Keys to Improving Your Performance
Change your past to change your future
Today’s blog contains relevant research that can be used to enhance your performance in sports, business, and life.
Madness to Genius
How our past shapes us
Down the rabbit hole, changing your future past
The comfort of clinging to bad memories
Madness to Genius
Long before navigators circumvented the earth or we saw the earth from space, the ancients tried to convince a stubborn humanity that the earth was a sphere. Perhaps it was Pythagoras (~500 B.C.) who started the ball rolling – pun intended – by proposing that Earth was round. And, Aristotle’s (~350 B.C.) declaration of the same somewhat furthered the scientific proliferation of this line of thinking. Eratosthenes (~240 B.C.) added to the cause by devising a clever method of estimating Earth’s circumference.
And, Magellan is credited with the practical demonstration of the globe. Other big names like Galileo, Leif Eriksson, Christopher Columbus, Isaac Newton contributed to the spherical realization.
Regardless when or who or how, brilliant forward-thinking minds continued to prod humanity in this direction – and acceptance of the theory about our planet’s shape took a very long time to become the commonplace fact we know today. For many centuries, humans were unable to change their ingrained thinking. People in the past who had resisted new ideas weren’t dummies.
They were doing the best they could, given the knowledge of their times. Humans do the same thing today. Even more fascinating is the reawakening of the flat world theory. Those that espouse this concept are quite convinced in its unerring truth. They have created what they believe to be perfectly rational explanations, and even promote a mainstream conspiracy.
This kind of ‘discovery/disbelief’ phenomenon seems to play out over and over in humanity. It goes something like this: A brilliant mind, using math and science, postulates a theory – frequently decades or centuries ahead of mainstream thought. This brave person announces his theory with evidence only to be branded absurd or mad or worse. (Many forward thinkers brought clear and present danger upon themselves by the simple act of seeking knowledge.)
Ever so slowly, other mathematicians or scientists duplicated the original effort and marshaled support for acceptance. After some time (and usually posthumously), the brilliant forward-thinking original theory is hailed as magnificent and its originator as pure genius.
Regrettably, this kind of discovery is rarely accepted quickly and completely. Disapproval from the masses or obstruction by other ‘experts’ seems to plague human advancement. Hard to imagine, after all this time, that we still debate the shape of our planet. Have we gone from madness to genius, and back to madness again? Or did we change our collective memory?
How our past shapes us
Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997 Vienna) was an Austrian neurologist, psychologist, and holocaust survivor. His story is one of human spirit. While in a Nazi concentration camp, Dr. Frankl endured a period of unthinkable darkness, persevered through horrors, suffered untold atrocities. Yet, Frankl rose above his past to serve humanity in a powerfully positive way.
Through his struggles and grief, he came to realize that he –and he alone – had a monumental choice. He could choose how much power he had over past events and memories – or how much power they could have over him. Dr. Frankl’s memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, relays what his gruesome experience of Auschwitz taught him about the purpose of life and the question for meaning. Frankl’s theory is founded on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose. Logotherapy is the pursuit of that meaning for one’s life.
If you have not read any of his works, I highly recommend them. If you have, then they are worthy of review. Here are a few of his quotes to consider:
“A human being is a deciding being.”
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.”
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
No doubt, Victor Frankl’s memories were painful. Could those memories of the past have shaped his future? Or was it Frankl’s ability to harness those memories and immobilize their harmful effects? These are keys to improving you performance.
POP QUIZ TIME
I like to tease friends by quizzing them. In person, their expressions are priceless. Let me give you the quiz now. Ready? It’s going to count for 85% of today’s grade.
- Can you change your past?
- Is the world flat?
If you answered “No” to both of these, you just scored 50 on your Pop Quiz. Sorry, but that’s a failing grade. If I could hear you right now or see your expression, I bet you are questioning my memory. You may say something like, “I know the world is not flat. And, I know the past is the past, and you can’t change it”. For those of you who want to improve your score, please don’t go down the flat world path. I’ll have to unfriend you.
Okay, fun quiz. Think about that first question a bit more. Previously, we learned that the common accepted truth is that the world in not flat. And, yet, after thousands of years and mountains of proof, there are still those among us who believe otherwise. While I will not be one of those who challenge spherical Earth theory, I will instead challenge the belief that we cannot change our past.
It is common knowledge and prevalent belief that the world is not flat. It is common knowledge and prevalent belief that the past cannot be changed. The different in these two scenarios is that the study of our past (memories) is relatively new, and the forward-thinking research that confirms that we can indeed change it.
Humans are changing, fluid organic beings. Our memories are fluid and changing. Our entire body is in a constant state of regeneration and change. We can actually choose whether to increase or decrease a memory’s (the past’s) power over us. It is also known that human memories are unreliable, inaccurate, and distorted through the lens of time.
We rely on our memories not only for sharing stories with friends or learning from our past experiences, but we also use it for crucial things like creating a sense of personal identity. Yet evidence shows that our memory isn’t as consistent as we’d like to believe. What’s worse, we’re often guilty of changing the facts and adding false details to our memories without even realizing.
There are countless reasons why tiny mistakes or embellishments might happen each time we recall past events, ranging from what we believe is true or wish were true, to what someone else told us about the past event, or what we want that person to think. And whenever these flaws happen, they can have long-term effects on how we’ll recall that memory in the future.
It’s unlikely that your treasured memory is 100% accurate. Remembering is an act of storytelling, after all. And our memories are only ever as reliable as the most recent story we told ourselves. At the end of this blog, I have recommended a YouTube by Malcolm Gladwell who cites examples of how our memories do constantly change, the Free Brian Williams story.
