes hand in hand with hurt. It rises in you. The next thing is you spill the milk instead of pouring it on your cornflakes, and now the day is getting worse. You walk out the door shit faced angry because of that milk getting on your work clothes and having to change which made you a bit late. You’re now caught in traffic, and the steam kettle from the milk spill is looking for a hat rack to pin it on, and you remember the person who hurt you. Now the anger has escalated and you really start to get frustrated. They call you and you are unable to be friendly. You survive the day, filled with anger and pissed at that person and get home just in time to grab a scotch whiskey before dinner. Boom, end of sobriety. The behaviour was unconscious and stupid when you read it here, but this, is life for many people.
For a team or an individual, all this adds up to a thing we call muscle memory. If you ask someone to tell you a story of a harrowing experience they’ve had, like a car crash, getting lost in the forest or being fired, they can recall the event plus, their emotional, physical and mental state recaptures the experience. They feel it.
In other words, we can intellectually remember something, and say “oh, yeah, it happened 3 years ago” but if we really remember it, it feels like it’s happening again right now. This in some events can be post traumatic stress. The re-experiencing of a past event over and over based on very small triggers like a colour of shirt, a sound or even smell. It triggers a full body memory. This is called, muscle memory.
I trained in a rowing eight for Olympic selection. I have a memory of the final race we competed in for selection. I can’t remember the night before, I can’t remember the lead up and the start. I can’t remember being ahead of the entire race by 2 boat lengths at the 500 meter mark. But I do remember our boat slowing and being level with other crews at the 1,000 meter mark and I remember missing my catch and skimming the water with my oar nearly catching a crab at the 1200 meter mark. I don’t remember anything else except screaming to the stroke to “come on.” I have no memory of the remaining 800 meters. Nor the after race debrief or going home.
Guilt blocks memory. Although you might find this hard to believe, in that rowing story, my missing of that one stroke, was for me, disaster. Whether it broke the run of the boat or not, whether it caused us to loose, I will never know. But when my oar missed one stroke, I had a moment, emotionally and mentally where I went into shock. And so, that’s all I can remember. It’s a muscle memory. Every time I go back there in my mind, my body follows, and I feel the shock and shame. I’ve tried reframing it. But I’ve now come to live with it. And with a 7 year rowing history, that event, that one missed stroke is the most powerful memory even though I have a cupboard filled with trophies and medals. Let me share why.
When I was nearly three years old, my mother and I were in a farm jeep with no doors and a bench seat. The driver was a 17 year old farm boy. He turned sharply, my mother said “hold on” we all slid sideways on the seat, and the next moment, she was dead, crushed by the back wheels of the jeep. I can describe every movement, every stone, the blood, everything. But nothing before or after. Sometime later, was her funeral, I have no track of time or events in between. At her funeral everyone was weeping. I remember sitting near the hole in the ground where they lowered her coffin. I remember the dirt going on the coffin, and people weeping. Now, many thousands of years later, when I get in a car, I check the doors are secure, and when I go fast around a right hand bend, and feel the forces wanting my body to slide sideways, I remember that day in the jeep. But more importantly that day at the funeral. For. some reason, I believed my sliding on the seat had pushed my mom out the jeep, and all the weeping at the funeral was because of me. Guilt blocks memory and the next memory I have of life was two years after the funeral.
If you ask me what sports I play they are typically individual sports. Rowing in that crew was an exception. I normally raced in single skulls. I lead by example. So much of my life is dictated by those muscle memories of my childhood. And all the meditation, yoga and psychology has done nothing to change it. Muscle memory goes deep. And the ones we can recall the best are always the worst.
But for every one thing in our lives that causes us muscle memory in bad shock there are 100 good memories we are easily able to forget. Those good muscle memories are important because that is how we construct success. The same powerful impact negative memories have can be the exact reverse for positive ones, and this is where self-confidence and del-belief grow from. Positive shock.
I was at the birth of my three children, I remember only the first in my muscle memory. The second two were just as powerful, but the greatest shock was when the head of my first child crowned from my wife’s bloodied vagina. Nothing on earth could prepare me for that miracle.
Positive memories are so easily taken for granted but negative ones are deeply etched. We have more positive memories to celebrate than negative ones but the negative ones stick out. Shock, both positive and negative are muscle memories but the positive ones can be easily taken for granted.
My work involves story telling. I’m good at it only because I have practiced and practiced. Practiced between performances with coaching, partnerships and friends. I’m always telling the same stories and getting better at telling them, even when I’m not on stage. Over and over. I practice between performances.
Telling a story, acting, is one of the single most important business skills. It’s an art form. We use it in sales and marketing, strategy planning and negotiation. For most people this involves a product or service for which, hopefully, they have a positive muscle memory to connect to.
