Find your focus when you need it
I’m excited to teach you how to use a visualized Guide character as a mind hack. I use this tool whenever I need to help someone find focus in a sea of overwhelming inputs.
The Guide is one of several key tools you can use to shut down your Inner Critic. And with this shutdown comes an immediate reversal to the downward spiral of negative self-talk that comes with it. Check out the first article in this series for more insights into how I teach Inner Critic and Awareness training.
Training your Inner Coach
Your Inner Coach has five important roles and areas of responsibility: Bouncer, Teacher, Guide, Muse, and Motivator. If you want to take the helm of your mind-coaching journey, your mission is to build a strong inner voice for each role and to integrate each voice into your sports and life pursuits as needed. This article covers an important one of the 5 roles — it teaches you to use the Guide role as your Inner Coach.
Your Inner Coach works in this role as a Guide. The Guide has a big job — keep you focused, fully in the present moment and directed with One Cue Only. A cue is any thought or guidance, from physical technique reminders (stand tall) to mindset reminders (own this!). The Guide helps you as well in dealing with overload, and thus works alongside the Bouncer role, as overload is a quick invitation for Inner Critic to join the party.
Your Guide focuses you on ONE thing
In the movie The Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery calls for transmitting one sonar ping to the enemy sub, ordering in his classic voice: “one ping only.” This single-focus concept also appears in the movie City Slickers, when Smiley states that the secret of life is: One Thing. The core task of your Inner Coach as a Guide is to give you one instruction at a time and to hold your focus to that instruction. Think of it in Connery’s voice if that helps you remember it: One cue only.
Flow happens in the NOW
Flow doesn’t happen in the past or present. It happens in the now — in the moment. We are very good at living outside of the now though, with our powerful brains running scenario after scenario envisioning future events and replaying past events (often inaccurately).
We even do this with our bodies. When teaching runners about the perils of heel striking and slow foot pulls, I set them up in an inverted Y position, with both legs extended. I tell them that their front foot is landing in tomorrow and the back foot is stuck in yesterday, thus they are attempting to run in yesterday and tomorrow, but not today, in the present. Efficient running technique brings them to running in the present physically (landing under the body, pulling the foot up under the body, both per the Pose Method®), the next step is to help get their mind to the present. With mind and body in the now, we are best poised for fulfilling running experiences.
Have you ever been in a conversation where you struggled to listen intently? Perhaps you’ve caught your mind thinking about something on your calendar for the next day. Maybe suddenly shifted your focus to something that happened last night. Have you ever tried to meditate or simply sit quietly and noticed your mind running wild with endless thoughts, worries and ideas about both past and future events? When these scenarios happen, the Guide is there to step in and say IN THE NOW.
Focus your mind
To stop our mind from endlessly thinking of the past or future, focus your concentration on one specific thought or cue at a time. This is true presence, with your focus and engagement in the current moment. The Guide is there to remind you One Cue Only. If you experience too many cues at once, not a single one will reach the target. The Guide is responsible for ensuring that every cue selected indeed reaches that target.
It may help to visualize tuning in an old radio dial to the One Cue station — the aim is to avoid overlapping radio signals and static, and to land on one clear station. One cue.
One thing I’ve noticed when helping to develop new coaches and yoga teachers is that there is a tendency for them to overload a student with cues and information. It is as if they are trying to prove their knowledge and value beyond a doubt. Rather than select one lesson or cue to teach, they offer it ALL and all at once. In doing so, they prove that they know a lot of information, but they are not sensitive to what the student actually needs. And likewise, they are not sensitive to how the student best learns — for most students, at least. It is the shotgun approach of teaching. This is not the sign of an experienced teacher, successful in reaching her students.
When learning a new technique or working toward self-improvement in any area, we tend to do the same thing as self-coaches. We think about everything all at once, and then feel so overwhelmed that we hinder our ability to learn.
I notice this as well when teaching running technique in workshops. This is a setting where people often try to focus on too many new skills at once. I’ll be leading the group in an exercise on, for example, skipping, and some runners will feel completely overwhelmed in what should be a fairly playful, kid-like exercise. They ask, “How am I supposed to skip while keeping my cadence high, tension low in my body, my heel kissing the ground, thinking of the color green, breathing through my nose, tension at Level 4, etc.” My answer is “you’re not supposed to do all of that at once — just skip and pay attention to how it feels to pull your foot.”
The Guide is there to take control and remind you to think of one cue at a time. When your awareness detects something new to address, the Guide lets go of one cue and delivers another. When you start thinking of too many things at once, simply call on the Guide to deliver focus to you.
Sending in the Guide as a Mind Hack
Here are some tips for setting up the Guide mind hack to work for you:
- Visualize an image of a person whose counsel you trust — a mentor, teacher, mountain guide, etc. Feel free to use fictional images if that resonates with you, like Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Practice seeing your Guide in great detail, so that you can call upon this image whenever needed. See the image exactly as you’ve created it, not in some generic, random way. This is the important part of visualization training that many athletes lazily skip. And when it’s skipped, it undermines the power of the tool when adversity strikes.
- Once you’ve got a detailed Guide image locked into your mind, float this image as your trusted mentor over your shoulder. See your Guide there to handle all inputs — even when they are arriving in overwhelming numbers. See your Guide confidently stating only one instruction to focus on. When you are training, practice visualizing a sudden appearance of your Guide — at the ready over your shoulder.
- Whenever you feel overwhelmed in a situation, redirect your focus to Inner Coach and send in the Guide immediately. Pick ONE THING and tune into the Guide’s voice repeating that one thing, over and over. Allow all other inputs to become flurry and focus all of your energy on the Guide’s message.
When to engage Inner Coach as the Guide — all moments when you:
- are self-coaching and giving yourself adjustments, cues or thoughts to focus on
- too many thoughts or situations arrive at once in your mind
- catch yourself thinking too much about the future or past, the Guide is there to bring you to the present.
Want to dive deeper? Check out Flow State Runner for an immersion into my full mind training model, including many more mind hacks to improve your sports performance.
— Coach Jeff