4 Handy Dandy Tips for Brainwashing Yourself

Jesse Jackson once said “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.” Though I’m not sure how I feel about the Dr. Seuss-like rhyming scheme, I like this quote, and it’s consistent with both sport psychology research and what other highly accomplished individuals have said themselves (e.g. “If you can dream it, you can do it” ~Walt Disney).

‘Tis all very nice of course, but many of us run into a brick wall which prevents us from getting to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Where is this sticking point?

Getting your heart to believe.

How do we get ourselves to wholeheartedly believe something that is not (yet) true? How do we get ourselves to believe that we could make a living as a musician, or become principal bass of the Boston Symphony, when right now we are something less than that?

“The Greatest”

On February 25, 1964, a brash, outspoken, 22-year old boxer named Cassius Clay was scheduled to challenge current heavyweight champion Sonny Liston for the title. Liston was the overwhelming favorite to win (7-1 odds), and not many gave Clay much of a chance.

Nevertheless, the young upstart beat the odds and won the match. His speech following the match contains within it one of the most iconic statements in all of sports history.

“I am the greatest”

This athlete, now one of the most recognized people on the planet, is of course Muhammad Ali.

See part of this moment in the video below…

There are two fascinating things about this story. One, Ali said “I am the greatest” before the fight as well as after. Two, even though he had won the heavyweight title in convincing fashion, nobody else would have thought to call this cocky kid “the greatest.” Later, Ali acknowledged that he said this before he knew he was. Furthermore, he said “I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”

Now, however, Ali is considered to be one of, if not the greatest of all time.

This “I am the greatest” statement is an example of a technique that many others have used to help themselves believe something that is not yet true. The technique has a name — and you’ve probably heard of it.

It’s called an affirmation.

The legacy of Stuart Smalley

Unfortunately, affirmations have a bit of an image problem. People often think they are silly, goofy, corny, even embarrassing. Case in point, do you remember the Stuart Smalley skits on Saturday Night Live? SNL is great, but these skits certainly didn’t do affirmations any favors. Here's a refresher...

You’ll see it when you believe it

Did Muhammad Ali become the greatest just because he said so? No way. Greatness comes with a price tag (and a steep one at that) and Ali certainly paid his dues. As with any great figure, he went through, over, and around many walls in order to reach his current place in history.

Nevertheless, did Ali believe he was the greatest way before everybody else did? I believe so, yes. Absolutely. Were there moments of doubt? Perhaps, but none that he would allow himself to dwell on, or which would undermine the beliefs he was working so hard to cement into his mind.

How does this help?

Affirmations help you do two things.

One, they help you stay focused on what you want. Affirmations force you to articulate your goal, and repeating the affirmation keeps that goal in the forefront of your mind, making it more likely that you will make choices and act in ways that get you closer to this goal.

Two, they help increase our positive expectancy, and make us more likely to expect good things to happen. And when we expect good things to happen, we are more likely to get better results. For instance, how many gold medalists do you think are out there, who went in expecting to lose, but surprised themselves and won a gold medal?

Affirmations in action

I’ve written previously about the pictures and movies you see in your mind’s eye. Affirmations, on the other hand, are the stories you tell yourself, and the words you use to describe yourself. Here are a few guidelines.

1. Find your enthusiasm

Avoid creating an affirmation that you feel lukewarm about. Make sure it is something that means something to you on a fundamental level, that inspires you, or creates a rush of enthusiasm. I could say “I am a world-class runner” until I’m blue in the face, but because running is something I tolerate rather than enjoy, this affirmation is not going to change my life much.

2. Think big

Think big enough that the affirmation gets you excited, but not so big that you can’t help but roll your eyes. For instance, saying “I am getting into the best shape of my life” might be more helpful than saying “I have the body of a supermodel”.

3. Suspend disbelief

Having fun at the movies requires a certain suspension of disbelief, right? You have to be able to imagine that it is possible for a man to turn green and huge when he gets angry because of some lab experiment gone wrong. If not, and you start dissecting all of a movie’s details because “that wouldn’t happen in real life,” you’ve pretty much sucked all the fun out of the experience.

4. Say it out loud

Yes, seriously. Does it feel weird? That’s the point! It’s one thing to think it, but it’s yet another to say it out loud or to write it down on paper. And don’t just say it out loud once or twice. Continue to say it, repeat it, hundreds, thousands of times.

But wait — don’t just put this on autopilot. Say it like you mean it each and every time. Otherwise it just becomes a pointless and mindless drill akin to all those times in grade school when I had to stay in from recess and repeatedly write out the rule I had broken earlier that day (e.g. “I will not bother others, I will not bother others, I will not…”). I swear I was a good kid –  the teachers just couldn’t figure out how to get me to stop talking to everyone.

The one-sentence summary

“Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.”  ~Mary Kay Ash

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills, and perhaps a few other tweaks in your approach to practicing too. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

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9 Responses

  1. Hello Dr. Kageyama…

    I am wondering if you have any knowledge of or experience with “sleep learning”, also known as “hypnopaedia”!?

    By that I mean playing audio recordings of affirmations to oneself as one sleeps…having the recording repeating all night long without stopping, so (in THEORY at least) your mind will be “flooded” with affirmations (positive suggestions) for say 8 hours straight…non-stop..prior to falling asleep and then after you have FALLEN asleep and are totally unconscious!

