I’ve recently been doing a lot of landscaping work at my house which has included putting in some raised flower beds made from railway sleepers. This involves leveling the ground before placing the sleeper on it and it amazed me how accurately I was able to achieve this leveling by eye. The biggest error I made was about 2cm in a 2m long sleeper, which is a 1% error rate. When I discussed this with a carpenter friend he told me that he often sees smaller errors than this, just using the naked eye.


This reminded me of a story that I read about the power our brain really has. Think about the last time someone threw you a ball and you ran and caught it. Now you may be thinking that that’s not a particularly clever thing to achieve but if you analyse it scientifically you’ll realize how amazing your brain is. As we watch the person throwing the ball our brain notes the speed the ball leaves the throwers hand, the angle and trajectory it’s been released at and any spin the thrower has placed on the ball. Using past experience it calculates the direction of the throw, the arc the ball will subscribe, how far the ball will travel and works out the optimum position for us to catch it. The brains instructs the eyes to look around to check nothing is in the way and then tells the legs to move in order to get us to the right vicinity in time to catch the ball. As we are running towards this calculated position the brain tells the arms to move so as to bring the hands to that exact catching position before the ball arrives and then tells the fingers to close at exactly the right time to trap the ball. All that happens in a couple of seconds and we catch the ball without any conscious thought at all. In fact some people’s conscious mind isn’t focusing on catching the ball at all, it’s thinking about the repercussions that will occur if they don’t catch it. It’s asking question like What will everyone say if you drop this, won’t they think you’re a bit of an idiot if you don’t catch it?


There isn’t a computer on the planet that could do all of those calculations, work out the catching position and get a couple of hands into the correct place that quickly, and yet we can do it without even thinking! Doesn’t that show you just how powerful our sub-conscious mind is? Mathematicians suggest that it would take them days get all the correct readings and then run all those calculations by hand and yet most 12 year olds can catch a ball without raising a sweat!


It’s been written that the sub-conscious is 30,000 times more powerful than the conscious mind and therefore you’d think we would all use it more frequently to help us achieve our goals but unfortunately we often don’t. Many of us try and use the conscious mind to work out how to achieve things rather than giving the task to the powerful sub-conscious. During my presentations I often talk about the notes I make before the event and I ask the audience how many times I’ve looked at them while I’ve been on stage. The answer is usually NONE, I very rarely look at my notes while I’m presenting – I find it confuses me. What I do is during the preparation stage I write down and then practice the content over and over again. But on the day of the presentation I’ll spend very little time if any looking at my notes.  In fact I often don’t even take them with me to the event. What I focus on is the goal for my presentation – what is the presentation designed to achieve? What do I want to happen after I’ve finished talking?


This approach is, in fact, my conscious mind giving my sub-conscious an instruction or goal. Once I’ve given a clear and accurate goal to my sub-conscious I relax and let it get on with the work that’s required to achieve the goal. While I’m speaking I often get messages from my sub-conscious like Don’t tell that story – say this instead. My sub-conscious has been looking at the audience’s reaction to the things I’ve been saying and has worked out that in order to achieve the goal, I need to move them in a particular direction.  It’s reviewed all the statements and stories that I’ve got stored in my memory banks and has calculated which one will achieve the desired direction change in the audience’s thinking. It then sends me a message suggesting that I tell that particular story.


Usually I listen to that little voice and do what it’s telling me to do but sometimes I think I’m so (consciously) clever I override the instruction and carry on as I was planning to do. Invariably when I do this I make a mistake and don’t achieve the goal or the reaction I was looking for. Sometimes when I don’t listen to the little voice I really stick my foot in my mouth and say something that goes down the wrong way with some of my audience. The more I listen to, and obey, those little instructions, the better my chance of achieving my goal and in fact the best presentations I’ve ever given are the ones where I’m so relaxed I let the sub-conscious take over completely. This is exactly what sports people do to achieve their personal bests. They do their technical practice over and over again in training and then during competition they focus only on the goal they want to achieve. They often say that their best achievements are when they are in the zone, when they are relaxed and letting everything happen automatically.


So coming back to the question I started with – Just how good are we? Well I think we can be absolutely brilliant, when we follow this procedure whatever the activity:


  1. Do extensive planning, preparation and practice before hand.
  2. For some time before the activity focus only on the goal for that activity.
  3. Relax and let the activity flow, don’t try and force things, just focus on the goal.
  4. During the activity, listen to the little voice inside and obey those instructions.


Try it the next time you want to achieve something and let me know how you get on.


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