The Mental Training: What Sigmund Freud Can Teach Us About Shaping Our Bodies With Thoughts
“What foods should I eat?” “How should I exercise?” “Tell me what to DO.” Uncover the secret of mental training!
I often hear these questions in coaching.
“Tell me what I should THINK” for this as good as ever.
Unusual question, I know. But much closer to the core.
Mental training is the foundation of the MBSC formula.
This article is the first in a series on mental training in sports. Today we dive deep into the mysterious world of your subconscious.
Mental Training: How Your Thoughts Shape Your Body
You uncover secrets the psychologist, and neuroscientist Sigmund Freud would probably have envied you for knowing.
These are the topics of this article:
- Why mental training?
- What is mental training?
- How do your thoughts change your body?
- How do you anchor positive behavior in your subconscious?
- The law of attraction: scientific principle or esoteric nonsense?
- Why you should be careful with your thoughts.
If you prefer listening to this article, you can also download it as a podcast.
Why mental training?
“There is a homing device in your brain and nervous system that helps you reach goals automatically. Like a guided missile that locks on its target and then pursues it relentlessly.”
Dr. Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics
In 1967 Dr. Charles Garfield offered a job as a mathematician on the Apollo 11 space project.
Suddenly he was surrounded by people who were among the best in the world in their field.
He found that there were skills these individuals shared, regardless of their area of expertise.
For him, this was the beginning of a long journey, during which he analyzed the world’s most successful athletes and entrepreneurs, among other things.
Sixteen years and over 500 interviews later, Garfield accurately predicted what successful people do differently.
He published the results in the 1984 book Peak Performance: Mental Training Techniques of the World’s Greatest Athletes.
He found that the secret of success is always the same – regardless of whether it is about artistic, scientific, or entrepreneurial success.
The same secret enables people to lose fat successfully or gain muscle.
It’s the secret to staying successful.
The results of the 1976 Olympics also influenced Garfield’s discovery.
Mental Training: How your thoughts change your body
At the ’76 Olympics, the Russian and East German athletes so invariably dominated the competitions that the other nations accused them of doping.
But in the same year, it became public that the training routine of the Eastern Bloc athletes included an entirely new element: mental training.
As you can probably imagine, it wasn’t long before Western psychologists and coaches began investigating the “Soviet’s secret weapon” and experimenting with mental training methods.
Researchers quickly discovered that many bodily functions could be influenced by thought, including:
- the blood flow,
- the absorption of nutrients in the body,
- the oxygen supply and even
- the hormone metabolism.
A positive mental state before a competition can directly affect the autonomic nervous system and increase performance.
Negative emotions such as worries, self-doubt, and fears greatly impact bodily functions: they reduce performance.
Interestingly, all athletes who had undergone mental training reported a mysterious state of mind that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow” many years later.
Distractions fade into the background like you’re looking through a zoom lens. The senses are sharpened and focused. The athlete feels strong and already successful.
Some athletes felt like they were functioning fully automatically like a machine when in this state.
Successful tennis players placed the ball in the right corner at the right moment without even thinking about it.
Boxers could swear their fists acted like living beings in their own right without any action.
It seemed as if the athletes acted in these critical moments without having a conscious thought. As if something else had taken hold of them.
As it turns out, that’s precisely what happened.
Discover the potential that lies hidden in the unconscious
Jump in time to the swinging sixties.
Nearly a decade earlier, plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz had taught millions of people how to use the power of their subconscious to change their behavior, achieve goals, gain confidence, or change their self-image.
In his bestseller Psycho-Cybernetics, published in 1960, Maltz describes how the subconscious can completely error-free control highly complex movement patterns with high-performance pressure.
It’s the same mechanism that automates behavior patterns we call habits.
The concept of the “subconscious” has been discussed in science since the 18th century.
But the first clear, and simple definition of the subconscious as the power that controls human behavior was not developed until the late 19th century by Sigmund Freud.
However, it was Maxwell Maltz who made the real breakthrough.
Imagine. Your brain is a fully automatic guidance device.
Maltz discovered two amazing connections:
- Your subconscious works like a homing device that can never be turned off.
- Your subconscious works like a computer you can program and reprogram.
When you combine both, says Maltz, you use your mind like a guidance system that locks onto a goal you have defined and automatically takes you there. (Today, he would probably have likened it to a GPS.)
When the destination is clear, this system recognizes if you have left your route. Then it will get you back on track.
Imagine you are behind the wheel and driving off without first deciding where you want to go. What would happen?
