Self Image in Agility (article)

Competition performance is a function of three mental processes; the Conscious Mind, the Subconscious and the Self Image.  The mind is like a submarine.  The Conscious Mind is the periscope/sonar system.  It is the eyes and ears of the boat as it gathers the information for decision making.  The captain depends on this information to determine where the boat will go next. The Subconscious is the engine.  It is nuclear powered and capable of attaining anything with training and time. How fast and far the boat travels is determined by the throttle/brake system on that engine and that is the Self Image.  Your Self Image, made up of your habits and your attitudes, makes you “act like you.”  It determines how fast and far you go toward your goals.

Every person has a special way of behaving in accordance with their Self Image.  Some people like to get up early.  It is like them.  Others like to get up late.  Some people think they are good at math.  Some people think that speaking before a group will likely terrify them.  Some people hope they can win.  Some people EXPECT TO WIN.

It is like us to operate within certain parameters.  We call this our comfort-zone.  The Self Image defines the upper and lower limits of the comfort-zone.  As long as we operate within our comfort-zone the Self Image is content to leave us alone because it is like us to behave within this region.  If, however, we start scoring lower than our limit, the Self Image will provide us with extra power to improve until we are back within the zone.  Likewise, if we are scoring better than our upper limit the Self Image tends to limit us or slow us down until we are back in the comfort-zone.

Here is an example.  When you experience a run that is normal for you with no unexpected delays on your part or the dogs that is “like you” and the Self Image has no need to correct.  You are “in your comfort zone”. But sometimes you might begin with a run that is well below your average time with seemingly no effort and then follow it with a much slower than normal run with all kinds of problems.  What happened?  The first run is not like you.  It was outside your comfort zone.  It was too fast, not like you.  Your Self Image needs to solve this problem by correcting a much-too-fast run with the balancing effect of a much-too-slow run.  Now, the average is like you and the Self Image is within its comfort zone once again.  When this happens you may not be aware of doing ANYTHING different on the two runs but your partner noticed it big time.  The dog responds to your comfort zone corrections whether you can detect them or not.

Beginning handlers tend to have comfort-zones that are quite wide with the upper and lower levels not well defined.  As one improves in skill and these limits become more predictable the upper and lower limits should begin to be closer to one another.  Elite performers strive for consistency in tournament scoring with very small comfort-zones.

When your place is well below where you expect it to be in a competition one place to look for answers is the Self Image.  

There is good news and bad news ahead.  The bad news is that your performance and your Self Image are almost always equal.  If you and your dog perform well in practice but poorly in competition there is a good chance that you need to change your Self Image.  There is more bad news.  The Self Image resists change.  This is actually a good thing.  If you changed too easily you would love things one day and detest them the next.  The good news is that Self Image can change but I admit it is not easy.

The problem for most of us is that we know something has to change for our time to improve we just do not want it to be us.  We’d prefer that our problem would be solved by buying the solution.  If we throw enough time and money at it then it will go away or simply solve itself.  We’d prefer that someone else be the problem instead of me, anything but me.  But, no one can change your Self Image for you.  You have to do it yourself and the first step is to admit that you are the problem.

So, once you have decided to change, how do you do it?  You can try the most common method used by frustrated performers that is certain to make you even more frustrated. Just train longer.  That is a good way to change your Subconscious mind but it will not change Self Image.  Training more rarely improves Self Image but imprinting the feel of a good performance always does.

The Self Image you have now got that way somehow.  Doesn’t it make sense that you would have to change it the same way?  You change it through imprinting.  Every time we have a clean fast run we imprint the Self Image that it is like us to perform this way.  This is called an environmental imprint.  Your environment gives you an indelible imprint, good or bad, every time you perform.  It becomes “like you”.  Every time you execute a run you risk getting a bad imprint.  However, you can imagine a clean run with 100% accuracy.  An imagined imprint is still an indelible imprint.  Now, I will admit that a clean fast run in a big competition tends to have a stronger imprint than an imagined imprint but which is easier for you to do?  We can imprint thousands of imagined perfect runs with 100% chance that they will be good.  All it takes is a little knowledge of how to do it correctly and a lot of effort.

My experience has been that the method of imprinting that is used affects the amount of Self Image change.  Visualization is not as effective in changing Self Image as is rehearsal.  OK, what is the difference?  Most handlers understand visualization to mean SEEING as clearly as you can what you are actually seeing when you perform an action.  I have even used the term in my work.  Many handlers are concerned that they cannot seem to get a sharp picture and do not really SEE clearly when they try to visualize.  I don’t think that the clarity matters.  In fact it is not what you SEE that is important but what you FEEL.  Rehearse the feeling of moving and executing commands in a fast run.  Don’t try to see it.  Try to FEEL it.  What does it feel like to execute a really good run?  When you imprint in this way you avoid having to clearly visualize and you reinforce the non-visual aspects of the run as well.

Another factor is WHEN you rehearse.  The best time to imprint is just before and just after performing.  Rehearse good technique both before and after a run.  This causes three imprints on each run and two of them are guaranteed to be perfect.  Not only does this greatly improve the chance of a better score but it causes the Self Image to grow at the same time.  There is a huge cumulative effect to doing this.  Can you imagine if you did this on every run for an entire competitive season?  What an advantage!  So, why do so few performers do this?  I believe it is because it takes extra effort and most people just are not willing to work that hard to win.  That is good news as well because if you are willing to expend the mental energy you have an advantage on those that are not that dedicated.

Another thing to consider is that we imprint continually.  The Self Image cannot tell the difference between past, present or future events as far as imprinting is concerned.  Each time you recall an experience the Self Image imprints it again as a new event.  If you think about a problem you had in the past, the Self Image imprints it again as if it has just happened.  If you imagine a future event your Self Image imprints it as occurring now.  You are in control of the imprinting process.  I won the Olympics thousands of times through imprinting in the years prior to the Gold medal.  Imprint anything you want to happen and you have improved your chances of it happening.

Be careful not to think about anything that you do not wish to have happen.  Do that and you imprint it as being like you.  Most performers worry that they will perform poorly in some part of their game. This normally intensifies just prior to a big competition.  What a mistake!  Keep your mind only on what you want to have happen.  If you catch yourself worrying say to yourself “I don’t go there anymore.”

Changing a Self Image that is keeping you from reaching your goals may be the most important skill you will ever learn.  I believe that you can change any attitude or habit you do not want.  You should experience a corresponding change in performance when the Self Image changes.  Here is how to do it in four steps.

One, you must be willing to change.  Our Self Image does not respond to the changes others want us to make.  You must decide for yourself and you must choose to do it NOW.

Second, you must identify specifically the habits and/or attitudes that you need to change.  Be specific.  For example; “I’m looking for a solution to worrying about performing below my average in the days just before a competition.”

Third, you must identify a new Self Image that is in direct conflict with your old one.  For Example; “I only think about what I want to have happen concerning up-coming competitions.”

Fourth, you exchange the old Self Image for the desired one by only imprinting the new attitude or habit and trying to eliminate imprinting the old one.  In my book With Winning in Mind I explain how to use a Directive Affirmation to do this in less than 21 days.

Remember, your Self Image is the CURRENT STATE of YOU.  It is not the FINAL state.  Your present is not your potential.  Be aware that your Self Image is evolving in the direction of your imprinting.  The better you control your imprinting the better captain you will be of the submarine that is taking you to your goals.


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