This just might be the most important blog I have ever posted. It is certainly the longest. If you can get even a small part of this concept it can change your life. It did for me.
A large part of my work with clients revolves around peak performance and the concept of flow. Many of these clients struggle with performance anxiety. They are typically world class in practice, and yet struggle in front of audiences, cameras, microphones, or displaying their books or works of art to others.
What they share in common is that they believe it is all about them. They are convinced that they are responsible for their performance, and when this does not meet their high expectations they beat themselves up, which eats away at their confidence until sooner or later they spiral into despair.
Generally I get very good results with these clients. I share techniques with them that involve posture, breathing, meditation, visualisation, and mindfulness. One of my favourite expressions is “the enemy of the best is the good”. I am not satisfied with good results, and neither should they be.
I want to know how clients can perform out of their skin to a higher level than they have ever dreamt about. Because some of them do massively exceed their expectations, but they do not know how or why.
I have written nine books and many more audiobooks about my work. The final chapter is usually about unexplainable success. I try to find different metaphors to describe these results, and why they happen. I talk about being in the zone, about magic, about luck, about intuition, and even about quantum theory.
Yet I have never convinced myself that I have explained the unexplainable adequately. Part of me says ‘leave it there’. We do not need explanations for everything. As long as my clients are happy why should I worry?
The other part of me is not satisfied with this Zen approach. Because I want more of my clients to achieve this level of elite performance, and if I can explain the magic ingredient it will help them perform beyond their dreams. So here is my latest attempt to explain the unexplainable.
If we believe our performance is entirely up to us it is perfectly understandable why we should suffer from performance anxiety. It is because we know deep down that we are hardly in control of anything, let alone our performance under pressure.
If we believe it is all up to us life will get very lonely. What if we could believe that some other person or thing is totally in charge of our performance, and all we have to do is turn up on time with our head in the right place, and let things happen?
This revelation hit me about three years ago and has changed my life. In my previous career I had been rewarded handsomely for meticulous planning, analysis, and a dogged determination to get results, irrespective of the cost to me.
Not any more, and it is not surprising my life is a lot less stressful. What is surprising is that however you choose to measure success it has been a pretty good ride. Now it is time to examine where this puppet master lives, and how he pulls our strings. It has to do with the difference between thinking and knowing about stuff.
There is a world of difference between thinking and knowing. Thinking consists of a vague collection of abstract thoughts that have been analysed by the small part of our brain called the conscious mind. Within the conscious mind lies the ego. It is the least important part of our brain and yet believes just the opposite. Ego is vain, pompous, over-controlling, prejudiced, and unbelievably stupid.
Ego possesses the intellectual arrogance to take these pure abstract thoughts, mix them up, and present them to the outside world as indisputable facts. It is not surprising that these facts further reinforce the prejudices of the ego, and are designed to present the ego to the outside world as the subject matter expert on anything and everything.
Needless to say there are many reasons why this is about the most unhelpful strategy for anybody who desires to perform at a very high-level in whatever they choose to do. The reason is that when we allow our ego to dominate our brain we know we are being an imposter. We know things are nowhere near as clear as we pretend them to be. We are frightened of our deluded views being challenged. We suspect that people despise us, which encourages the ego to take even greater control of our thoughts.
The ego knows how to use fear to suppress other more positive thoughts. Therefore it cannot come as any surprise that almost all people fear performing in public, whether in the business, sport, creative, or social sphere. No wonder that performance anxiety is so common, and so difficult to treat. However fortunately it is not impossible.
My challenge today is a huge one. I am no different from anybody else. I also have an ego, and right at this moment it stands in the way of articulating the most important message that I might ever make. The message that will help me immensely, and I honestly hope many other people too.
This message is for anybody who suffers from anxiety, particularly those people who have passion about their work, and who want nothing more than to share their passion with others, yet are so fearful of the consequences. It is for those people who think they are not good enough. It is for those people who feel weighed down by guilt, and it is for those people who know there is a smarter way to live, and yet can’t put their finger on exactly what this smarter way might be.
Grasping the difference between thinking and knowing will turn your world upside down. What you previously thought was difficult will now become easy, and natural. Life choices that were previously confusing will now be obvious decisions which require no thought, because you know what is the right thing to do. Situations that previously filled you with anxiety you will now relish with excitement.
I have already described how and why the ego hijacks our abstract thoughts and destroys them. Fortunately for us the ego is not all-powerful, even though it believes itself to be. Because the enemy of the ego is the unconscious mind, which is far more powerful. The unconscious mind can take these same creative abstract thoughts and rather than destroying them it processes them and then presents them in such a compelling way to another part of our conscious mind that we start to know stuff, rather than think. This is the part of our brain which is not controlled by the ego, but the part where we just know things, without caring how or why.
We all have gut feelings, we have epiphany moments, we have mind pops, call them what you will. What happens when we have these feelings is that we have connected to our intuition. Intuition is our ever present GPS guiding us through life. All we have to do is know it is there, and follow its messages. These messages will be simple, and not complicated. We will not need to overthink situations, because we will know what we have to do.
When we know things there is no associated anxiety, because who would be nervous about the simple truth? When we watch athletes in the zone perform out of their skin and post personal bests we recognise that they are performing without inhibition and almost unaware of the rest of the world. They are performing inside a bubble that protects them, fills them with confidence, and does not allow the ego to enter.
