Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Changing The Narrative of the Little Man Inside Our Heads

"My Little Man’s an idiot!"
In a Seinfeld episode, George doesn’t know how to handle a particular situation, so he asks Kramer for advice. “What does the Little Man inside you say?” Kramer says. “The Little Man knows all.”

“My Little Man’s an idiot,” George replies.

Like Costanza, we all can struggle with our Little Man—that inner narrator who critiques everything we do, say and think. At different times, our Little Man has instilled fear, shattered confidence and sabotaged attempts we've made to move forward.

A study in the Journal of Health Psychology recently found that athletes who practice mindful meditation techniques are far more motivated to exercise regularly and more satisfied with their workouts than less-mindful people. They also sleep better and in effect change the narrative of the little man inside their heads, gaining confidence as they progress. Michael Gervais, PhD. a mindful meditation expert and director of High Performance Psychology, has advised athletes from the U.S. Olympic Team to the Seattle Seahawks. He has an entry-level checklist for getting your head right for relaxation and exercise. All you need are a quiet place and a few spare minutes.
  • Do it first thing in the morning. Mindful meditation, or focused breathing, takes steadfast concentration. “You’re focusing on each deep breath as if a loved one’s life is depending on your being fully connected to that breath,” says Gervais. “But do it first thing before you open your computer or brush your teeth or make coffee—do mindful breathing.” Start with just three minutes, then add three minutes until you top out at 20. “Morning is ideal. It helps to establish that inner space before you start running at full speed,” he says. “If you wait, you might just run out of speed, interest, and willpower.”
  • Don’t think you need to sit there like the Dalai Lama. If you feel like it, sure, sit cross-legged on a yoga mat. But for your mindful-breathing exercises, if you’d prefer to post up on your couch, or, hell, even on your La-Z-Boy, in your car, or at your desk, it doesn’t matter. “Be a normal guy and find a spot that’s comfortable for you,” says Gervais. Just remember to straighten your back so you feel the force of gravity and your weight—because feeling the sense of your own physical presence helps with meditation. Quiet is essential. Airplanes, he says, are great for “locking in,” especially if you train often.
  • Don’t blow the breathing. Yes, there is a wrong way to do it. As with all fitness, when you’re practicing mindful meditation, the breathing is all about proper technique. “Start in your stomach, let your diaphragm pop out, and then move your breathing all the way up to the back of your chest,” says Gervais. “You’ll feel a little tension at the top before a long exhale—the exhale is longer than the inhale. And then sit in the bottom of that exhale while your mind is fully connected to what’s happening. And then do it again. Set the time on your phone and just breathe.”
  • It can take getting used to, so keep at it. It takes practice, so hang in there. “The natural state of our minds is like a drunk monkey: curious, easily distracted, a bit sloppy,” says Gervais. “When your mind wanders, just gently recognize that you’re away from your breath, and gently refocus all of your attention back to your breathing: the inhale, the exhale, the sensations of your body.” It’s not as tangible as, say, improving your 5K time, but Gervais swears you’ll feel yourself get better. Your mind will be less cloudy with better concentration.
  • Incorporate it into your workouts. Whether you’re dead-lifting or running, Gervais says that your experience meditating will crop up in ways you couldn’t have imagined. Once you’ve honed the discipline of being able to streamline your thoughts and focus intently on the present moment, your athletic performance will inexorably improve. “From an athletic standpoint, when we have increased awareness, we can adjust with greater ease,” he says. “If you’re staring at that barbell, mindfulness provides wisdom and insight that, once we’re in the moment, will help us let it rip.”
An important point to add is to not let the Little Man judge your performance. When you first start spending some quiet time, the Little Man will want to grade your effort, not just after you are done, but as you are doing it. He may judge how well you are connecting or impatiently whine, How much longer? Trust yourself. There’s no such thing as a good or bad meditation session, because each one gives you what you need. Sometimes that’s the chance to learn or process stresses; other times it’s the chance to relax or gain critical insights. 

And really, the same can be said of any experience. Too often, we get hung up on what we could’ve or should’ve done differently, or how we were victimized by an unfortunate fate. With practice you learn that no matter what comes your way, you are much quicker to accept it. You will begin to recognize that whatever happens, for better or worse, is what was supposed to happen. And it’s up to you to acknowledge it, learn from it and trust that it provides the building blocks needed to progress. 

With an outlook like that, the Little Man has no chance.


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