When it comes to sports psychology, one big area is that of your self-talk. What you say to yourself makes a big impact on your performance.
(Just like with visualization, HOW you say it may be even more important than the words…)
And no, this doesn’t mean what you speak out loud to yourself, but much more often simply the thought words that run through your head.
They’re almost ever present but more often than not we don’t even notice what they’re saying…
The subtle voice in the back of your head whispering tales of defeat, uttering “You’re not good enough…”
Contrast that to the booming voice from within that confidently exclaims, “I’ve got this.”
So as I was reading through The Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein by Ed Spielman there were a couple of areas that caught my eye, because they gave some of the Atom’s internal dialog.
As we look at these examples we can learn HOW to think like the Atom, not just WHAT to think.
This stuff is pure gold! You may need to read it more than once and experiment with the ideas to mine that gold though.
For him, the bending of metal became a spiritual endeavor. He would invest the inanimate object with a being, a character of its own, as if it were his adversary.
“I am Man,” he would say, peering at it.
“I am possessed of the Power. You are metal … without will. My will is superior to you. The Power will overcome you. You will bend … you will break…”
An indescribable impulse, a wave of energy, would sweep over him, as if he were no longer himself but something much greater. He could feel it being transmitted out of his eyes and converging into the shiny steel, feel the waves of it over his face, coursing through his hands.
And at the zenith of this moment, when he had pitted his very being against that center-point of the object: “ … you will give way … NOW!”
The mind commanded, the body reacted, and the object inevitably succumbed.
Let’s look at this through the lens of NLP modeling just of the sensory representations used to get a better idea of what is going on.
peering at it
His external visual focus was on the object. It’s not fully stated but it’s easy to assume that his sole external focus was on the object, nothing else.
“I am Man. I am possessed of the Power. You are metal … without will. My will is superior to you. The Power will overcome you. You will bend … you will break…”
The Atom’s self-talk is quite obviously powerful in the words used. You can imagine that this was stated fully aligned and with the same kind of power behind the words.
An indescribable impulse, a wave of energy, would sweep over him…
The self-talk triggers these kinesthetic or feelings. Impulse, wave, sweep, all describe feelings that literally move over his body. With the words used you can again get a sense of power behind the feelings. This puts him into a state of…
…no longer himself but something much greater.
He could feel it being transmitted out of his eyes and converging into the shiny steel, feel the waves of it over his face, coursing through his hands.
From here the movement continues to flow up through his body and literally move out through his eyes and his hands into the object itself. Here a synesthesia between the external visual and the kinesthetic occurs.
If this isn’t qi I don’t know what is. Here’s an image that might reflect how this energy moves. (From The Healing Promise of Qi by Roger Jahnke.)
And at the zenith of this moment, when he had pitted his very being against that centerpoint of the object: “ … you will give way … NOW!”
This all comes to a zenith, or a high point, with all the submodalities amplified to a moment in time (now), bringing back in the internal dialog. Here every main sensory channel is in use together.
The full strategy looks something like this.
Ve -> Ad -> K -> Ve/K -> Ve/K/Ad
If that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it. 😉 That’s many months of NLP training summed up so I did it more for myself than anyone else. Perhaps I’ll cover strategies like this in more depth in the future…
Let’s move onto a different section of the book where the Atom talks to himself in a bit different of a way. Here we won’t look so much at the sensory details used but the mental frames brought up by questioning.
A preconditioning process would begin in his dressing room where he would sit and scrutinize a short, wide bar of steel or a horseshoe more challenging than the most difficult he had mastered. He would then air any unconscious excuses or evasion, honestly appraising any reasons for failure.
“Do I have any physical problems which will prevent me from achieving this?” he considered. “No.”
He went on. “Any psychological weakness? Family problems? Lack of resolve or any concern which I might allow to interfere?”
More serious consideration. “No. Problems of leverage, arm length? No.”
He looked at the bar. “It can be done. But must I really do this? Is it, at this moment, more important than my own life? Yes.”
Once he had examined all the reasons for failure and found none that were substantive, and had infused himself with the will to persevere, he went to then next step, putting himself in a position where there was no alternative, no way out. He announced to his audience that the herculean bar was his next feat. Failure was now out of the question; he had burned his bridges.
There’s some very cool things in here. First I want to point out this statement…
…air any unconscious excuses or evasion, honestly appraising any reasons for failure.
Notice that he talks about unconscious, not conscious, excuses. This becomes a bit clearer when you look at some of the questions he asks. Family problems? What does that have to do with being about to bend steel? Possibly everything!
Let’s look at each one of his questions in a bit more detail.
Psychological Weakness – This is a big subject. I’d personally break it down into more specific areas. But something you might look at is whether you chronically give up easily, aren’t willing to put in the work or any other number of “weaknesses” that psychologically hold you back.
Family Problems – Family troubles or any relationship troubles can certainly effect your strength. Anyone that has ever had a fight with a significant other then went to workout may be familiar with not being able to think clearly while you’re trying to train. The fight keeps popping back up in your thoughts. Good luck trying to exert your best self in that way (unless you’re channeling the anger, but that’s a bit different of a method than the Atom uses here, or what I would recommend for ultimate strength).
Lack of Resolve – This is asking for a firm commitment to the task at hand. Not being wishy-washy but resolved, meaning to decide firmly on a course of action. Notice the later it talks about “infused himself with the will to persevere”, which describes feelings of being in that state.
Any Concern – A catch all for anything else that might get in your way. Is there anything on your mind, perhaps work, finances, the guy that cut you off earlier, bad sleep, or something that stands in your way? These all need to be cleared up.
Problems of Leverage – This is really about technique and finding the right ways to apply leverage. If you have the right technique you’re good to go.
More Important Than My Own Life – Here is the ultimate culmination of everything. It you can really believe that this success is more important than your own life, this will allow you to put forth everything you possibly can. That is a powerful state! But truly getting here may not be easy. Notice that all the other questions sort of build up to this one. You couldn’t simply enter this state from the get go, but can work up to it via the other questions.
Elsewhere in the book it talks about the spiritual nature of the Atom’s strength. After he got shot point blank in the head and miraculously survived he became a bit more religious.
What is described here, at least to me, seems like becoming a clear channel for energy to flow to. Whether you want to think of it as from God or from something else is your choice. But becoming that clear channel so the energy can flow through you seems to be of utmost importance.
Then it is no longer about physical strength but being something much more. This is one of the reasons he was able to perform these feats well into old age.
Try thinking like the Mighty Atom did and you just might become as strong as him.
After all, he said, “Think that you are strong and you are.”
Here we’ve just covered some of the details on HOW to actually think that way. Try it out for yourself.
For much more on mental training check out the following resources: