by Tim Brunson, PhD
All of us have experienced peak times in our lives when we feel extremely motivated, capable, and in the flow. Former University of Chicago psychology department head Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the idea of a person being fully immersed in what he or she is doing at any given time. He called this an "in the zone" or "flow" state. The question that I would like to address is whether or not we can trigger this feeling at will. Furthermore, I am intrigued by the possibility that we can store and recall energizing mental resources when needed or desired. Think of this as carrying extra batteries for your cell phone. Therefore, if you were to be in the middle of a sports competition, taking a critical exam, or giving a presentation, what if you could simply decide to re-energize your neurophysiology so that you could tackle the task in a peak flow state?
During my training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) almost two decades ago Clinton Clay, LCSW, and Edna Clay impressed upon me the possibilities of biographical incidents in my past, from which I could visit and retrieve what they called resources. It seemed that by recalling and practically revivicating a memory of a time that I was performing at my best, triggered specific internal representations and neurophysiological states. By associating (i.e. seeing through my own eyes, hearing through my own ears, and realizing the associated physical sensations) into the event, I achieved a deep revivicating feeling that I was indeed there. Using ANNH terminology, it appears that I was activating (i.e. recalling) specific neurophysiological patterns to include causing a specific distribution of energy in my brain and body.
Identifying and reinforcing this memory creates an opportunity that a later recall of the event – or the creation of a triggering anchor such as a touch or word – could possibly cause my neurophysiological patterns to once again mimic the energetic structure associated with the peak state. This means that should my previous peak experience have been a time when I gave a well-received presentation, the next time that I am faced with a similar opportunity there is a higher probability that I will repeat my success. This is provided that I could get my neurophysiological energy distributions – as manifested in my feelings – to replicate that which was associated with my previous performance. This would mean that there would be a higher probability that I will repeat my success.
Going back to my NLP lessons with the Clay's, I could then look at these reinforced positive memories as resources. For the non-NLP trained clinician, coach, or lay person, you are probably already aware of this concept and should be aware of the operant conditioning concepts discussed by Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner. Yes, installing and triggering resources is no different than training a dog to salivate.
The question then is what can you do with these resources? One idea has always been using them to counteract negative memories. For instance, if you experience self-doubt or have a particular disturbing memory, by briefly recalling that negative state and then activating your positive resource you will most likely de-program or nullify the bothersome emotional impact. This technique is used during NLP collapsing anchor techniques and many regression and time line protocols. As mentioned earlier, another application is the use of the resource memory to bolster current performance or to address anxiety concerning an anticipated situation.
While the preceding pretty much sums up what I learned during NLP training, I strongly believe that there is much more to resources. Each recollection of a peek or flow state provides an opportunity to establish a resource, which can be triggered for a specific anchor. Interestingly we are not limited in the number of such resource anchors available. Through the power of imagination – to include hypnosis – we are blessed with a seemingly endless array of empowering anchors. This can come from observing others performing in such a state – such as a pro golfer or expert violinist. All we have to do is to close our eyes and imagine that we are that person. While I am sure that whatever your interests there are numerous prospects you can choose to imagine associating into. However should you list come up short, feel free to let your imagination run wild as you create the avatar of your dreams. Your consensual hallucinations may become your most potent source of empowerment. Just imagine the best version of you having the most wonderful experiences and become that person in your mind. Obviously, the sky is the limit.
When faced with any challenge in life there is no need to go unprepared. Having a quiver full of resource arrows, you will never miss any target of opportunity. Choosing how you want to feel or who you want to be for every encounter is subject more to your decision making than you may have considered. For instance, should you be faced with a situation in which you are going to give an important presentation, gather up resources from your past, imagine being a person who you have previously observed performing the way that you desire, or just create a fictional character who epitomizes all of the qualities required. Associate into each one of the situations and mentally store each as a gem in your pouch or an arrow in your quiver. You may even wish to choose a keyword or physical gesture that mentally signals and unleashing of your resources. Then mentally project yourself to your future presentation and trigger your resources. Become the person that you desire. By consciously collecting your resources, you increase the probability of your success.
Even though I have just presented this as a rather simple – but profound – exercise, please realize that this is not something that is new to you. In fact, all through life you have been affected by role models. For instance, medical doctors endure years of formative training in which they are exposed to positive role models, who defined what it is to be a professional in that field. Also, this is no different for an actor, an artist, or anyone else who has been consistently mentored by others. My exercise is an elegant way to consciously develop an approach for collecting and using memory resources to create peek and flow states.