Down the rabbit hole, changing your future past
Memories are in a constant state of change, and memories impact our present state. If true, then is stands to reason that we have a wonderful opportunity to cultivate a future design for them. After all, if the changing memory phenomenon is inevitable, we get to choose whether or not this change is subconscious or conscious. Changing our past to create a better future is possible. Let’s follow Alice down the rabbit hole for a moment.
Consider memories as being in either conscious or unconscious states. Think of it this way. An event is happening right now that may require you to solve a problem. The problem solving is in “living color” in the moment. But over time, the memory of the experience fades away to a shade of grey – not as sharp or focused. Remember the experience of first learning to drive a car. Lots of concentration and conscious effort needed here.
However, over time the act of driving a car has become so automated, you simply do it without much concentration at all. Actually, over time your brain requires less and less thought energy to do all the small tasks required for driving. You can still deftly accomplish driving skills, but you do so with your subconscious mind – like you’re on “autopilot”. The memories are still there of the first driving experience, but the nervous focus has faded.
To illustrate, let’s say you have broken your leg and are experiencing physical pain. After the doctor sets the bone and applies the cast, you get your crutches. You are awkward on the crutches, and it takes some time to learn to use them. It’s not easy and there is still some pain. After several weeks, the cast is removed and the acute pain is gone, but you want to continue to rely on the crutches. You know the bone is automatically healing and becoming strong again. Yet, you feel it’s still safer to use the crutches. You’ve been cleared to resume normal activities; however, the crutches still provide comfort.
You automatically (subconsciously) reach for them when standing up. You can deftly maneuver using the crutches and have found some advantages. Folks seem generally more helpful – holding doors, offering assistance. When friends invite you for tennis or boating or hiking, you tell them you’d love to, but you’re still on crutches… Even though your leg has fully healed, your reliance on the crutches allows you to make excuses, invoke sympathy or garner attention. This story is contrived, the excuses non-existent and the sympathy unwarranted. Until you give up the crutches, which were such a help initially, they will cause you to inevitably miss out on life.
Relate this to a memory. Let’s say someone close to you criticized you harshly, and it hurt you terribly. The emotional pain and the memory of the incident is vivid for a while. Over time, the pain diminishes and the living color fades to gray. You continue to remember the event and the pain. The ‘autopilot’ recall of the memory can elicit sympathy or attention from others. It is useful to you. Every time you relate the memory to someone else, you tell yourself a new ‘version’ of the memory.
The now, more useful, distorted memory is comforting and helpful. Any time you fail, the memory can help explain away the failure. You no longer need to take ownership of any present event that doesn’t go your way. You have a memory crutch, and it’s easy to use. This unhealthy loop uses the memory of pain to dimmish future pain or hurt. Limping along on your memory crutch is pretending that a single inflated, distorted memory defines who you are and how you lead your life. These kinds of crutches are created by ‘changing the past’.
The comfort of clinging to bad memories
Most of us have memories (crutches) that we hang on to. These disrupted or supplanted memories make us feel safe or are useful in other ways. They can shape our past and thus, influence our identify. These memories can prevent personal growth or exploration. Autopilot memories operate in our comfort zone.
Research shows that recollections of past events are typically only about half correct. Stop and consider a memory you routinely conjure. Do you rely (possibly unconsciously) on this one memory to define some part of yourself or your past? Reflect on that memory with the goal of decreasing this memory’s power over you.
Say to yourself, “That was then, this is now.” You have the choice to decide that the memory is not a big deal. You can see it as a small blip rather than a huge albatross. Try it. Moving to a new (but possibly less comfortable) position changes how we respond to the memory. It may be challenging, even scary – but it is freeing and exhilarating.
Memory crutches or ‘hanging on to the past’ can be common in sports performance. A student athlete may explain their performance with “I didn’t start playing at a young enough age,” or “I didn’t have proper foundational training.” The “didn’t” memory list may be quite long. Continuing to use these memory (crutches) will prevent the student from progressing. The past memories must be changed to allow for a successful future.
Stop and consider that memories are continually changing and the lens from which we view those memories can also change. This realization is the first step in changing the past. When we reframe or tone down unhelpful or ineffective memories, we unlock the power of the present moment. The more we moderate and dilute memory crutches, the more confidence in the present and the more courageous towards the future we’ll be. This is empowering. Cultivating this awareness is a unique characteristic of being human.
Changing memories of the past automatically changes the future.
Next week, I will discuss ways to modify our self-talk to improve performance.
It is my greatest hope that you will implement some tips from our Bio-Cultivating and Neural-Cultivating blogs. Further, it is my hope you will be inspired to pass these learnings along to family and friends. We all have people in our lives who have the desire but lack the accurate information to improve their health. It is frustrating to sift through the bombardment of data and the misinformation in today’s world. It’s no wonder some give up in frustration. I believe that we deserve the healthiest choices that honest modern science can offer. It is my mission to help as many of us as possible get and stay healthy.
As a tennis coach myself, I found the compression industry to be unacceptable for our needs. I set out on a journey to help you and your students. I know we all get beat up. The harder we compete, the more we get injured. All compression is not created equal! At Body Helix, we start with an unapologetic obsession for exceptional quality.
Our design philosophy is to create modern, innovative gear that surpasses that which is offered in the global marketplace. As a privately held, Veteran-owned, North Carolina company we challenge global leaders to elevate their compression game or step aside. It’s compression gear, designed by tennis players, for tennis players.
Be well and stay focused on cultivating your health, your mind, and your personal solitude. If I can help you further never hesitate to reach out to me.
Recommended YouTube on how memories change:
Malcolm Gladwell explains why memories are totally unreliable