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Charlie Unwin - Episode 5 - Believing in your Potential

Watch Episode 5 here


If you would prefer to read Charlie's latest blog - check out the video transcript below

Amy Williams:

Hello, it's Amy Williams here for the U Perform channel. Thank you for joining us again. I have Charlie. Good to see you again. Today, we're talking about believing in your potential. This sounds like an absolute minefield...

Charlie Unwin:

A 'mind field'. Yeah, I think it can be, you know, this is one of my favorite topics and one of the topics that got me into psychology in the first place, because I think so much of how we perform is left to our unconscious and our beliefs, the beliefs that we have, the thoughts we have rattling around our heads about our own abilities, about our competitor's abilities, about the world around us, manifest themselves in the way that we perform in the way that we behave. So it's a big topic.

Amy Williams:

It is. Wow. First of all, let's start off. Why is belief so important?

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. Do you know the best way or the best example of this comes from a very popularized story, but it's one that I think we should be teaching our children for generations, which was around Roger Bannister. And most people know that Roger Bannister was the first person to ever run a mile in under four minutes. But the story is one of belief, not necessarily one that people understand the nuances of, because the record hadn't been broken about 20 years, people were trying to break this record. I think the record was about four minutes, one seconds for 22 years. And people started to believe that it wasn't possible. The closer they got to it, the less likely they were to do it. And in particular, one guy, John Landy, who is one of Roger Bannister's competitors said, I'm starting to believe it. It can't be done.

The journal of exercise physiology. So a very credible source of science. They seem to think that it was impossible that the oxygen uptake of the lungs, wasn't sufficient to be able to move the muscles in a way that you could do this. So there was a lot of evidence to suggest that it wasn't possible. Roger Bannister, however, was the only one really at the time who said, no, no, I believe it is possible. And he said, thoughts like that have a way of sinking to your feet. And I thought that was a lovely quote:

 

"Thoughts like that have a way of sinking to your feet."

 

It was kind of like the early suggestion of sports psychology, which wasn't really around in those days. Anyway. Funny enough. 1954, the date was, and Roger Bannister did it. It was amazing. And what people don't always realize is what happened after he did it. Within just a month, John Landy, the person said it wasn't possible then went and broke his record. So came in, not just on the four minutes, but actually he thrashed it and came in, I think three minutes, 57, something like that.

Within two years, 16 people had done it. So no one had been able to get even close to it for 22 years. And within two years, 16 people have done it. What does that suggest? It only suggests that our beliefs have a way of manifesting in the way that we perform.

Amy Williams:

Yeah. Super, super strong story for any young athlete or just in the normal workspace - to really believe things can happen.

Charlie Unwin:

Absolutely. If we don't believe something's possible, we won't do it. And of course that's the great Henry Ford quotes: "There are those that believe they can, and those that believe they can't, and they're both right." So I think what we need to do is we, we need to kind of understand what's going on here and, and get underneath the surface of it.

Amy Williams:

So Charlie, let's get into the nitty gritty of this. How can our beliefs then go on and affect our performance?

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. Well, there are a few really useful reference points for us. I think the first point to make; is we need to understand what different kinds of beliefs that we have. So we might have beliefs as an athlete about our ability, what can we do, what can't we do? And that was summed up brilliantly by the Roger Bannister story.

But we also have beliefs in us as human beings, you know, our own beliefs. Do I belong here? Do I have the rights to be here? And it's amazing how many athletes ask themselves that question on the start line isn't it? We have beliefs about the world as well. So amazing research shows that people with a positive belief about the future are less likely to experience anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, stuff like that. And the more likely to go about their day to day in a much more positive way.

And of course, by going about your day to day in a more positive way, you start to affect the people around you, the environment that you're in, and that then plays itself back, on how you are. So positive beliefs start to manifest themselves in ways that we wouldn't even know.

And that's what I love about this, because so much of it is unconscious. We almost have to trust the process. So what is the process to anchor this? What I've got here is the notion of self-fulfilling prophecy, which you may have heard of before, but it's really simple. So we start with our beliefs. A belief, that will influence my behavior. Okay. So if I'm an athlete and I'm warming up around all my other competitors, which seems to be a kind of cauldron of psychology, that moment; if I believe I belong there, if I believe that I have plan, I have the right plan and that I'm capable of executing that plan, then that's going to influence my behaviors.

