Three Elements of State

Adam Scott mastersYou know the feeling that one moment you on top of the world in the next you are consumed by overwhelm. While these might be extreme they indicate the big differences in how we feel. You might give these feelings labels such as excitement, joy, elation, or on the other hand, they could be overwhelm, depression or fear.

These are examples of different states that you can experience. So what exactly is a state? Essentially it comprises three things: physiology, psychology and biochemistry. The result is a feeling and emotion. Let’s consider the three elements.

If you have done any form of relaxation therapy, especially things like yoga and meditation, you’ll recognise the insistence and importance of correct breathing. At the beginning of any meditation session the instruction is to breathe slowly and deeply. This is to help trigger the state of relaxation. Most of the time you’ll do this in conjunction with having your eyes closed which reduces visual distraction and makes achieving the state of relaxation even easier.

On the other hand, a fear response is usually accompanied by a very different type of breathing; it is shallow, fast and usually only in the upper chest. The first point of intervention with someone who is breathing like this is to ask them to breathe more deeply and more slowly. The entire purpose behind changing this breathing pattern is to induce a state change.

If you see someone walking down the street slowly shuffling their feet with their head down and shoulders slumped you would get a very different impression of what their state might be compared to someone who is running in a park or along the beach as fast as they can. It is easy to infer that those two people are moving differently because they are feeling different and that would be true. The reverse is also true, and in fact more likely that the way that they are moving is influencing their state.

Could you imagine trying to hold a state of ecstasy while you are shuffling and slumped? Could you imagine trying to feel sad while you are sprinting? Clearly, the body and posture movement wouldn’t match the state.

So a physical intervention to bring about a more productive state is to ensure your breathing is full and your posture upright and open.

Your self-talk and the images you create in your mind’s eye are very different depending on the different states you are experiencing. Imagine two golfers standing on the tee. The first golfer looks down the narrow fairway with the water on the right and is thinking to himself: “Don’t hit it in the water” and at the same time, imagines his ball curving to the right and landing in the water with a splash. The other golfer looks at a spot on the left side of the fairway and says to himself: “I’m going to hit it at that dark green patch on the fairway”.

We can only guess at the beliefs that each golfer has about their ability and in this particular instance the combination of the beliefs (which have been based on their prior experiences), the images they are constructing and self talk that they are running are setting up ideal conditions for one golfer to hit his shot in the water and the other to hit the fairway.

Psychological interventions to bring about a more productive state include realistic and supportive self talk, mental images of your desired outcome and beliefs about the possibility of achieving your desired outcome. This is quite different to holding unrealistically positive expectations, because your beliefs about achieving them won’t align with those unrealistic expectations.

Drugs, alcohol and caffeine are three products which can alter your biochemistry and bring about a state change. Whether the effect is positive or negative depends on the quantity and type of substance you take. But it is not only synthetic substances which bring about biochemical changes.

Consider a time that you felt new love. It’s like walking around in a dreamlike state of ecstasy; a wonderful feeling. Compare that to a state of fear or stress, when your body secretes cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenalin into your system which accelerates your heart rate, narrows your peripheral vision and create other physical changes.

The chemicals running around your system have a strong impact on how you feel. Many of these chemicals are released as a natural part of your body’s normal functioning. They can also be influenced by your physiology and psychology.

If you are looking to achieve a state that is optimal for the situation you in, whether that is beginning a meditation, starting a game of golf, on the blocks at the beginning of 100 m sprint or anywhere else, ask yourself: what would be the most appropriate posture, breathing, images, self talk and beliefs for my situation?

Act on what you think is correct and noticed your state change.

Practice noticing what state you are in at different times during the day and then adjust it if you feel you need to. If you find your state is ideal for the situation you are facing then note its elements so you can recall it when you might need it again in the future.

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