Training Your Brain

In my last blog, The Mental Aspect of Competing, I looked into different ways that your mind can affect your game. It ventured into how we think as a player, practice versus playing, and why our performance can differ from practice to competition. It covered the aspect of creating a strong mind for you, as a player, because it is the belief that only those players with a strong mind are going to compete at the higher levels and only those players with a strong mind are going to consistently win.

The term “hypnosis” comes from the ancient Greek word hypnos, which means ‘sleep’. The terms “hypnosis” and “hypnotism” both derive from the term “neuro-hypnotism” which means ‘nervous sleep’. I got the nickname ‘Sleepy’ because I used to be able to sleep a lot when I was younger. Nowadays, I use it because I never get to sleep enough and I am always tired. Hypnos is the Greek God of sleep. Now that’s a god I can worship easily!

What is hypnosis? The dictionary describes it as: the induction of a state of consciousness in which a person apparently loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction. It is used in therapy, typically to recover suppressed memories or to allow modification of behavior by suggestion. Hypnosis can be a useful tool for anyone who wishes to master certain abilities or accomplish specific tasks. Hypnosis is a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.

During hypnosis, a person is said to have heightened focus and concentration. The person can concentrate intensely on a specific thought or memory, while blocking out sources of distraction. Hypnotized subjects are said to show an increased response to suggestions.

Now we are not talking about some little, old lady dressed in black, hanging out in this dark, little tent in the corner of the latest carnival that showed up in town overnight. The sign out front says how Madame Beatrice will tell you all about your life while reading cards, or tell you all about your future while looking into her crystal ball. The concept has progressed a little further than that. Sports Hypnosis has been used for years by all levels of competitors from amateurs to professionals to enhance their sporting performance. Sports psychologists have been in business and assisting athletes for many years now and are a staple in the support staff of many professional sports teams.

And now you are probably sitting here saying to yourself: “hypnosis for darts?” That’s the craziest thing I have ever heard.  I was first introduced to the term “sports hypnosis” from my husband years ago. He mentioned that a few years before we met, he had undergone sports hypnotherapy because he was struggling with his game. About the only thing he told me about it was that it taught him how to win and that was the end of the conversation and probably all I wanted to understand about it at the time. About the only result I have seen from it in later years is that while I struggle for 30 to 45 minutes to get to sleep every night, he falls asleep in 2.5 seconds flat…much to my annoyance.

Some time ago I came across a website that was selling downloadable hypnosis sessions, called The Hypnodarts System, to improve your dart performance. I happened across the website again on the computer and decided to throw something together for a blog and maybe help out a player or two that has been struggling with their dart game. It claims to be used, endorsed and was created with the assistance of the world’s top pro’s: Tony ‘SilverBack’ O’Shea, Darryl ‘The Dazzler’ Fitton, Gary ‘Big Robbo’ Robson, Ross ‘The Boss’ Montgomery, this is a generic version of the system that guided Scott Mitchell to become the 2015 World Champion and also guided Glen Durrant to winning the 2015 World Masters and become world number one. Granted, these are all steel tip players in the British Darts Organization and not the true top players in the world.  And no, I am not endorsing these sessions or this company in any way and they are not paying me for this blog. I don’t even know who they are. As someone who has played a long time and has a lot of experience to share, I am asked a lot of questions by players that want to know these little, intricate details that can take them from the ‘Average Joe’ player to becoming one of the best. The last blog dealt with the mental aspect of competing, and this is a continuation of that train of thought that I had going. I do not in any way think I am the best advisor on the planet for dart players. But I did take the time to put some research together here in the hopes that some people will get a benefit from it.

Using hypnosis to train your mind is like using practice to train your body. Hypnosis can help you effectively handle the negative challenges you may face that can affect your performance. Some of the benefits received from the use of hypnosis are increased relaxation and the ability to manage stress and nervousness, while eliminating distractions and increasing concentration. Many of these tools are vital in a darts player’s performance.