For me, it’s about remembering positive shocks. Like reaching a peak in the Himalayas, after days of trekking, exhausted and ill with altitude and seeing Sagamatha (Mt Everest) in her full sunrise glory. The shock is not the mountain, but the relief in enduring enormous struggle to achieve that moment in time and space. I feel it in my bones as I dictate this blog.
By accumulating these powerful memories, positive shocks, achievements I build up a story, a good story of success. I learn how to swing a bad story into a positive one by looking for what I learnt in that bad story. I also see how blessed I am with the people I meet, work with and know and love. For me, 7 marriages is a wonderful positive acceptance that nothing would stop my quest to distill and apply, in all areas of life, the universal laws of nature. Positive body memory, muscle memory.
Self talk is not just words on paper. It involves your memory and imagination. If we automatically remember – muscle memory – the negative shocks of life – the key might be to recall the positive ones too. Not just the automatic positive muscle memories but events that we might be trying to forget, and spin them into a surprise happy positive event.
There are many negative events that, through my discard process, I’ve been able to transform into a positive shock muscle memory. One such event was in Tasmania bush walking sometime around when Captain Cook sailed the seas. Yes, a long time ago. I was walking the cradle mountain trail with my then partner in life, a wonderful joyful spirit who, like me, was divorced and had children. I still love her dearly. Anyways, we were on day 2 of the walk when I detected a slight discomfort in my penis. Yes, I said the P word. Over the next 3 days it swelled and became super sensitive so much so that I couldn’t wear undies. It kept swelling until it was the size of a good sweet potato and just a rough. I was wondering whether it was a permanent shift in my career from consultant to porn star. I couldn’t walk properly. Seriously, it’s not funny …. hahahaha.
This life threatening swelling was accompanied by sensitivity and I resorted to using some different hand creams to soothe the pain. Don’t laugh…. I walked like a cowboy with my knees way apart and hissed through my teeth when I had to step over something that raised my knee and stretched my pants onto said private thing. I was imagining having to walk around with it in a wheelbarrow back home. About half way through this episode of gaintitis, or giantpenis, we saw the funny side and the whole trek became a side splittingly funny event. On the flight from Tasmania back to Melbourne and to the doctor my thingy continued to be angry. And the bigger it got the funnier it all became. Our little joke (big joke).
I’ve been back to Cradle Mountain many times since and for some reason always get nervous. (only joking because whatever bit me then would certainly have died from its wounds.
Self-talk also means visualisation and visualisation means of the past success and future imagined success. Just writing words of affirmation or self-talk alone won’t cut it, you need muscle memories from the past and imaginations of the future.
And so, we come to the answer today. And it is yes, because muscle memory anchors past events into our body and because it anchors future events memories into our body, called muscle memories, we can beat ourselves up for the smallest things and put ourselves down for the least when current events trigger those feelings. We can also do the opposite. And because many people address their self talk reprogramming at a purely intellectual level, leaving the muscle memory available for trigger, the muscle memory can form the basis of current reactions to smaller events, just as post traumatic stress can sit waiting for something very small in day to day life, like a negative comment from a spouse, or work colleague to spin the individual into a rather extreme over reaction. That reaction is therefore not to the trigger but to the muscle memory that gets triggered.
Much of yoga was designed to open up these wounds to muscle memory and allow the body and mind to release. However, the way yoga is taught in the west, with people who themselves are struggling with historical muscle memory issues. Note how many yoga teachers have suffered trauma in their life and not healed it is way above social averages and only comparable to the wounded individuals occupying the spaces of therapist.
Wounded yoga teachers and therapist are helping people cover their wounds, whereas yoga’s original intent was to expose and release muscle memories. Those great teachers of yoga in the west are now rare. My guess, from owning yoga schools and working with teachers is one in one hundred are bringing the discipline of releasing wounds, muscle memories while the rest are working diligently to cover them up.
Covering a muscle memory with a philosophy is not uncommon. Religions and self-development cults do this continually. Landmark is one such example. However, at a very senior level of performance and leadership, covering muscle memory inhibits performance. Instead, the traditional process of self-examination, re-witnessing the event, finding the gift in it, and really visualisation of the future are the process for those needing this high level of authentic performance. Otherwise such levels are totally unreachable.
In daily self talk exercises, such as PAC and MIR, my clients are encouraged to visualise each self talk point one by one. Instead of simply writing words on paper, each of the 18 self talk lines needs to be visualised. And, in the reward area, extended way into the past, visualised and included as a muscle memory. And each motivation comment stretched into the future to include imagined events. Instructions can be in the day, or for life.
This is the end of this question number 2. Yes, we do. 100 Things I wish my Dad taught me. #2… “No one can beat you down further than yourself.” Correct. END OF QUESTION