Gorilla Glue: Self-Awareness and Reflection

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. -Confucius

Reflection leads to self-awareness and self-awareness leads to wise and confident action.  It sounds simple enough, but somehow quality reflection gets lost in the hustle and bustle of sport… of life.  This is unfortunate, because reflection is perhaps the most powerful tool for learning and achieving inside and outside of sport.  Without appreciating and embracing quality reflective practice one is left simply spinning his wheels and going nowhere.

This “spinning of wheels and going nowhere” is regularly seen in the application of enticing, mental training tools or tricks.  Technology impresses many.  Assessment of psychological traits has a certain allure.  Quick sound bites feel inspiring.  This being said, all fall short when it is forgotten that at the core these are all simply means for awareness and reflection.  Take a closer look:

Biofeedback and other technological bells and whistles – EEG, skin conductance, golf’s K-vest, and the rest are technologically aided reflection.  The bells beep.  The computer monitors make our physiology look like an X-Box game.  The machine leads the athlete to higher performance… or does it?  If the “machine leads” the athlete, high performance is not likely achieved or maintained.  At its best, biofeedback enhances an athletes reflection on various physiological modalities.  One can monitor their heart rate or breathing without the high tech toys, but they can lead a thoughtful athlete to more precision in reflection and most efficient learning.  When the athlete reflects (hear “athlete leads”), self-awareness about whatever psycho-physiological domain is being feed back is heightened.  Better self-regulation is likely to follow.  Technology without reflection however is to often simply an entertaining way to kill a few hours.

Psychometric assessment – The Myers-Briggs, 16PF, TAIS, and various other assessment devices are objective measures that facilitate self-awareness.  Much of what is garnered by the completion of various likert scales, their analysis, and sharing of pretty bar charts could be gained during a period of time reflecting with a sport psychology professional or through a period of self-study and analysis.  A well designed scale however may speed up these processes if the athlete is aware that full mental engagement must continue past completion of a series of questions.  A battery of valid and reliable tests will give a team mental toughness and help them play better… or do they?  Athletes, teams, and coaches that are excited to learn about their strengths and areas for development and plan to set goals after learning about themselves, may facilitate this process by employing assessment devices.  A set of questions and fancy reports in of themselves however fall flat.

Inspirational quotes – These are wonderful turn of phrases, but without the reader taking a few moments, minutes, hours to reflect upon their wisdom they are nothing more than an entertaining read.  Not that there is anything wrong with an entertaining read, but the athlete in which these soundbites truly resonate is the one that finds success most quickly.  The inspirational saying pained on the locker room wall in team colors will motivate, toughen, and inspire… or will it?  Perhaps this is where the saying, “Talk is cheap,” rings loud.  While it is quick to read and seemingly easy to understand, it is critical that an athlete takes a moment to think about how the saying relates to “my” current reality.  What does this phrase look like in action?  The best quotes were not written to pump someone up, but rather to give a small window into the foundations of achievement and performance.  To succeed with quotes, the athlete must open the window and crawl inside.  Explore (reflect up) the idea to which a glimpse was given and genuine change will follow.

In a day and age of technology and over-scheduling, it is critical to engage the “noblest” form of learning – reflection.  It is truly the Gorilla glue that makes new teachings resonate in the moment and stick for a life-time of high performance.  Take advantage of valid protocols that are available to aid one’s quest towards great play… but never forget that the cultivation of the self-awareness for long term growth does not lie in a computer’s mainframe, a bar graph output, or trite saying, but rather in the personal reflection that accompanies.

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