Mental rehearsal, or visualization as some call it, involves using your imagination to practice or rehearse the future. For dart players, it can be visualizing being in a critical match and hitting that game winning shot. Using this positive visualization in your mind is teaching your mind to practice hitting the game winning shot. It can be just like you practice throwing your darts to hit that same winning shot. You are rehearsing the success in your mind consistently and always hitting that game winning shot, keeping your mind in the positive, which may not necessarily happen with your regular practice routines. We all have the same thoughts. We are practicing, and therefore, we are getting better because we are taking the time to practice. But then again, you may have had a bad day, or you are tired, and your practice may be sloppy and not as helpful as you think it might be.

When thinking about your dart game and where you want to go with it, it is also important to create what is called “positive expectation”. Expectation releases Dopamine, which is a motivational hormone. The fulfillment of an expectation releases Serotonin, which is a satisfaction hormone. So you have been called to your match and are ready to play. You have utilized hypnosis techniques to build up your reasonable expectations of finishing well at the tournament. The Dopamine release now creates the urge to satisfy that expectation, which increases your odds of doing well in the tournament in order to live up to your own expectations. It is important to set realistic expectations for yourself, but it is also even more important to not rehearse failures in your mind. This can lead to the buildup of negative expectations. Players can perform badly because they expect to perform badly, which then just reinforces their expectation of bad performance. How many times do you step to the line with a game winning shot needed and you have flashes of a negative thought of what you are going to do if you miss.  It can become a vicious cycle for any competitor that is difficult to break. Hypnosis has been known to break that cycle because it works with the part of the mind that is keeping that habit you created in place.

Your mind and body are connected and always in communication with each other. Hypnosis has had great effects in sports and a player’s performance because it allows transmission of the correct messages from the mind to the body. The mind is telling your body how to behave in certain situations. It allows your mind to control your nerves in crucial situations when an overabundance of nerves can cause a player to clutch or choke during a crucial game shot. Hypnosis can encourage your mind to tell your body at that crucial time to have more relaxed mechanics. The same mechanics you practice day after day so that your unconscious mind takes control while you are playing and you do the same thing over and over until you feel that you got it right.

In my readings on this subject, I discovered what is called the “inner game”, which is a topic made popular by W. Timothy Gallwey. In his writings, he says that every competitor is playing two games-the outward physical game and the game inside their head. It’s a running commentary of your thoughts, feelings and expectations about the physical game that can have a huge effect on how you play that physical game.

The story that was used as an example of this “inner game” was when Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile in 1954. Up until then, no one had ever run a mile in under four minutes and it was a given that no one ever would….and every runner believed it. That was until Bannister changed his thought process, or his “inner game” to beat that record. This is a prime example of how your mental attitude as a player can affect your physical capabilities.

Utilizing sports hypnosis can help you deal directly with your mind and developing that “inner game”, with the first part being to get rid of those negative elements of your mental game. An example that was presented used a golfer getting “the yips”. The inability to take a particular shot. While it seems to be a physical problem for dart players not being able to let go of the dart, the root of the problem actually lies in the player’s mind. For reasons yet to be figured out, the player’s unconscious mind has associated that particular motion or taking that shot with feeling anxious. So every time that player goes to take a shot, the mind serves up the feeling of anxiety associated with it. It then becomes a consistent, vicious circle because the problems lead to more negativity in your mind and it keeps going round and round. It was noted that hypnosis can help put a stop to it before it starts in your mind. It can use visualization to help you feel calm and in control when you are taking that shot, rather than the constant anxiety, and can create positive feelings for your “inner game”.

Now, it’s not saying that sports hypnosis is going to improve your performance so well that you will turn into the best darts player in the world overnight. You are still going to have to practice every day in order to get yourself to that next level. However, it can make your practice much more rewarding. It should not be thought of as a miracle cure and it’s not going to work for everyone all the time, but is has shown to be extremely effective for the many that have added it to their training.

So, the question then is….can sports hypnosis really be an effective tool for a player to utilize? Listed below are some historical examples of cases taken from one of the websites I used for my research where visualization was used that increased performance. I took the examples as they were written from http://www.sportshypnosis.org/.

