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Hypnosis for sports performance

I use sports hypnosis in three ways to greatly improve performance.

Firstly, it is used to narrow the focus of attention like a super laser beam so that, when you are doing your sport, nothing else exists.

Recently a sports psychologist attended an Uncommon Knowledge introductory hypnosis workshop. She had been studying some of the top racing drivers of the world. Her research concluded what we already know. What distinguishes the very best in the world from the rest is an amazing ability to shut out distractions and narrow the focus of attention until all else around effectively disappears. She had devised a series of tests on a screen. The drivers had to complete these tests while increasing levels of noise and other distractions were presented to them. The best drivers were the ones who were less distracted by these outside influences and some of them later reported they hadn't even been aware of them!

Now her description of the psychology of world-beating racing drivers is also a good definition of the hypnotic trance. When you are in trance you become less aware of sounds around you the deeper the trance, the less you notice.

So teaching people to enter a sports trance improves performance and en-courages what we call the state of 'flow', or being 'in the zone', where everything seems easy and you feel a wonderful, dream-like inevitability of success.

When you are in the zone, you are purely process focused and not outcome focused. What I mean by that is that a great racing driver won't be thinking about the last bend, or a world-class golfer about their last shot. And they certainly won't be considering how their performance will bring them money or status. People call this 'being in the moment', which means being totally focused on the process, and entirely at one with the activity itself.

Your attention is like a beam of light. If it is too diffuse, the strength of the beam weakens. If the beam is narrowed and tightly focused, it becomes a powerful force like a laser. In fact, we can go as far as to say that all great achievements in the world come down to people being able to repeatedly extend focussed attention.

The second way sports hypnosis is used is to change limiting beliefs.

Consider this! It used to be widely believed that to run a mile in less than four minutes was just not humanly possible. In the early 1950s, the four minute barrier may as well have been a solid object. Belief stopped people breaking through it.

Then in 1954 Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes. And so suddenly the sub-four-minute mile moved into the realms of the possible. The barrier in runners' minds evaporated and the following year over one hundred people ran the mile in under four minutes. This sweeping away of limiting beliefs is known as the Bannister effect, and holds good for all areas of life, not just sports.

Recently I worked with a young high jumper. This seventeen year old had a mental block. He believed he just couldn't jump higher than two metres. I asked him whether he would be able to jump two metres in length. He laughed, and said that of course he could do that, with very little effort. I then hypnotized him and encouraged him to think about the height of the bar in terms of length suddenly two metres didn't seem so much. He hypnotically rehearsed approaching the bar with the sense that it was measured in length rather than height. During his very next competition he jumped two metres and five centimetres. We had reframed his limiting belief by talking in terms of two metres not actually being that much distance if we thought about it as length. This may sound strange to the logical mind, but in hypnosis the laws of physics don't apply!

I worked with a sixteen year old racing car driver who had already been spon-sored by a major car manufacturer and was destined for Formula One stardom. He had started becoming anxious about being in the lead. He would get out in front, then worry what was going on behind him instead of focusing on what he himself was doing. He said that it had got to the point where he didn't like being in the lead! I suggested to him that in fact he was never really in the lead. He was always behind something. He was curious about this and I then told him that time was always in front of him he was always chasing his next best time!

This idea totally reframed his belief about being out front in the lead. We expanded this idea hypnotically and he found that he started to relax with being in front and he started improving his times.

So the way sports people look at things is very important.

Which brings us on to the third principle of sports hypnosis: hypnotic success rehearsal.

When you practise something in your mind, whether a golf swing, a high jump or a piece of music on the guitar, then as far as your brain circuits are concerned you really are practising for real. This is why you can practise the guitar even if you've left it at home!

In fact, you can improve by hypnotically imagining an activity without even doing it for real. In the 1970s an American soldier who had been imprisoned in Vietnam was released after four years in captivity. On his release, the first thing he wanted to do was play golf. All he'd been able to do in prison was spend hours every day playing one perfect round of golf after another on as many imaginary and remembered golf courses as possible. Such was the success of this intense and prolonged self hypnosis that, even though he was in poor physical condition and hadn't actually played golf in years, his handicap had improved as if he'd had intense professional coaching for those four years. When you rehearse something in your mind you are using hypnosis. If you rehearse something going well then you are setting up your brain with a blueprint for success.

Some sports people we have helped had made the mistake of using negative hypnosis by imagining future sporting events going badly. I teach them to rehearse absolute success when in hypnosis. One young ten year old gymnast had stated dropping scores because of anxiety in major competitions. I hypnotized her to the point that she could feel completely relaxed, then I just got her to get per-fect scores of ten over and over in her mind, in all the events she took part in. When her mother brought her back a couple of months later, she told me that not only was her daughter much more relaxed about competing but she was getting perfect scores in many of her competitions, which was previously unheard of. The final study I want to mention involved basketball players. They were shown a new move then one group practised it for real for three weeks and another group hypnotically rehearsed it for three weeks. After that time, the hypnotic group were actually better than the group who had physically practised the new move! This was because the ones who had practised purely in their minds had been able to do it perfectly every time, whereas the ones who had practised for real had also learned how to make mistakes.

So to sum up, for great sporting per-formance you need to:

  1. focus your attention like an intense laser beam while staying relaxed
  2. dissolve any limiting beliefs as to what is or isn't possible, and
  3. perfectly hypnotically rehearse performing at your very best time after time.
I love working with sports people because the results are so easy to see, and they are generally highly motivated. These rules hold true for other areas of life too. Test it yourself.

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