CAN YOU IMAGINE ONE SINGLE THOUGHT THAT IS NOT ACCOMPANIED BY A NEUROLOGICAL, PHYSIOLOGICAL OR BIOCHEMICAL COMPONENT? (Dr J Grinder, 2010)
The Overwhelming Anti-Climax
Psychology as a discipline suffers from a severe limp – the overwhelming anti-climax. We expect revelations and ‘wow’ moments but they seldom come. More often than not we get told what we already knew anyway and/or something that doesn’t make any practical difference to us now. Ask the vast majority of new Psychology Bsc graduates if they could disagree with this statement. Somewhere along the line it seems as if the artful science of mind and behaviour stubbed its toe. The aching toe broke the rhythm of the walk, which turned into a twist in the hips, which turned into a lasting predictable limp.
Nowhere is the overwhelming anti-climax more apparent than in Sports Psychology.
Nowhere is the overwhelming anti-climax more Unacceptable than in Sports Psychology.
At Sport Psychologist.co.uk we assert that sports psychology has one main purpose – to improve the ecology of the performer. That is, research generates practical and measurable applications for improving performance in sports whilst maintaining (or at least not adversely effecting) health in all other areas of the performers existence (i.e the ecology of the performer).
Academically there will always be streams of research that aim to cultivate better theory in order to ultimately fuel improved research (theoretical development). There are also applied studies and it is to these which we turn our attention as there appears to be an imbalance of published research with potential for practical application (Bishop et al 2006).
Why are athletes turning to the self-help sections in bookshops seeking immediately useful information, instead of consulting psychologists work ? Why are BTEC sports students opting for the physiological route and dismissing the psychological as useless? How is it possible that top Olympic coaches understand the power of the mind but don’t know how to build winning psychology like they build winning bodies?
It is of vital importance that we build sports psychology for the end-user…the athlete.
Making a difference….
One place to start is by moving on from an old idea. Rene Descartes (1641) popularized the concept of dualism in the form of the mind-body split i.e. consciousness and physiology are two separate entities. This is a hallucination and not founded in good science. Take Dr Grinders’ quote as an experiential challenge and attempt to find a single thought or class of thoughts that does not have some kind of biologically based reaction. The transmission of electricity in your brain and nervous system, by what is essentially a potassium-sodium exchange, is measurable with todays technology. MRI scans will show differences in brain activity depending on what you are thinking. Different physiological, biological and neurological activation patterns are assigned to each different thought. There are many examples of this and realize that if you imagine a word that is kinaesthetic in nature (grasp, scratch, hit) a different network lights up across your body than if you imagine a word that is visual in nature (bright, spark, look etc)( HAUK, O., DAVIS, M.H., Kherif, F. & PULVERMULLER, F. (2008)). This includes all your muscles, big and small!
We urge psychology to move on and catch up in terms of research and practice.
Perhaps as an operating metaphor to aid application we can consider thoughts, or psychology, as being an extension of the physiology – after all they are a just a collection or cells, chemicals etc. sequenced in a particular order, just like an arm or a leg. We can train ‘psychology’ by exercising it based on the structure and natural laws underpinning it. We can use structural components to design exercises for strength, power, speed and flexibility in a similar way to which we would design a pectoral exercise for example.
This brings us on to another key distinction in the development of practically useful models, or exercises – The Process v’s Content distinction or sometimes expressed as the Content Imposition problem (see Grinder/Bostic 2001).
Consider for a moment the building you are in or were last in. It has (probably) a reinforced steel structure, into which is set a myriad of different materials in small units –bricks, wooden boards etc. Now consider that there are five of the same steel structures in a row in a particular street . If we were to give the same collection of materials to five different people and instruct them to build on their structures, would any two buildings come out the same? No. We would all build individually. If I wanted to change the functioning of the building radically the quickest way would be to alter a steel joist – i.e. the structure (not one brick at a time). If I wanted to build another ten stories I would strengthen the structure, not the individual bricks.
Psychology has often worked on a one-brick-at-a-time basis. That is, it has created change by working on the content instead of the structure of thoughts/psychology. The result has been a slow and circular process, by the time you have fixed the bricks in one wall the others are crumbling. One of the most influential psychologists of our time, Dr Martin Seligman, recognises the ‘problem-focus’ of this approach that disregards improving genius, high talent and everyday lives.
Useful techniques and exercise routines cannot be developed upon content impositions. Working on a person’s happiness, anxiety or confidence requires that the psychologist defines it, measures it and then devises exercises that develop only what has been measured. The problem is that the definition may not match your definition and so there is no experience of what to improve. Another problem is that for some people being anxious before a race (aka stage fright),for example, is essential to their winning method. In this case anxiety would be reduced because it is ‘negative’ according to the measurements, but would have a detrimental effect on performance. This is a question of ecology. To pursue exercises built on content impositions is like building your house on sand…actually, like building on a hallucination of sand. Practicing in a totally content-free approach is in reality a demanding challenge that may never be 100% possible. In light of the rewards, it’s an extremely worthy challenge to adopt.
At Sportpsychologist.co.uk we aim to represent both academia and practice so that you can make up your own mind about what is useful to you. To discover structure based practice, including the famous Bodypsych high performance work-out regime.