The big question is how can we learn to live inside our bubble? If we see ourselves as the centre of the universe it will be impossible. However if we know that there are higher powers that we can draw upon then it becomes a lot easier.
So where do these higher powers come from? Unless there is a dimension that has not yet been described by science there can only be two possibilities.
This higher power can only come from inside or outside ourselves. The first possibility is much easier to explain. Inside our body there are resources that have evolved over millions of years to prepare us for life. They are working constantly 24/7 performing biological miracles every second that we are almost completely unaware of. It is just as well that we are unaware of them, otherwise the ego would start to interfere with our hormone production, our digestive system, and indeed every other biological system that make us the most advanced life-form on this planet.
We do not need to learn any new techniques, so resist any suggestions that your ever helpful ego will try to impose on you. The only thing you need to do is to know that these resources are already inside you. It is your default state and how nature intended you to be. Unfortunately you have blocked your most precious gift since you were a young child, but it is never too late.
Be open to the wonder inside you now, and know it is there for you right now. This takes a huge leap of faith, and great courage, although when you get in the habit of thinking of yourself in this different way this will soon become the way you choose to live.
I mentioned that there can only be two ways to live inside our bubble and find our flow state. The second possibility is that these higher powers come from outside ourselves. This time there are many different ways to describe what this higher power might be, and all of them will work. Our challenge is to identify the one with which we can resonate the most strongly.
It is not my job to say which I think is the most important, not lease because I don’t know, nor do I need to. Throughout history all cultures, religions and philosophies have recognised this higher power. This is why people believe in God, in angels, in invisible giants, in spirit guides, in past lives, in Jung’s collective unconscious, in universal wisdom, and numerous other concepts too.
Just as before with the internal possibilities they all work. As before they require the same huge leap of faith. Knowing these resources are available is all you require. Easy to say, but much harder to do. Again it will require courage to resist the temptation to return to our comfort zone, and the delusion of control where everything feels familiar, and safe. This comfort zone exerts a powerful influence upon us, but the truth is that unless we do things differently we will never achieve the results in life that we both desire and deserve.
There is a short-cut to experiencing these higher powers, although I do not recommend it. For centuries people have experimented with hallucinogenic drugs. These drugs occur in nature and can also be manufactured in laboratories. I have never taken these drugs, but I know many people who have.
I am always fascinated to hear their experiences, and they are remarkably similar. They say that the universe becomes very simple, and that they just know. They know that individually they are of trivial importance, and yet collectively they are part of the whole universe and everything within. They describe feelings of humility, rapture and enlightenment.
If you find it difficult to stop over-planning, and over-worrying there is one other way to access these higher powers instantly, although I hope you never have to. When you or someone close to you is in extreme danger these powers are available immediately. They are so powerful they completely overwhelm the interference of the ego. This explains why individuals are capable of demonstrating supreme strength and purity of thought when it is most needed. It is only when we are tested to the extreme that we find out just how much power is there for us to use.
Do not wait until then. Live every day in the moment, put yourself in the game with your head in the right place, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
In conclusion I hope you find these final thoughts helpful.
Never before in history have we had so much access to information. Previous generations would consider us to be truly blessed but is this true? Nothing is ever free. Everything comes with a price, a benefit, and a cost. All this information is stored on the internet.
Unfortunately, if something sounds too good to be true it usually is. The problem with this virtual database is that it is almost impossible to find what you are looking for because there are so many choices. Computer search engines help but you still need to get very lucky to find exactly what you need. The chances are lower than winning the lottery or finding a needle in a haystack.
In other words, the harder you search for an answer the less likely you are to find it. The answer will only come deep inside you, or from the previous list of Invisible Giants, universal wisdom, the power of love, God, Carl Jung’s views about the collective unconscious, and there are many others to choose from.
It will not come from your conscious mind, nor should you expect that it will. It will only come from a deeper part of your mind, or through you when you are ready. It will only come at the rate and speed that is appropriate for you, and this will be different for everybody. Slow is as good as fast. The Library of the Universe is a parallel dimension where there is all the time in the world.
This feeling of being connected to something greater than ourselves is both comforting and empowering. It means we have more tools at our disposal than we imagine. This is the way I explain it to my clients, and I keep repeating the message until they get it.
“You already have everything you need to get lucky. You just need to find where it is hiding, and I will help you.”
I help people by continually reminding them of the difference between thinking and knowing. We work together to ditch the thoughts and develop the few things that we know. It makes life a lot easier, and provides the best environment for the results to follow. I hope this blog helps you too. I know it can.
Further related thoughts….Make of them what you will.
Kids have no ego.
The ultimate punishment is banishment not only in humans, but in horses, chimpanzees, and dogs.
Humiliation is the ultimate fear.
If your ego cannot accept the existence of an internal or external higher power challenge it to explain the miracles of nature by logic and current scientific knowledge.
- How do animals with almost no brain migrate from one side of the world to the other with infinite precision?
- How does a simple spider construct a web that is 100% fit for purpose, and also a work of art?
- How do bees communicate to the other bees in the hive where the best pollen to make honey can be found?
There are many things in nature we do not understand, but the great thing is we do not need to. We just need to stand back in wonder and awe of the infinite miracles of nature.