Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mental Phrasing

How you phrase things matters.

There are a lot of reasons why I have become as good at Melee as I have.  Chief among them, however, has been the belief that I could do so.  And this belief has been shaped by a lot of things.  One of the most important ways I think differently from other people comes from the way I mentally phrase things.  I lost in the semi-finals of winner's bracket of a tournament, and somebody said, "ah so that means you're fighting for fifth, right?"

I responded, "no, I'm fighting for first."

I'm not sure if I rocked this person's world or not by saying that.  I know that I've said it more times than I can remember, to lower-level players saying "we're playing for ninth place," or something like that.  Because, underscoring every tournament I enter, has always been an intent to win the entire thing.  When I meet somebody who acknowledges they have a barrier they can't beat, a player they will never be as good as, I'm secretly delighted.  Because even if that player is better than me, I know they won't stay above me for long.  I'm always playing for first place, even if I can't do anything today but play for it in the long term.

Yes, this makes me a badass, and I like telling this story because it makes me look good.  But it highlights something else, something extremely important.  The way you think about things alters what you pay attention to.  The things you pay attention to affect what you learn.  What you learn affects what you do.  It's not a mystical, philosophical process ripped from The Secret, where you become a winner just by believing you are one.

It's also worth mentioning that I'm not the best player in the world.  I didn't make my goal of best player ever, and my competitive days are nearly at an end.  Once Evo has come and gone, which is in less than half a month, I will no long direct my energy to being a competitive Melee player.

But the thing is I'm still really darn good at this game.  And I'm infinitely better than I had any right to expect from when I started.  I displayed no specific talent, except a particular thought habit, which was I went into each tournament thinking "how am I going to beat every single person here?"  Even when I was a scrubby seventeen year-old Link player in Texas that couldn't beat his brother's Sheik, a brother that had never (nor ever would) enter a tournament.  It's actually pretty astounding, how much hubris I had.  But I entered my first major, after about six months of play, with 128 entrants and some of the best players in the country at the time attending.  And I seriously asked myself, "how can I take first?"  I got something like fiftieth.  Didn't matter.  I wouldn't win a tournament in Texas for something like two or three years.  Didn't matter.

Two or three years, to win a local.  These are not results that an infomercial would use to get you to pull out your wallet at two-thirty in the morning.  The power of positive thinking is not a magic pill that Popeyes the crap out of your mental forearms and turns you into an unstoppable engine of success and glory.

But what's strange is that now, I've become a barrier so insurmountable to some people, they legitimately think I'm just ultra talented and they'll never be as good as me.  It makes me laugh and it makes me angry, because I think about the low-level locals I got like 13th place at for a year before moving to AZ, where I was also average at best.  My belief sustained me for years of failure.  The thought of me being talented at this game is a giant joke, particularly to anybody who has known me from the start.  The most talent you would have seen in me was the energy I directed towards winning.  I finally started improving noticeably when I had frequent access to one of the most ruthless training partners in Arizona, the one who literally is capable of murdering your hope.  Unlike almost everybody else, I never stopped trying to believe I would one day beat him.  and I improved, slowly but steadily, and actually managed to win in tournament against him (though rarely).

Oh, and no, I'm not really a badass.  I give up and quit and walk away dejected and depressed from events all the time.  My resolve fails me constantly.  I get caught up in tangles of negative thoughts and self-deprecation until I don't want to play anymore.  It slowly fades, and I kick myself for it, and I get back in line to play again.

And that's because how you phrase things matters.

How you phrase things matters, because the brain thinks associatively.  And the associations trigger the release of various hormones and chemicals that change how you feel.  And little changes in how you feel will make you think about things a little differently, respond a little differently.  Little differences turn into big ones over time.  It matters.

Little phrases and mantras make me feel a certain way.  One of my favorites, in recent times, has been, "I am equal to my task."  I get this tremendous surge of inspiration from thinking this thought, as opposed to "I can do this."  Some people like saying "I can do this," but I don't.  "I can do this" feels too reflexive, too weak.  It can even be judgmental, "I can...but for some reason, I'm not."  It feels desperate.

The phrase "I am equal to my task" tells me that it's 50/50.  That I have the capability to succeed and fail, so even though I'm striving for success, failure is not to be feared or hated.  It tells me that the more daunting and ridiculous my task, the more impossible and absurd the endeavor, the more of a badass I am for undertaking it, because I am that task's equal.

One helps me, the other doesn't.  It's based on associations in my head, built over time through your experiences.  Finding the thoughts that trigger successful, better behaviors is a personal thing, because.  So when I say, "think a certain way," it's not really that helpful.  It's another vantage point for you to view things from, another data point for you to use to model your own universe.  To get you to notice the complicated emotional process that happens just by choosing to think one thought over another, and the results that follow.

What thought patterns make you feel like an invincible engine of pure potential?  Which ones cripple you?  Notice it, because how you phrase things matters.

I've become more interested in working out and challenging my body lately.  I actually had a workout so tiring on me that I felt like crying afterward.  Not from pain or strain, I just felt like I'd been beaten into the ground by the universe.  I might have cried, actually, I can't even remember.  I felt completely blasted, like my workout had beaten me, even though I finished it.  And one phrase stuck with me, from somebody else's blog, talking about people he'd done CrossFit with.  "It's a common sight...  letting tears flow from their overwhelming elation especially after finishing a workout that they once thought wrongly they had no business even trying."

So it's not too surprising.  The important part are the words at the end, "they once thought wrongly they had no business even trying."  I think that phrase, and it creates a story in my head.  Where somebody goes into a workout thinking, "there is no way I can do that" and tries it anyhow.  Somebody being in vastly superior company, and basically falls across the finish line almost entirely on the basis of their determination.  The fitter and stronger people are watching and thinking to themselves, "holy crap, how did you even finish at all?"  That's how tough it was.  When it comes to fitness, being in great shape is amazing.  But there really is something about completing a stupidly demanding workout when you are in poor shape, when your body doesn't seem, by any metric, to have the capacity to finish, but you dig as deep as you can just to scrape by. Our heroes of fiction aren't always unstoppable machines.  In fact, they're the ones who search as deep within themselves as they can to find strength to just barely surmount their obstacles.

Imagine confronting something so daunting you want to give up just thinking about it.  Imagine it says, "you have no business even trying," and you reply with, "no."  And then you do it.  Alone, in front of everybody, doesn't matter.  Reality itself attempts to make you back down, and you get in reality's face and do it anyhow.

That one little phrase triggers all of that in me.  I literally start to tear up when I think this way.  And that giant emotional surge makes me want to do the impossible.  Things that seemed daunting no longer do.  I'm equal to the task.

A little turn of phrase, a change in how I think for a few seconds, and the experiences it creates in turn, it completely changes what I am willing and able to do.  If you want to learn the system of your self, you can legitimately transform it.

Thanks for reading.