In the academic year 13/14, I studied for my Masters degree in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship.  I could honestly say that it was one of the best experiences of my life.  My eyes were opened to many new thoughts from different realms of knowledge. I also absorbed much inspiration from meeting people at the helm of making a positive impact for themselves and others!  One of my fondest memories was when I met Olivia Stefanino – an author, speaker, and coach – who delivered an hour’s session about the power of the two minds.  What I learnt that day started a catalyst of changes in my mindset for the better.  This article gives tribute to Olivia’s amazing work, by sharing a key learning point about the two minds that I acquired that day in the classroom back in 2014.  I also reflect how this applies to my martial arts journey, so that you may too take some inspiration and use it to enhance your performance. 

Before reading on, I encourage you to read my article: Control the Excuse Artist within. That article outlines three main areas of excuses we tell ourselves and others that are detrimental to our progress.  Once you know which type you mostly associate with, use this article to reflect how you can train your two minds going forward.

The two minds

Prior to this class, I had a vague idea about the power of the two minds: the conscious and subconscious.  I knew that the conscious mind is the one we’re actively aware of when we think and make decisions.  I also knew that the subconscious mind is the one that operates ‘behind the scenes’, such as when we dream.  However, I wasn’t sure how these two minds interrelated, and also the full extent of each in our daily lives.

The lesson: Your subconscious mind can control you consciously!

Yes, you heard (or rather, read) that right!  Your subconscious mind can control your reaction without you even thinking about it.  As a hands-on teacher, Olivia demonstrated this message through using a volunteer. 

The volunteer, let’s call her Jade, was asked to stand facing the rest of the class.  Olivia asked Jade to outstretch her left arm to shoulder level.  She then placed a hand on top of Jade’s. Jade was then asked to resist whilst Olivia gently tried to push down her arm.  We, the class, all watched intrigued.  That, Olivia explained, was the student’s default resistance to the pressure.

Next, Jade was asked to hold a small bag of sugar with her right hand. The exercise was repeated. We noticed that Jade’s arm showed much less resistance than before.

As the final test, the sugar was replaced by a water bottle of the same weight.  This time, as the exercise was repeated, we all watched in astonishment as the arm stayed practically rigid.  It appeared even stronger than what we had witnessed during the first attempt!  Jade verified that the same amount of pressure was applied to her hand all three times.

So, what caused the difference in each trial?

Olivia explained that when Jade was holding sugar, the subconscious mind knew it was not beneficial to the body.  As a response, the body weakened.  By contrast, when given the bottle of water, the subconscious mind registered that water strengths the body. As a result, the mind triggered greater strength in the body than Jade’s original state.

Decoding the lesson

This exercise made me understand better the power of the two minds. Our performance and thoughts are governed by both, even when we think we are making conscious decisions – and not to mention the effect of water! 

More specifically relating to the power of the two minds for training, I actually spoke to Olivia about this following the session.  I learnt that you can consciously tell yourself to do something, but the subconscious mind can still hold you back from fully committing to it because that view has been embedded for a much longer period of time.  It may be so deeply entrenched that you don’t know how it came about or why it’s there.

At that time, one of my training goals was to perform a good jump side kick in the air before landing on the crash mat.  This was something my instructor used as a 10-minute activity at the end of every class.  I remember always telling myself I was doing to do it this time around. However, when the time came, I always decelerated at the final few steps, which reduced my launch power and actual execution of the kick.  Frankly, it didn’t look great.  Until this inspirational class, I didn’t properly understand why I hesitated at the last moment when I had talked myself consciously into going for it.  Now it was made clearer: my subconscious mind wasn’t bought into the idea!

How can this improve your training?

I probed Olivia about how I could work to overcome this mindset barrier and other mindset hesitation points that I felt were preventing me from becoming the martial arts practitioner that I aspired to become.  Her response was:

Work on your subconscious mind by working on your conscious mind.

The mindset needed training consciously to eventually embed the message subconsciously.

If you think about it, we actually use our subconscious mind more than we think.  Let’s take training as the example here.  We can learn a sequence of movements, a form, a hyung, a kata…whatever you call it in your martial art.  At the first stage of learning, we’re really conscious of what we’re doing, and typically more rigid and slow.  As we repeat, we begin to consciously think less, but subconsciously think more.  Once repeated many, many times, we can perform it from start to finish pretty much on autopilot.  Therefore, just how we do this physically for training, we should apply similar principles to train our mind to overcome challenges.

Curious about the exercise outlined above?  Don’t be shy to give it a try with a friend and see what results you get! 

Sabrina Mistry

As a qualified Personal Trainer and 2nd Dan traditional martial artist, Sabrina combines both to deliver workout programmes, martial arts instruction and fitness classes that are designed with the longer-term health of the body in mind. Get connected on Instagram and Facebook: @beyondthedojang

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