How To Change The Playing Field In Your Favor
I remember once, a long time ago, way back when I was in Junior High school, I was playing golf with a couple of friends after school. There was one hole that I always had trouble with. The first 80 yards or so, you had to hit your ball over part of a lake. The part of the lake that you had to hit over ended on the left edge of where the fairway would be, and to the right it only got bigger. Being a habitual slicer, I usually sliced off to the right, and into the water.
In order to get over the water hazard, I only had to hit a normal shot. My normal shot didn’t start to fade until about fifty to a hundred yards or so, which gave me enough distance to get over the water if I could ever hit a normal shot. My problem was that on that particular hole, I never hit a normal shot. My drive was rarely more then ten yards or so off the ground and sliced a lot earlier and more pronounced than normal, sending my ball straight into the large area of the lake.
From a pure physics standpoint this is easy to understand. If you flinch even slightly in the direction of lifting your head to see where the ball went, you’ll hit the ball just a little bit higher than normal, giving you less height, and in my case, more slice, as I twisted the club head just a little bit more than I normally would have.
The funny thing is that I lifted my head because I was unconsciously worried about slicing into the lake. And because I lifted my head, I sliced into the lake. My unconscious actions, (e.g. lifting my head up and turning the club head more than normal,) which were based on my fears, actually caused my fears to come true, rather than preventing them.
From a structural standpoint, it went like this: I had this fear about an outcome based on a planned action. My anxiety going into the action changed the action slightly, and became the direct cause of my fears coming true.
In this particular case, it was one off shot, so to speak. I hit it in the water; walked about halfway up the fairway, about even where my ball went into the lake (next to all my other balls) dropped a ball, took a penalty and went on my way. This was a one-time event, which in the end only increased my score by two. The rest of the course was wide and open, so I could slice all over the place and be OK.
Naturally, every time I teed up on that particular hole, I remembered all the other slices into he water, which of course increased my anxiety, and made it much more likely to repeat the error. But only being a golf game, and only being in Junior high school, I figured that was normal. Until my friend shared with me a powerful secret that I still use today, and you can to, to break out whatever rut you happened to be in.
This problem, often called a self fulfilling prophecy, can present itself in many ways, and the feedback loop can be much more debilitating that a couple of strokes on an afternoon golf game.
Suppose you are a single guy, and you see a girl you like. You walk up to her, introduce yourself, and she blows you off. Happens all the time right? Only next time you walk up to a girl, you remember the last one that blew you off, and it makes our approach less effective. You are nervous, can’t hold eye contact, and basically come across as kind of creepy. This makes you get rejected even more harshly, which in turns makes approaching another girl too scary to even contemplate. You have effectively locked yourself into a vicious circle of defeat, by using your worst possible past in order to hallucinate a likely outcome. The likely outcome terrifies you so much; it cripples your behavior, and virtually guarantees itself.
Another example. You go ask your boss for a raise. He turns you down. You become depressed, and your motivation to work hard decreases slightly, which in turn decreases your productivity a little bit. Next time you ask for a raise, your boss is even less likely to give you one, based on your productivity. If you get locked into this horrible tailspin, you may very well find yourself on the list of people who are expendable when budget cuts are mentioned.
One of the insidious things about these self-defeating cycles is that it is incredibly easy to blame others for your predicament. The guy who is approaching girls can blame women for being stuck up and not having the ability to see his true worth. Maybe they think he’s too short, or doesn’t make enough money. This can lead to a belief that all women are shallow and materialistic
The guy who never gets a raise can blame his boss, the economy, his coworkers for talking about him when he’s not around, and so on.
As difficult as it sounds, only when you take responsibility for your lot in life do you have a shot at bootstrapping yourself up and out of any vicious cycle of defeat you may find yourself in. Even though that often times others are culpable, some bosses do play favorites, and many people, both men and women, are shallow and materialistic, that doesn’t help you a bit. You can’t change the world, but you can change how you interpret it and react to it. That is completely in your control.
So one day, just as I was teeing up, my friend, says “Hey wait, before you hit, just close your eyes and pretend there is nothing but a huge patch of green grass in front of you.” I tried it, and it worked. I don’t think I ever hit another ball in the water after that.
The funny thing is that he didn’t tell me to visualize my ball bouncing on the other side of the lake, like most sports psychologists would have you do, or visualize how I’d feel when I hit it over the water. The advice my friend told me was to imagine the playing field, the course, was physically different than it really was. By imagining a different playing field, my actions changed automatically.
It’s so easy to argue until we’re blue in the face that “the playing field isn’t equal” and that others have advantages and opportunities that we don’t have. But what if you could simply hallucinate a more helpful playing field, and allow your actions to naturally respond to your hallucination?
What if before approaching some cute girl in a bookstore, instead of going through the difficult procedure of imagining a positive outcome, and planning his various openers, he simply imagined that all girls were irresistibly attracted to his type? There’s no rule that says your imaginations have to be true or accurate, only that they lead to behaviors that get you what you want.
And what if the guy in the office imagined he was the boss’s nephew, or that he’d pulled him out of a burning care a week earlier, or something else as ludicrous? Sure, it’s completely false, but what if it works?
Something to think about next time you’re gearing up to imagine yourself into a positive outcome.
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