Depending on traffic conditions and traffic lights, you might turn right and left until you eventually run out of fuel or you happen to arrive at a place where you stop.
Sure, who would drive aimlessly? (Unless you’re in your dream car – but that’s another topic.)
Paradoxically, that’s precisely what most people do: because they don’t have a clear goal, they just “drive” away.
In other words: “If the goal is not clear, any path is the right one.” (Alice in Wonderland)
Goals are what you still want to achieve in this life, including your body as you imagine it to be “right”.
To achieve your goals, you can take two steps:
- You define your goal.
- You program your subconscious to do this.
Dr. Garfield puts it this way in his book Peak Performance:
A single word forms the basis for any high performance: programming.
I would love to print this word in huge letters on a poster. Without a clear program structure, an athlete can waste precious hours — or even years — in the quest for excellence, hitting dead ends after dead ends without achieving anything.
Here is the real secret to every success
Some psychologists say that our subconscious was programmed when we were children and that we cannot change it as adults.
You are right – at least as far as the first point is concerned: parents, teachers, friends, and the media have programmed our subconscious with all kinds of invisible scripts.
Including many things that are not helpful. Most of the scripts from back then still work today. The good news is:
You can program your subconscious with new goals and install scripts that change your life path no matter your age.
The real problem is that no one gave us a manual for our brains when we were born. And schools are failing miserably in this area, too.
Another problem is the way this knowledge is conveyed today.
More and more trainers and coaches show you how to take the step “from brain owner to brain user”. But much of it has an esoteric or pseudoscientific tinge.
No wonder many people are critical of the subject and dismiss it as an esoteric gimmick.
However, look at Olympic or professional athletes to see how effective mental training is.
Neuroscientific studies and the support of imaging processes such as MRT, PET, or SPECT computer tomographs mean that more and more effects of mental training are being examined and documented today.
The real secret to success is that you understand the power of your subconscious and use it consciously.
This is the key – not only to the dream figure but also to all other things that you want to achieve in life.
Mental Training: You think less than you think.
Have you ever done the exact opposite of what you actually wanted to do? And then asked you, “Why the hell did I do that?”
Why would you gobble up a whole bucket of ice cream if you want to get leaner and healthier?
Why would you skip a workout when you want to get fitter, stronger, bigger, and more defined?
Everything you do and decide is subject to your free will.
However, most people have no idea how much work we do on autopilot.
The psychologist Prof. John Bargh estimates that 99% of the processes in your brain take place subconsciously. The conscious mind is no more than the tip of a gigantic iceberg.
It seems like you are doing something consciously when you catch a thought in your head before you do something. For example:
- “I’m going to the gym now.” And then you go to the gym.
- “I want to eat ice cream.” And then you eat ice cream.
Even if you consciously think about it before taking action, the trigger for these thoughts lies in the subconscious.
Mental Training: You think faster than you think.
It’s not just that most thinking takes place unconsciously. Your brain also works much faster in subconscious mode.
For example, researchers have found that very brief visual sensations are perceived subconsciously but not consciously.
If a photo appears before your eyes for a few milliseconds (e.g. on a screen), then you cannot consciously perceive it.
But studies show that your brain processes not only the information shown but also its content.
The neurons in your brain can fire in milliseconds and respond to stimuli your conscious mind can’t grasp.
This ability helps professional athletes perform highly complex movement patterns in a fraction of a second with absolute precision.
And it helps you to recognize and react to critical situations in everyday life quickly.
However, the same mechanism could also explain why you did things “out of affect” in certain situations that didn’t get you any closer to your goal – maybe you ate too much of the wrong things or skipped your workout.
Your subconscious works so fast that your conscious mind can be short-circuited when making impulsive decisions.
How do you anchor positive behavior in your subconscious?
While you can consciously control some bodily functions, such as breathing, you don’t have to worry about others (blood circulation, hormone release, digestion, wound healing, cell division, etc.).
That’s a good thing because having to control all of this would probably drive you insane consciously.
Your subconscious controls your autonomous bodily functions. It also drives automated behaviors and can easily turn any behavior into a habit.
This is the “autopilot” mode.
Driving a car is a good example: Of course, you should drive carefully, but operating the car is completely unconscious.
Do you remember your first driving lesson? How complicated was this?
“FIRST clutch, THAN shift gears. Be careful. Release the clutch slowly. NO! Flooded – that was too fast.”
At first, you were wholly overwhelmed because it was almost impossible to do all these things consciously and in the proper order.
This initial state of being overwhelmed is expected.
Everything changes very quickly; today, it feels so easy for you – as if you had always driven a car.
