One of the great sport psychology tools that I have used extensively throughout my career is morphism.
What is morphism?
Morphism is the act of conjuring a third party (person, object, or idea) and channeling their power to make you perform better.
I’m not talking about using the dark arts to summon a demonic entity, LOL, but rather as a mental device.
The title of this post is an example. In my mind, an avalanche is a swift and powerful force that cannot be stopped. So I use mental imagery to associate my sprawl with an avalanche. The result is that my subconscious will try to live up to that idea, making me draw upon all of my ability to make my sprawl heavier.
This is not a revolutionary idea. Kids use morphism all the time when playing. Kids tell themselves they are superman and then run faster, or idolize sports icons to motivate themselves to train harder.
But as we get older, the idea becomes “childish make-believe,” and people stop using it. The fact is morphism works for all ages.
Skeptical? Run this experiment with yourself and some friends:
I’m betting you will perform better after the morphism, as that has been my experience with myself and my athletes.
If you accept the idea, let’s get into how to properly use it.
The first step into transforming yourself is to focus on what area you want to improve performance on. Whether it is being faster, stronger, more precise, more confident, or whatever attribute you desire, try to make it specific and easily definable.
Once you have dialed in on what you want to improve, then it’s time to find what you want to morph into. Whether that is an object (a speeding bullet), an animal (a cheetah), or a person (Usain Bolt) depends on what triggers a stronger response from you.
Now that you have an entity to morph into, it’s time to make the mental image. I want you to use your imagination to utilize your morphism in action and tying yourself to it. The idea is that you want to be able create a strong mental visualization (using every sense and feeling possible) to anchor your morphism. The more detailed and vivid it is, the more effective it will be.
A good visualization will get your excited just thinking about it. If your visualization doesn’t motivate you at all, then it’s back to the drawing board. Some people feel silly using this technique, and as a result they don’t allow themselves to “get in the mood” so to speak.
There is no right or wrong answer – it all depends on what floats your boat. I have morphisms that use animals, objects, vehicles, and people. One of my favorite morphisms is, “I club the head like a bear’s paw swipe.”
For you, that might do nothing. But for me, it conjures a mental image of a huge, standing grizzly bear slamming a huge paw down on the back of someone’s head and driving them straight into the ground. So be open minded, allow yourself to play, and find an idea for a morphism that speaks to you.
Much like a wizard has to chant to cast a spell, so must you to draw upon the power of the morphism.
As you saw from my above example of the bear clubbing the head, the statement was short and easy to remember, but the visualization that it describes was much more vivid and detailed.
So think of the statement as a bookmark that links to the bigger idea of the morphism. It is just to remind you of the visualization, so you want it easy to remember and say. Ideally, it should take less than 3 seconds to say out loud.
The level of detail is not in the statement, but in the mental image. The statement just contains a short summary of what the mental image expresses.
After your craft the morphism visual and statement, now it’s time to reinforce the idea by using positive affirmations.
A positive affirmation is a statement that affirms a belief you carry (or desire to carry) of yourself. A morphism is definitely a positive statement designed to improve performance, so we want to make that association stick and be accepted by your subconscious.
Unfortunately, just telling yourself your morphism once most likely won’t stick in your mind. Getting new ideas to implant in your subconscious is like a sperm fertilizing an egg – it can take hundreds, thousands, or even millions of repetitions before an idea implants in your subconscious – depending on how resistant your subconscious is.
This is where positive affirmations come into play. We use that morphism incantation and write it down as we say it aloud repeatedly. Depending on how much progress you want to make, you can do as few as 10 repetitions to as many as 100 daily.
I recommend starting with doing around 20 repetitions daily to start off. I write it down with pen and paper – old school. I feel writing it down takes more effort and creates a better anchor than typing. If I was using a computer, I could just type the sentence once and copy and paste it 100 times really fast, but the goal is not to write as much as possible, but rather to visualize the morphism as your write it and speak it.
As I speak the morphism, I speak it with confidence and belief. If you feel silly speaking it, that is a sign your subconscious is rejecting the idea. Not to worry, that is what the affirmation process is for – to etch the idea into your brain forcible until it has no choice but to accept what you are telling it as gospel.
Once you have done the above three steps, you are now ready to conjure your morphism. As you train, tell yourself your morphism at the moment it is relevant. As you say it, it should bring about your visualization. Keep doing this every time your would use the technique, position, or movement you intended it for.
Using my head club morphism for example, in training I will tell myself, “I club the head like a bear’s paw swipe,” every time I club my partner’s head.
At first, this might be a forced practice, and feel clunky. But with enough repetition, the morphism will link the movement you assigned it to and conjure itself. Much like how your favorite song is usually linked to some event in your life, your morphism will tie itself to the movement automatically.
And that is how you can use morphism to enhance your performance. Done right, it can give you a boost. I’m not saying you will have the strength of a bear, or the power of an avalanche, but, you will get a small, but noticeable boost, which comes for free with no penalties and is totally legal. 🙂
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