Suddenly I'm going to be much more focused on the little things that I'm trying to do. One step at a time. I'm not going to be as worried about what other people are doing. So it's already my beliefs influencing my behavior. And of course my behavior then starts to affect my performance. I'm going to perform better as a result of doing those things. Now, if that's positive, then we get to a point where we perform better, which then of course reinforces my beliefs. I can do this! I can do it because I've done it. And that's the most powerful kind of form of reinforcement that we can have.

But of course it works negatively as well. If, if my negative beliefs have influenced my behavior, I've under-performed. It reinforces the fact that I can't do this. And so we get this very powerful, reinforcing effect. A kind of a vicious cycle or a positive cycle. If we look at it in that way.

Amy Williams:

So I'm listening to you talk all about this. And my brain is starting to think, hang on a minute, that last phone call you make before race to your parents who are wishing you good luck or whatever word they might use, or in the car on the way home from having played at a rugby match, all of those influences are really going to impact this negative or positive. And I wonder if those other people, they're not going to have a clue what impact that might have on you?

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah, you're right. There is so many things in our environments that affects the way we think and the beliefs that we have at any given point in time. And you highlight other people there. I mean, think about the coach-athlete relationship. It's essential, isn't it? That the coach inspires belief, but in themselves, they believe in the person that they're working with.

And of course this, isn't just a sporting thing. This accounts for parenthood. It accounts for work, business life, the earliest studies, funnily enough, were around that very thing. So Robert Rosenthal was the first person to really develop this notion of self fulfilling prophecy. In fact, his first study was done with lab rats, believe it or not. Where they got a bunch of young students. And these students had to train these rats, how to get round a maze; learn a maze as quickly as possible.

One group of students were told that they had a group of maze dole rats. In other words, they were pretty stupid and they're bred to be stupid. And the other group were told that these rats were really clever rats, and they've been bred to be really good at this. And as a result, what happened was the really clever rats were able to complete the maze much quicker, but what were they told at the end? There was no difference between the rats whatsoever. In fact, the only difference was the belief of the experimenters; if they believe the rats were clever.

So we're talking about how beliefs affect animals that we can't even communicate with on the same level. So imagine how much more complex that becomes for human. And of course that's been extended to schools and education which I think is one of the most profound messages for teachers, for example, because they've done exactly the same studies with kids and found that, you know, kids who were labeled as clever or intelligence did much better, but actually the only person who thought they were more intelligent were the teachers, they were very unethical studies back in the day.

Amy Williams:

Clearly.

Charlie Unwin:

So we're working with the environment as well. But I think fundamentally we choose our own beliefs right? And, that's the thing that we have to really work on with athletes. What are the beliefs that you're choosing to harbour to think about to repeat? Because I'm guessing this must have been really important for you, especially under the pressure of say an Olympic Games. These beliefs start to become magnified. You start to really shine the light on them right?

Amy Williams:

Yeah. You know, for me it was, it was this kind of strange kind of thing. So when I was training, I knew that I put down the fastest runs. I knew I'd broken track records on tracks. I would look at my competitors, all your timing at the end of the day, you got your times and your sheets. And my name was there and either on the top or that top three, and then it would come to the race day and you then told yourself, well, I have to win. I have to get a medal because I've shown that I have, and I have stats and numbers and figures, solid evidence to know. And then maybe you have that race that you don't win. You don't come first. You don't come second. Maybe you don't even come third. And then it's that kind of, okay, am I going to spiral into this negative place?

Charlie Unwin:

You hadn't won a major race until the Olympics? The Olympics was your first major that you won. So that, I mean, that's, that's quite a rare thing. Right? Because having the belief that you could do that having not proven it to yourself before, that's quite special.

Amy Williams:

Yeah. I think for the years leading up, I was always in that top three place, you know, I know I would definitely get a top six, every race, top six for the few years before the Olympics. And then it got to that. Okay. Well, every race I'm somewhere on the podium. I'm not ever first I'm second or third. And my coach dubbed me the training champion because in training, when the results don't really matter, I broke records. I could beat everyone. And then why, when I stood on the start line on race day, although I told myself I have to win, I can win. I sort of didn't.

