This is surprising. A number of studies have shown that fantasizing about happy outcomes in a number of different contexts ranging from weight loss, to finding a job, to surgical outcomes, to dating didn’t help achieve what was desired. In fact it hindered people. I’ve been reading and thinking more about this and in this follow-up article, I give more insights and tips on how to harness positive thinking using the latest psychological research on the topic.
The power of positive thinking is prolific in our culture. It is extolled in the works of W. Clement Stone (Success Through Positive Mental Attitude), Anthony Robins (Personal Power), Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich), Og Mandino (The Greatest Salesman in the World), Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), and many others. It has become so prolific that scientists have begun to study how and why it works (or doesn’t) and what they have discovered may surprise you.
When we think of positive thinking we often think of positive self-talk. Positive self-talk and its brother, negative self-talk, has us declaring what is or what will be. We may say that “I can win the race,” or “I am too weak to complete the marathon.” These are declarative statements and can be effective in achieving an outcome, either good or bad. Scientists have found, however, that more effective than declarative self-talk is Interrogative self-talk. In this form of self-talk, rather than making a statement we ask a question. We may say, “Can I give a great presentation?”
In a groundbreaking 2010 study Dr. Kenji Naguchi and others at the University of Mississippi proved the power of Interrogative self-talk. They showed that subjects primed with an interrogative mindset solved 50% more anagram puzzles than those primed with a declarative mindset. Further studies showed that subjects with an interrogative predisposition solved twice as many anagrams as those without. Scientists believe there are two reasons that this is the case.
1) Interrogative self-talk elicits answers that contain strategies and summon resources to accomplish the goal.
2) Interrogative self-talk surfaces intrinsic motivations and elicits reasons that one desires the outcome.
Researchers have also found that too much or too little positivity is counter-productive. Barb Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina is a world leading authority on the subject of positivity. According to Dr. Fredrickson, negativity narrows our vision for tactical survival in the moment, while positivity broadens our ideas about possible actions and increases our creativity. Fredrickson’s research has shown that a ratio of positive to negative emotions between 3:1 and 10:1 yields better overall well-being that ratios outside this range. Too much negativity weighs you down. Too much positivity leads to delusions and robs you of feedback that you need to improve.
More optimism also leads to higher performance and better resilience. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania is the originator of Positive Psychology, which is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. In one of his famous studies, Seligman discovered that optimistic salesmen outsell their more pessimistic counterparts by 37% and are twice as likely to not quit their jobs. So, optimism improves performance and yields longevity. Seligman also found in his studies that people’s explanatory style have a big impact on whether they give up quickly or not. People with pessimistic explanatory styles see setbacks as permanent, pervasive, and personal. An optimistic explanatory style is upbeat and sees setbacks as temporary and situational.
So, what does this have to do with climbing? Well, we can use this information to create a mindset with the right dose of optimism that leads to optimal performance and can have us climbing and staying psyched about climbing for as long as possible.
Tips to Help You Put This Knowledge Into Practice In Your Climbing
1) Practice interrogative self-talk. When you are thinking about your next climb, rather than tell yourself that you can do it, ask yourself if you are ready for it. Try listing 5 reasons why you are ready. This will help you be/get prepared and give you the confidence needed to send it.
2) Understand and monitor your positivity ratio. Go to Dr. Fredrickson’s website (http://positivityratio.com/) and find out your positivity ratio. Are you between 3:1 and 10:1? You can track this over time to see where you are. If you are too positive, consider what things are not going as well as you’d like and try and understand why. If you are too negative, try reflecting on what is going well and being grateful for all that is good in your life.
3) Work on your explanatory style. When a setback such as failing on a climb occurs ask yourself whether the failure is permanent, pervasive, and personal. Convince yourself that it is not.
4) Recognize when you truly mess up. If you fail on a route because of lack of training or because you lost focus, ‘fess up. Think about how to fix that for next time. Remember, negative emotions provide us critical negative feedback that keeps us growing and thriving.
I hope that you found this article useful and that you can put some of the knowledge in it to use in your climbing. What do you think?