When I go out for a walk over the fields near where I live, sometimes I like to practice 'walking the gate'.
Wily, I hear you ask, pray tell me what is walking the gate?
Walking the gate means I climb up on the gate post and walk across the top of the metal farm gate pictured above, balancing from one side to the other.
I'm a little over 6ft 2 inches, reasonably fit, but have sciatica from a couple of herniated disks (and some buried unconscious processes that I am still routing out -- but that's another story). Point is, I really don't want to fall off the gate. I did it once when my legs got twisted as I wobbled the wrong way and I fell sideways onto the hard dry mud like a felled redwood! So I feel nerves when I get up there. As a kid heights meant nothing. I had no internal images of pain to make me feel afraid. But now at my age, I have a whole mental album of my own experiences of physical pain (plus far too many clips of people hurting themselves courtesy of all those funny video TV shows and web sites!).
Images of me falling start to pop into my mind. I take a step and then quickly step back onto the solid safety of the post. I take a step or two out onto the gate and I start to wobble and I freeze. A voice comes in my head saying, "you're gonna fall, you're gonna fall!" And I fall off with an air of quiet resignation, a sort of 'told you so' feeling.
I climb back onto the gate post to try again. I expect to fall, so I take a half hearted step out and jump gently down, softening my landing with a hand on the gate.
When I think about falling, I fall.
When I listen to the voices in my head, I fall.
When I look at the fearful internal pictures, I fall.
So if I want to reach my goal of getting to the other side, I have to do things differently.
Practice makes perfect
Part of success is just trying over and over again, getting a little bit further each time. That's fine when you are balancing across the top of a gate that is only 4-to-5 ft off the ground, you can land and quickly get up again. But if I was balancing across a wire between two high rise buildings ... I really can't afford the luxury of falling off repeatedly. Once will see me off!
Changing the internal images
Maxwell Maltz taught us the psychocybernetic principle of changing the internal self-image. You start to shift your self-concept from someone who is a 'fall-er' (failure) to someone who 'can do it' (a success). By centreing myself, breathing and calming my mind, I can STOP the images of me falling, and TAKE CONTROL of my mind. I choose pictures of me walking easily and calmly across the gate and getting to the other side.
Anchoring the success images
Using an NLP anchoring technique, I can visualise myself successfully crossing the gate and feeling elation on the other side. I can squeeze my right wrist for a few seconds to anchor that feeling of success. Then after I have done that many times and really solidified the anchor, I can fire it off just before I attempt to cross the gate for real. This triggers my feelings of confidence and success.
Fierce concentration while walking the gate
All the preparation is great but it can go to pieces when I am actually standing out there on the gate, with the metal bar wobbling beneath my welling boot. What I have found is that only 100% focus will get me to the other side. I have to lock-on to the opposite gate post. It is a wooden pole about the thickness of a telegraph pole, and has concentric rings so it's really like a target on the top. I just focus in on the very centre of the top of the gate post and start walking towards it. Sometimes the thought stream will burst forth with some new fear or mental static. If I give it my attention, I start to wobble and will fall. If I ignore it, and force my eyes to focus and concentrate on the target, even if I am wobbling like crazy on one leg with my arms waving around for balance, if I can start to move forward towards the target, I can cross the gate. It is almost as though my concentration ties me to the target so that I cannot fall.
Goal achievement metaphor
I think my 'walking the gate' game is a marvellous metaphor for any kind of goal achievement. When you set out to achieve something big, often the negative voices and images come into your mind, and you begin with an attitude where you expect to fail. And when you do fail, you let that experience add weight to the negative inner voices and to your negative self-image. If you stick at it, and try again, you will probably improve over time and that experience will transform you. If you visualise yourself succeeding over and over and remember past successes, you will build a strong, capable self-image and will be more likely to succeed this time. But nothing succeeds quite like a 100% no-excuses, no-distractions laser-focus and total concentration on the target. With that 100% commitment, you overcome all obstacles, plow through all difficulties, and walk the narrow pathway directly to the achievement of your goal.
To your success,
Wily the Gate Walker!