In the meantime, you could THEORETICALLY surf the Internet, type around on your cell phone, or talk to your passenger about all kinds of things.
You are probably also familiar with these phases when driving a car when you suddenly arrive at your destination – as if in a trance – and have no memory of the journey there.
If you don’t remember who was driving the car?
What if you could just put your eating and exercising behaviors on autopilot?
Well, you can!
Because that is exactly the task of your subconscious: It makes your life easier by taking on routine tasks and thus freeing up your conscious mind.
If you repeat and practice a behavior often enough, it becomes an unconscious habit.
This makes many things easier for you because you can now direct your attention and energy to other, more important things.
The law of attraction: scientific principle or esoteric nonsense?
Suppose you dream of a new car – a black Porsche Cayman.
Things start as a pipe dream. But then you decide, and suddenly you think about this car all the time.
This applies to all goals that you have achieved so far in life:
At the beginning of every achieved goal, there is a thought and a feeling of “wanting to have”.
If you think about one thing often when you write it down and keep focusing on it, then you are signaling to your brain, “This is important!”
Then your brain gives you a helping hand and draws your attention to solutions in your environment that you would otherwise have missed.
Suddenly you notice everything that could be relevant for you to reach your goal.
At the kiosk, car magazines with test reports of the car catch your eye, the city seems to be plastered with Porsche advertising posters, people talk shop about Porsche on social media, and you see Porsche dealers on the side of the road and wonder how many people drive Porsches.
Why is it that you only see Porsches everywhere?
Of course, the number of Porsches on the streets didn’t suddenly increase, the ads weren’t placed only for you, and the dealer didn’t just open when you wanted to buy a car.
All of this was there before – you didn’t notice it.
Why? Because your brain has the task of filtering out what is important to you from what is unimportant.
Before, you didn’t care enough about the car.
Mental Training – The truth about the law of attraction
This attention mechanism of your brain is incredibly powerful.
It is so powerful that you believe everything you need to achieve your goal is magically “pulled” towards you.
In truth, you’re watching your brain’s targeting computer at work: you’re noticing things you would never have noticed before. Things that can help you.
Most scientists do not believe in “The Secret” in the sense of a universal law of nature.
But the phenomenon of “attraction” can be observed in psychological studies.
If you start setting goals now, you will change the way you perceive the world around you. In this way, you draw things from the outside into your life that help you.
But if you start setting goals now, you will also change from the inside out: if a goal is essential to you, your brain will subconsciously search all your memories for things that are important to your goal.
Then you suddenly have flashes of inspiration – brilliant ideas that help you to overcome obstacles.
What some people call intuition or gut feeling does not come into your consciousness from the outside – but from the inside.
You then change your behavior automatically:
- You may suddenly feel the need to work more overtime to bolster your paycheck.
- If you work in sales, you may close more sales and increase your commissions.
- Maybe you go the extra mile more often with an eye on the next salary or promotion round.
- You would probably cut back on your expenses to put more money on the high side.
- You might even set up part-time self-employment.
Achieving goals always starts at the same place with nothing more than a simple idea:
“I want [this GOAL].”
The more you think about [this goal], the higher it rises on your subconscious’s priority list. Then your consciousness and then your behavior will change.
The car is, of course, just one prominent example. But imagine what is possible when you use this mechanism to achieve your fat loss or muscle-building goals.
One last warning.
Be careful with your thoughts – they could come true.
No matter what it is: your brain gives everything you think about regularly, and that touches you emotionally, the meaning “Caution, important!”
Your subconscious then looks for options for action and triggers behaviors that usually lead you closer to the things you think about frequently.
This mechanism is impartial – it does not distinguish between “good” and “bad”.
A dream car is now something positive.
But what would happen if your mind was full of negative images, sounds, and feelings?
- What if you usually think about things you don’t want in your life?
- Your fears or potential illnesses?
- What if you told other people about your problems all day long?
- What if you couldn’t stop thinking about junk food (maybe because it’s in plain sight)?
- What if you’re constantly dealing with being overweight?
In any case, you would be in good company because many people often think of negative things, tell others about them, and recall experiences in their mind’s eye that weren’t funny.
If you catch a virus on a website, your computer doesn’t care whether important data is deleted – it simply carries out the program routine.
Your subconscious does the same. It runs the “programs” you feed it.
Negative attitudes and counterproductive invisible scripts behave like a thought virus.
If you feed your brain scripts like “I’ll always be fat” or “I’ll never make it,” your subconscious doesn’t judge it.
It just executes commands.
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