After a friendly basketball game with a friend came a common inner dialogue that felt like a TV sports analyst: “he was one point away but he choked”, “he doesn’t know how to be a leader” (we were playing 1-1 but this still came with Charles Barkley’s voice), “he doesn’t have the killer instinct”.
In rally racing, they teach target fixation. We have a tendency to look at things we want to avoid. While concentrating on them, we usually crash into them. We should look at where we want to go instead of where we want to avoid going.
Negative thoughts or a “limiting beliefs” are those obstacles we fixate on. When you realize the storm of negative thoughts is going on, two useful techniques are:
  1. Reframing: stopping one behavior doesn’t usually work by itself, we tend to fall back into old thought patterns. One way that helps is replacing a behavior with another.
  2. Meditation. It helps to slow down and try to see what the inner dialogue really looks like. For me, the root is usually fear of not being enough (good/smart/good looking/successful/cool, etc).
Our minds make lots of connections between things. Most of the time, they are good ones like languages and learning other skills. At times those connections don’t help, when that happens we can manually disconnect and re-wire them.
A common mental linking process is cause-and-effect. If I lose/fail this one, then everyone will think I’m a loser/failure.
Some insights on my fear of competition I’ve written over time:
  • I fear the perception of being a loser in sports. At work, I fear trying – and failing – to get the apparent high-status jobs.
  • I sometimes rationalize that I don’t deserve to win over people who are better than me. I tend to put more people in that bucket because if I think I’m better and still lose, it’s worse for my ego.
  • Going for activities where there’s less risk. It can serve as a safety net for failing.
    • When I play sports I tend to focus on defense. If someone scores it’s normal, you can’t stop every single play. On offense, I’ve noticed that trying difficult moves gives me an excuse for not making the play.
    • In general, I haven’t tried for jobs that are hard and have the high-status perception of consulting or finance in big US cities, start-ups, owning your own business, etc. That’s mostly a good thing but it’s important that fear was a part of that.
Reframing techniques
  • Reframe the external behavior. Cliches are cliches for a reason, failing is an opportunity to learn, to improve. Some people think that it’s actually a sign that you’re closer to success.
  • Reframe the internal state. It’s not that people will think you’re a loser. They’re usually indifferent, no one will go home thinking the rest of the day about you.
  • Counterexample. Can you think of a time someone has lost a game, job or company and still was successful? Most successful people have had many “failures” before “making it”.
  • Outcome framing. What will your life be like if you keep thinking this way in 10-20 years?. Get as specific as you can. I can imagine stuck doing something I’ve come to hate, wearing socks, sandals, and baggy-pleated-khaki-shorts from Costco with a stomach big enough I can’t see my feet. That might help you make some changes.
A couple of months ago, I met with one of my mentors/teachers. During our conversation, I fell into a loop of saying negative things about myself to find comfort. She Jedi-mind-tricked my silly attempts and reframed them to stop beating myself down. It happened so fast, I didn’t even notice until hours later.
  • I don’t remember a lot of things in the past, I have a bad memory. Reframed as: intelligent people select only the important facts (the good shit sticks).
  • I took a Strength-finders test at work and empathy wasn’t in my top strengths, I feel like a bad person. Reframed as: you have it, it may not be your main tool, but it’s there.
  • I’m not as successful as other people my age. Reframed as: you’re asking good questions, especially for your age.
Reframing and reacting to events
There’s a book called The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. At first, I struggled to relate to the people he mentions: Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Amelia Earhart, among many others. In my mind, they were just wired differently. Regardless, the main point of the book is that every obstacle you encounter is actually an advantage, not adversity.
An example that interested me: Thomas Edison, while his facilities were burning, told his son to get everyone because they would never see another fire like that one again. He said: “it’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.” He was later quoted saying “although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.” After losing around $900K (around $22M in 2018 dollars), they made $10M that year.
These great figures might be wired differently, but we can build our reframing skills by practicing in more modest situations like our computers freezing and losing hours of work: it’s ok, “we just got rid lot of rubbish”, we can start over tomorrow.
This stoic approach beats complaining, whining and burning energy for something we can do nothing about. Building the reframing habit will help keep our calm when the really challenging things come our way.
Go To the source:
  • David Deangelo Advanced Series DVD 2 1:52:00 for reframing techniques. A source he mentions is the book Mind Lines by L. Michael Hall & Bobby G. Bodenhamer.
  • Tim Ferriss Experiment Rally Car Racing.

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