And so I felt like my times were still very consistent still, but it was like everyone else, all the other competitors found this extra edge. And I think it sort of got to that point of, that I'm at the Olympics. I had got a silver medal on that Olympic track one year previously in the world champs. So still didn't win, but I was second. Then it got to the Olympics again. And in those six runs that you learn in the track. I was putting down the fastest runs. I was like, I can nail this. I can win the Olympics, but then still standing on the start line. Well am I going to do it? Or am I just training champion again?

Charlie Unwin:

It sounds like within that cocktail, there's some really positive beliefs. Like, I know I have the ability. I mean, that's essential, right? You've got to know you're capable of going through the process and producing the results. But then you have that greater belief about which could be angled at yourself, but it could be a bit more of a fatalistic approach of it's not my destiny to win this, which could have been a very damaging belief. And I think from what it sounds like with your story, you had to anchor on what you did know. You know, I do know I can do this. I do know I can perform more consistently than any other athlete. And that's a big, that's a big belief.

Amy Williams:

Yeah. The very last thoughts before I physically sprinted with my sled, I had a little tick box system, which was a little piece of paper with three boxes with ticks in. And that's the last thing I looked at before I went. And those ticks just represented exactly that. I have trained harder than anyone else, I've eaten better than anyone else. This is the last four years. I have put down those fastest times in training. You know, it was all these positive things, tick, tick, tick. And then I had to just empty my brain and think if it is meant to be, this will happen that destiny almost, like you have worked harder than anyone else. And I truly believed and deep down knew I had done everything better than any other athlete.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. Amazing. And then maybe we can just pull out then a few tips for people to go away with because there's some, there's some really nice sort of practical examples in there.

Firstly, and sometimes we take this for granted. We're not aware of the beliefs that we have. And I think that's one of the most important takeaways of this - is how do we become more aware of the beliefs that are helping or hindering us and ask yourself that question as well. Ask yourself, okay, firstly, what is the belief that I have and then say, is this helping me? Or is this hindering me? Because the second point I'd say, is that we have a choice and what you did brilliantly, there is you exercise your choice of what you wanted to believe in. Okay? You couldn't get away from the fact that you hadn't won a major competition up until that point, but you don't have to invest in that thought or in that belief because you have so many other positive beliefs you can invest in.

So that then leads to writing things down. And it's amazing. Many athletes don't do this because beliefs are things that we have to practice like any other physical skill. So they are thought habits. And if they go unchecked, we don't:

  1. A) We're not aware of them.

 

  1. B) We can't really change them.

So by writing them down, it makes the whole process much more deliberate. And I'm assuming probably that, that belief, each of those beliefs was anchored maybe against a certain part of your routine or, you know, the day before or before you were about to do this, you would remind yourself this. Is that right?

Amy Williams:

Yeah. I would, I was always writing things down and my track note books, and I'm telling young athletes now write things down, write down your thoughts. And, and I had to tell myself, look, this track is super-fast at the Olympics. You have to love the speed. Otherwise you won't win. You know, so I'd write that down, write it physically down. Or other tracks that I might have been really scared of. Amy. You're scared of this track. You hate day one of training and then you love it. And then the next year that you'd go to that, you can write it, read back on your thoughts. Oh yeah, I told myself this thought process. Now I'm going to believe it because I believe my own words. If I told myself, you do love it, you have to kind of acknowledge it. And for me, writing it down was a really powerful thing.

Charlie Unwin:

And your story is great because it highlights something a lot of people are challenged with is that they have to first prove it to themselves before they're prepared to believe it. It's like they have this glass ceiling and some athletes are brilliant at just smashing through it so that they have this vision of something that they can do, even though they haven't yet done it. And others need to prove it to themselves and where it's the latter. It is a case of being able to anchor all the things that you do know and be much more deliberate about that. So, uh, yeah, really inspiring story, but that what sits behind it, I think are principles that we can all really learn from

Amy Williams:

Charlie as always, I find this so fascinating and I love going back to my old kind of stories. I'm guessing there's a lot more, we can still learn though.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah, there is. And next week what we're going to do; is if belief is kind of up at this level and it's the broader thoughts that we have around what we do. We're going to zoom in a little bit and just look at how we can think more positively on a day to day basis and also how to overcome negative thinking, which we all have. But we can train ourselves to think differently. So yeah, we'll do that next week.

Amy Williams:

All right. Well, I can't wait to get to that point and learn a little bit more. Thank you very much for listening today. Subscribe, hit that bell, set your reminders and we will see you next time!


Make sure to tune in next Thursday for Episode 6

See you then!

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