I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up
I began my work as a Peak Performance Coach and Stress Relief Consultant working with golfers as I had been a competitive golfer for most of my life and a professional golf instructor for many years before receiving my degree in Sport Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1993. While the example I am about to cite is from my years in the golf world, the application to all of life is quite strong. I am sure you will see the connection.
“I can actually feel it coming on: I can predict when I’m going to self-destruct during a round. Yet, I feel completely powerless to do anything about it, and it’s driving me crazy!” lamented Peter. “I’ve been playing golf for almost 20 years. I’ve spent a small fortune on lessons and practice, and I still choke! It’s no one particular shot, but whenever the self-destruction begins, I’d rather be playing in traffic than playing golf. I must be insane to continue playing.”
I listened to the anguish in his voice as Peter detailed every instance his memory allowed him to recall where he had once choked. “Just last week I started off well. I had a great front nine; but the back nine! You’d have thought I was a different person. My game fell completely apart, and by the twelfth hole, I had absolutely no confidence. I knew I couldn’t score and I didn’t. To top it all off I lost to three other golfers whom I should I have beaten easily.
Is Peter insane? I doubt it. Like many golfers, Peter is frustrated with his performance. He never performs as well as he thinks he should, but even more frustrating is that he doesn’t know why he self-destructs. While he is fairly accomplished, Peter’s frustrations are similar to those experienced by golfers at all ability levels. From his perspective, he has always suffered from this problem. During our conversations I was able to identify the reasons for Peter’s self-destruction.
Peter is plagued by what Matt Oeschsli, a hypnotherapist and author of such books as Mind Power with Students and The Winning Game of Selling, refers to as a Negative Programming Cycle. Negative Programming Cycles affect our beliefs and our beliefs control our thoughts, actions, and emotions. Peter believed he possessed tremendous potential, but that to play at his perceived potential, he had to play near perfection. When he made a bad swing or poor putt Peter worried about future bad swings and putts, fiddled with his grip and tinkered with his mechanics, doubted his ability, began thinking negatively about his chances for success and self-destructed. “I knew I couldn’t score well and I didn’t.”
According to Dr. Shad Helmsetter, author of What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, 75% of early programming in our Western culture is typically negative. That is, we tend to be more critical and punish mistakes than we reward good behavior and success. We expect people to make the right choices and behaviors. We criticize and punish them when they make mistakes or make the wrong choices. The greater the discrepancy between negative and positive reinforcement, the stronger is our Negative Programming cycle. Is it any wonder that we develop the habit of negative self-talk, that we are critical and even punish ourselves for the simplest mistakes, and doubt our ability to improve our performance or live a better life?
You’ve heard the expression, self-fulfilling prophecy. Your outward thoughts, words expressions, and behaviors are a reflection of your most deeply held beliefs. If you have s strong Negative Programming Cycle you probably respond to adversity like Peter. In fact, the stronger your Negative Programming Cycle, the less likely you dare to dream and the sooner you give up on yourself in the face of adversity.
The Negative Programming Cycle starts a chain reaction of thoughts and responses every time we make a mistakes or life doesn’t go the way we want. It makes us believe that mistakes are wrong or we don’t deserve a better life. We then act in ways that are consistent with those negative beliefs. The Negative Programming Cycle is so insidious that we may not even be aware that we have these thoughts or responses. Peter didn’t and it affected his play. Unless we do something to counter the effects of our Negative Programming Cycle we will continue to falter.
First, we need to realize that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes and that there is always and ebb and flow to life. Mistakes are a natural part of life and so is some adversity. Today’s mistakes and/or adversity are not an indication of tomorrow’s failures; however, because we are bombarded with negative reinforcement, we carry this belief around with us. The Negative Programming Cycle causes us to think too much and worry about our chances for a future successful or happy life, creating negative thinking and inducing self-limiting behaviors.
If we have been subjected to a lifetime of negative reinforcement we possess an internal negative concept. A negative internal self-concept cause us to think too much in achievement situations, and because of previous failures and mistakes, cause negative thinking, projecting failure and adversity into the future. We begin to worry about the outcome, the consequences of failure, and what others will think about us if we fail. These worries and the negative self-concept interfere with our performance and create self-limiting behaviors that undermine our performance or life. The resulting outcome will be undesirable, just as we thought it would be; further strengthening the inner belief that we are not good or worthy.
Any time we make mistakes, fail in an important activity, or life is just not what we had intended, our mind goes back into history, recalling previous similar situations and our conscious mind then begins to consider all the negatives a la’ Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong it will. Because performance or experiencing life in very specific ways is so important we give into negative thoughts and worry distracts us from the task at hand, ensuring our defeat. While we want to believe that we are more capable than are present performance indicates or deserve a better life than we are experiencing at the moment, we have no evidence to support that hope.
If we normally respond emotionally to mistakes or adversity we may get angry, frustrated, experience despair or despondency. Finally we give up. Because of the Negative Programming Cycle, we believe there is nothing we can do that will change the situation, now or in the future. We make mistakes or life continues to beat us down. We further fuel the flames of defeat by beating ourselves up emotionally, calling ourselves or the present situation every name in the book, most of which cannot be printed here. And our subconscious says, “See I knew you would fail!”
Fortunately, we can choose to end this downward cycle of negativity and defeat by learning the attributes of a Positive Programming Cycle. It starts with the recognition of our negative thoughts and emotions and self-defeating behaviors. Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you suffer from a Negative Programming Cycle.
What do I say to myself in adversity, when I make mistakes, or life doesn’t go my way?
Do I worry about the future?
Do I worry about what others will think about me, or worse yet, what I think of myself?
Do I think I’ll never get it or that life is destined to remain adverse?
Do I feel helpless or hopeless?
Do I have difficulty controlling thoughts?
Are most of my thoughts negative?
Do I remember similar negative situations?
Do I stop focusing on the task at hand (living in the present)?
Do I get stressed?
Do I have difficulty controlling my emotions?
Do my emotions turn to frustration, anger, rage, despair, despondency, or sadness?
If you look at your answers to these questions you can determine very quickly if you are affected by a Negative Programming Cycle. It doesn’t matter what forces are responsible for its development. You have to eliminate its influences if you ever hope to live the life you have always wanted and perform up to your expectation in all areas of your life. Next time we will continue on the journey to a Positive Programming Cycle and more abundant life. Until then, keep breathing, relax, and remember “Attitude is Everything.”