The case of Col. George Hall is particularly compelling. Col. Hall was a USAAF pilot who was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War. He spent seven years in a POW camp, and yet, when he was finally released, he found that his golf game had actually improved, despite the length of time he’d spent in captivity. How did that happen? Because all the time he was in prison, Col. Hall imagined playing perfect games of golf, time after time after time. He’d mentally rehearsed success, in other words, which directly translated into physical success when he was able to return the golf course.

Experiments consistently show the power of mental rehearsal. Australian psychologist Alan Richardson, for instance, conducted an experiment with three groups of basketball players. One group were told to do nothing, the second group were told to spend twenty minutes a day practicing free throws, and the third group were told to spend twenty minutes a day imagining shooting perfect free throws. Unsurprisingly, the group who did nothing at all showed no improvement in their shooting ability, but the group who did nothing but imaginary practice showed almost identical improvement to the group who practiced physically (an improvement of 23% and 24% respectively). It would have been interesting to see the improvement of a group who had combined physical and mental practice!

The important lesson to be drawn from all of this is that visualization has to be positive in order to get the desired results. Col. Hall’s game improved because he spent seven years imagining perfect games, without any of the slices, missed shots or detours into the bunker that a regular day at the golf course might produce. Similarly, Sally Gunnell probably wouldn’t have broken the world record had she imagined herself getting nervous before the race, or hitting the hurdles, or settling for second place.

Positive mental visualization, then, is a potent force – even more so when used in conjunction with sports hypnosis. The American researcher D. R. Liggett has shown that athletes experience much more intense and vivid visualizations whilst under hypnosis, suggesting that hypnosis is a useful “force multiplier” for the already considerable benefits of positive visualization. (#1) Liggett also conducted an experiment with male gymnasts, who used hypnotic visualization to execute several complex tricks for the first time, eliminating timing errors and increasing flexibility (#2).

A famous and early example of the effect of hypnosis on physical strength was given by J.A. Hadfield in his book The Psychology of Power (1923). Hadfield used a dynamometer to measure the grip strength of a group of subjects, discovering an average grip of 101lb. The subjects were then hypnotized and given two suggestions in succession. The first suggestion was that they were very weak – the average grip fell to just 29lb. The second suggestion was that they were very strong – the average grip strength rose by nearly 50%, to 142lb. This is a simple but graphic demonstration of the ability of the mind to influence the physical capacities of the body.

A final area to consider is the effectiveness of hypnosis in an ancillary role to sports performance, for things like weight control and recovery from injury. A meta-study of the use of hypnosis in weight loss programs, for example, showed that the use of hypnosis increased weight loss by 97% during the program, and increased the effectiveness of weight control after the program by 146%. (#3) A Harvard Medical School study of the effect of hypnosis on bone fracture healing showed that a group of fracture patients who received hypnosis healed more quickly than patients who did not, enjoyed greater mobility and required fewer pain killers (#4).

So, you can see by these examples that the power of positive imagery and thoughts in your mind can have a great impact on your overall performance. Everyone has always said for years that darts is 90% mental and after the reading I have done for this article and the last one, I am a firm believer that this quote is 100% true!

As a player, if you are looking for different ways to improve your performance, just remember that sometimes it’s not always something physical that you might need to make you a better player. And trust me, there is a lot of information out there on the internet just waiting for you to come along and utilize. I encourage you to take some time to research these topics further if you have any interest in taking your game to the next level.

Anne Sleepy Kramer
www.sleepykramer.com

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(1) Liggett, D. R. (2000). Enhancing imagery through hypnosis: a performance aid for athletes. The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 43(2), pp. 149-57.

(2)Enhancing the visualization of gymnasts. Liggett DR,Hamada S.Stanford University. The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis.1993 Jan;35(3):190-7

(3) Kirsch, Irving (1996). Hypnotic enhancement of cognitive-behavioral weight loss treatments–Another meta-reanalysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64 (3), 517-519.

(4) Using hypnosis to accelerate the healing of bone fractures: a randomized controlled pilot study”, by Ginandes, CS, Rosenthal, DI. Alternative Therapy Health Medicine, 1999, March, 5(2), pp.67-75.