During a post-game debrief at Montreal Jazzfest, the other captains used me as an example of being able to “always get open” on my cuts. They qualified this by saying that it wasn’t because I was the fastest but that regardless, I still got open.

I do get open often and it is not because I’m faster, it’s because I BELIEVE I can get open. And for what my mind believes, my brain processes information accordingly and creates appropriate opportunities, and then the rest of my body follows.  One of my favorite quotes is by Henry Ford. He says “Whether you think we can or think you can’t, you are right”. I love it because it nicely sums up the power of the mind-brain-body relationship I have come to understand through personal experience and formal education.

I think of this mind-body-brain process of happening through the psychological phenomenon called “priming”.  Priming is an association tactic used by the brain to deal with the obscene amount of information that the brain is required to process during any given moment. Our brain at least partially relies on the priming effect to zone in and narrow our thinking pattern. For example if I ask you to think of words like coast, roast, most, and boast and then ask you:

“What do you put in the toaster oven?”

You will likely say “toast” when in fact the answer is bread. (Toast is what comes OUT). Our brain is activating associative networks that prime, or facilitate, access to an answer, in this case, toast. The only problem is that this neural heuristic is very prone to errors.

When we do this same sort of priming in ultimate, we are also liable to make similar neurocognitive and neurobehavioural errors.

Consider what happens when we believe we can or cannot get open. When I believe I will get open I may be priming my brain to see opportunities for getting open. I might actually notice who is defending me and KNOW that I am faster. I may also see my defender commit her weight to her left foot, which allows me the split second I need to take off past her on her right. I might see that I have pushed her on her heels as I fake towards her and that allows me to cut to the breakforce side for an easy catch.

If I believe I cannot get open, I might see only this big scary defender in front of me who is taking away my lane on the open side and taking away my cut to the break side. I see what’s not there instead of what IS there! Even when I decide to cut deep, my belief that I cannot get open might prime the neuromuscular connections in my legs to run a tad slower and as a result I don’t sell my in-cut, which allows my mark to react quickly enough to cut off the deep too! And then I wonder, “why can’t I get open!!!”

How could I possibly get open if I facilitate a neural network that is associated with all the features of getting shut down?  There are actually classic experiments in psychology where animals were trained to become similarly “helpless” to getting electrical shocks (called learned helplessness and is a model of major depression). These animals were so affected by this priming that when placed in an environment where they could clearly and easily escape from being shocked, they laid down and whimpered instead of hopping over the small barrier to the shock-free zone. They literally couldn’t “see” an escape option right in front of their eyes… just like those of us who believe we cannot get open and therefore see no way of getting open!

Our mind-body-brain relationship is a powerful phenomenon that can enhance or inhibit our performance in sport!  Whatever we think, feel, believe, and experience is represented in our brain and is processed by our brain. The choice of what thought, feeling, belief, or experience to focus on shapes how our brain processes the information presented to us. However, this choice of what to focus on is as much of a practice as is our i/o flick. The thing to remember is that it IS practice and shifting our perspective likely won’t happen over night.

So if you want to practice this choice and see if it benefits you, then take any one of your limiting beliefs in ultimate and re-work it. For example, if you think you aren’t fast enough then spend a few minutes before each practice or game telling yourself (and your brain) that you are faster than your mark. Don’t try to think too much else except “I am faster.” Before your get discouraged, do this for a few weeks and wait to see if there are positive results. Know that you’re opening your mind up to a new perspective and the neural changes that  coincide with this shift take time to ensue. Eventually, you might actually convince yourself that you ARE faster and then you will consistently get open! Let your brain re-wire neural pathways that you CHOOSE!

If it works, then consider other areas where you might have limiting beliefs, in ultimate or in life!  For example, do you believe you can break the force, either throwing or cutting?  Do you believe you can catch a floating disc? Do you believe you can flatten out your flick? Do you believe you can get a layout D or O?

Have fun as you explore ways to unlock your (ultimate) potential!

Written by Mandy Wintink

My heart inspires me to write about human nature (mind, body, spirit) as I come to know it, often using my own experience as a segue. I draw upon the knowledge I have gathered throughout my journey into Psychology, Neuroscience, Meditation, Yoga, Intuition, Passion…The journey continues to enlighten me.