Rewire your mind for high performance
Rewire your mind for high performance
A surefire, proven, hassle-free way to rewire your mind for high performance
Cognitive dissonance and cognitive distortion are two of the unhelpful games that our brains play on us that prevent us from stepping up to play at a higher level. In this blog, I unpack how to deal with them with the power tools of cognitive diffusion. If you want to be a player at the top of your game, this is a technique that world champions and the highest performers use that you cannot afford to miss out on. Read on to find out how to use this high performance psychology technique now.
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Cynthia was still on a high from learning her anthropological bias dropping technique from Mikael Sarachenko. She wanted to learn more about the brain and the great things was that Mikael had invited her to a workshop he was running with the professionally famous neuroscientist and psychologist Dr. Ballstein. Cynthia had seen one of her TED talks, but was beside herself that she was going to not only see her, but Mikael had promised that he would get some one-on-one time together.
“Zer are three D’s vurth understanding ven it comes to cognition. Dissonance, Distortion und Diffusion.” Dr. Ballstein’s thick German accent made her message seem even more powerful to Cynthia. “Ze first two, Cognitive dissonance und cognitive distortion are disablers, zat is they disable us from thinking effectively ven it comes to high performance, und cognitive de-fusion is an enabler zat will allow you to achieve a gold medal.”
Dr. Ballstein outlined the first disablers. Cognitive dissonance, simply put, is when we flicker from one type of belief to another, or from thought to another. One moment, we can be sharing a belief in our mind that you can become a great presenter, and the next hour, your self belief and self talk are telling you that you’ve never been good at public speaking and you’ll never get better at it. Effectively putting us on a roller coaster effect, up and down, which usually results in us giving up on our goal. In effect, we have hindering thoughts that are fighting against helpful thoughts, and most of the time, we let the hindering thoughts win.
Cognitive distortion however is when we over-exaggerate a situation or thought. That teensy spot on the cheek in our mind becomes a zit the size of Krakatoa just waiting to erupt, yet in reality no one else would bat an eyelid or even notice it. We’ve distorted what we think into something bigger than it really is.
Cognitive diffusion is when we defuse the volatility of a thought or feeling so that we can continue on our path, say, for example, executing the action steps to achieve a goal. Dr. Ballstein went on to say that knowing how to use cognitive diffusion is one of the key ways to achieving success in whatever playing field you choose.
Cognitive diffusion comes from a field of psychology called Acceptance Commitment Therapy or ACT for short. ACT is a powerful method of helping us when we have moments of unhelpful thoughts or moments of discomfort. This is particularly useful when we may be experiencing a craving to eat an emotional food and are having difficulties in either resisting the urge to eat or resisting the urge to try a healthier substitution.
In very simple terms, ACT has been developed to enable people to deal with uncomfortable thoughts in a quick and swift manner to enable us to move on with our life. Rather than trying to debate with our minds the pro’s and con’s as to whether our thinking is right or wrong, the focus is on accepting those thoughts, making room for them and focusing on the outcome and task at hand. For example, eating a healthy food snack versus an unhealthy one.
Dr. Ballstein explained that ACT is not about trying to eliminate thoughts. It’s about making room for them, she called this expansion. Traditionally, many of us are quick to respond to unwanted things and remove them in our life. Our unwanted thoughts are no exception, although more often than not, trying to stop thinking about something or trying to remove thoughts ends up causing us to think about them even more. Hence, the strategy of just making room for them.
“Thoughts, in many vays, are abstract symbols, be zem a bunch of letters or images, zey are not necessarily fact.” Ballstein said. She continued to unpack the concept that thoughts are just made up and so we can use some tools to play with these made up thoughts in order to diminish the power they may have over us. The aim is not to remove them, just diminish their power whilst accepting that they are likely to hang around. A good analogy to help explain this is to think of a next door neighbour in a house using a leaf blower. We’re not trying to stop the noise the leaf blower makes but reduce its volume by putting in some ear plugs so to speak. We can still hear them, but we’re not as affected by it as before.
Dr. Ballstein suggested that everyone imagine they’re in a situation where they’ve just had a tough conversation with a partner or work colleague, and they’re feeling a bit disturbed by it. Perhaps, you’ve been thinking or feeling that having a snack might make you feel better about either yourself or the situation, yet we know that at the same time, eating an unhealthy emotional food is not going to make us feel good in the long run.
What we can do is use one of three ‘cognitive diffusion’ techniques. Yes, it sounds fancy, but really, all it is a way of saying how to diminish the power of our thoughts.
Here are three (3) simple cognitive diffusion techniques:
1. Singing the thoughts and feelings to the tune of happy birthday.
2. Saying to yourself either aloud or internally “Right now I’m having the thoughts and feelings of __________, I don’t like it but right here, right now I have room for them.
3. Imagine projecting the unhelpful image or though onto a TV screen and adjusting with the settings such as the width, height, colour, sound etc
Let’s go through them in more detail and how they work.
1. Singing the tune of happy birthday whilst using your unhelpful thoughts and feelings as the lyrics to the song. For example Imagine I just had an argument with Michael and now I’m feeling a bit down and feeling like eating some comfort food. The lyrics I can use might be “I feel bad about Michael, I feel bad about Michael, I want to eat something sweet, I want to eat something sweet”. I would sing this to the melody of the happy birthday tune.
The good thing about using this tune is that everyone on the planet knows it and you don’t have to be musical to sing it. So how does this work, and is it really effective? Yes, it is really effective and can work in a lot of cases. It works by helping us to see or perceive the thoughts we had in a different light. No longer are they as serious and as factual as before, and in many ways, the thoughts become more of a part of the background to our focus rather than being in the foreground. It’s not eliminating the thoughts, just diminishing their power. You could repeat the tune with the new lyrics for as long as need be. Once again, our aim is to not have to remove those thoughts, rather make space for them.
2. Saying to yourself either aloud or internally “Right now I’m having the thoughts and feelings of __________, I don’t like it but right here, right now I have room for them.” This is a really powerful way of building our expansion muscle. That is to make space for these thoughts. by using those words, you are simply accepting them and the situation and making room for them. By making room for them we reduce the amount of mind space trying to fight the thoughts and we are free to focus on something more productive or useful. Back to our previous example where I’ve just had a tough conversation with Michael my words might be “Right now I’m having the thoughts and feelings of being angry, feeling stupid and wanting to eat something sweet, I don’t like these thoughts and feelings but right here, right now I have room for them”. You could repeat this until you feel as if you can move on.
3. Imagine projecting the unhelpful image or thought onto a TV screen and adjusting with the settings such as the width, height, colour, sound etc. This technique is good if you have either a recurring visual image in our mind about a situation or if you keep remembering words that were being said. The trick is to know that you can control your mental images just as you can control the image on the TV. With the Michael scenario, I could imagine that I have changed the vertical hold on the TV and he is now short and squashed up. I might change the width of the image as well and make him wider than he is tall, and finally I might change the colouring so that he looks bright red. If the words he said to me were burning in my mind, I might change the sound of his voice to sound like a chipmunk and then watch the spectacle on TV.
There are lots of other ways to use ACT, too many to state in this session. If you want to explore this space even more, we actively encourage you to read the book called ‘The Happiness Trap’ by Dr. Russ Harris. This book is based all on the ACT techniques and is written very clearly, simply and eloquently. Definitely worth a read.
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