    There seems to be no REAL “scientific” research on this though, which really AMAZES me…especially considering that it
    is basically an 8-hour long “hypnosis session” and hypnosis ITSELF has VOLUMES written about IT…in thousands of books and all over the internet!!

    The very few articles I have seen on “sleep learning” over the entire nights sleeping period, generally cast doubt that ones subconscious mind can HEAR the words spoken ON the audio recordings after one has fallen asleep! The writers consider generally that once your CONSCIOUS mind has gone to sleep…”the door to your SUB-conscious mind is closed!” Meaning that your conscious mind needs to still be AWAKE…at least just slightly…in order for your subconscious mind to register (hear) what is being said on those audio recordings!

    I am presently creating audio recordings for myself to use all night long while I sleep and I will publish my findings, one way OR the other!

    I gained a qualification in Clinical Hypnosis myself many years ago…hence my knowledge on THAT subject and my keen interest in “sleep learning/hypnopaedia” now!

    I would really LOVE to hear YOUR thoughts on the matter Dr. Kageyama.

    Kind Regards: DAVID MAHONEY.

    1. Hi David,

      Yours is a very interesting question. As a kid, I used to listen to such audiotapes of “subliminal programming” and can’t say that I felt a difference one way or the other – and as you note, there is not much in the research literature that would support this practice. But I have heard some interesting things anecdotally about hypnosis, am fascinated by Milton Erickson’s work of course, and certainly believe that there is much about the mind that we have yet to figure out. Would be interested to see what you find when you complete your research on this!


  2. Hello Dr. Kageyama!

    Thank you for such a quick response…much appreciated!

    I trained in Hypnosis back in 1986 at the “Australian Academy of Hypnotic Science” and for a time was an associate member of the “Australian Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists”. I was almost obsessed in the subject for several years, but now no longer do any work in that area, although the interest still remains…such a fascinating subject it really is! I still have today at least 20 to 30 books I bought on hypnosis, written by all manner of “experts” on the subject.

    Hypnosis sessions per se (as I am certain you know) usually run for say half an hour to an hour and the patient/subject/Client is given repeated therapeutic suggestion whilst “under” designed to modify their behaviour and/or reactions to situations that in the past have created problems in their lives. A big part of a session can also be accessing the person’s subconscious mind in order to uncover hidden past memories of “traumatic” experiences (etc.) that may have led to the negative behaviour/reactions in the first place!

    An interesting point (relevant I think to “sleep learning/hypnopaedia”) is that many people go under SO DEEPLY that upon “awakening” from the hypnotic “trance”, they have absolutely NO memory of what was said to them by the Therapist, NOR any memory of what they said in reply…yet…clearly they were not asleep, because other people in the room who witnessed the entire session, clearly can confirm that a “conversation” between the subject (Patient/Client) and the Therapist DID take place!

    So…the question here I want to ask…is…was the subject’s CONSCIOUS mind actually
    “switched off”…UN-conscious…ASLEEP, or were they simply so deeply relaxed that although they were in fact consciously awake…their short-term memory process was not engaged in the transaction!?

    Questions that perhaps we will never have the answers TO…but considering those questions in relation to “sleep learning/hypnopaedia” now…

    The whole idea about hypnopaedia of course is that theoretically it is basically one great long hyper-extended “Hypnosis Session” running all night long for say 7 to 9 hours straight, whilst one sleeps…multiplying the effects of a single hypnosis session by (in this example)…7 to 9 times! Again…theoretically!

    The whole idea FAILS though, if a person’s SUB-conscious mind cannot hear what is being said (spoken on the recorded audios) when they are ASLEEP…their conscious mind being “turned off”.

    In other words, the BIG question IS: Can a person’s subconscious mind HEAR anything…without the CONSCIOUS mind being “involved” in the process…can it (the subconscious) hear…on its own…by itself!?

    However, if a person’s subconscious mind CAN hear each and every word spoken…without the need for conscious involvement…WOW!!

    Especially ‘wow’ when you consider that one of the greatest BLOCKS to hypnosis per se working with any given subject (patient/Client), is that oftentimes their conscious mind’s critical/analytical faculty gets in the way and blocks the suggestions…stopping them from getting through and into the subconscious part of the person’s mind! Of course with “hypnopaedia”, this would not even BE an issue to have to contend with, so (once again theoretically)…positive suggestions (affirmations) given during the 7 to 9 hour long sleeping period…would ALL be totally/automatically accepted as true and correct by the person’s SUB-conscious mind and so…theoretically…HUGE changes in the person’s life could and indeed SHOULD be experienced in a ‘relatively” very short period of time!

    Finally, another side benefit of this process would be the fact that this could (can?) all be accomplished with no loss of available “day-time hours” in which the person has to deal his/her multitude of OTHER daily commitments…working…schooling…Family matters…etcetera! It all automatically takes place whilst we are asleep at night (or whenever).

    Clearly I am interested in this subject Dr. Kageyama…

    Kind Regards: DAVID MAHONEY (Melbourne, Australia).

    1. I can confirm that there’s this one time I played a certain audiobook will I was sleeping, and when I woke up I remembered I had a dream about the things that were being said in some parts of the book. I think this confirms that the subconscious mind was hearing everything that was being said in the book. To a point that it created pictures in the form of a dream.

  3. P.S. On my last post: At this point…the “research” as such will be purely and simply on MYSELF! I will be both “Subject/Client” AND “Therapist”! 🙂

    Regards: DAVID.

  4. About Muhhammad Ali saying “I am The Greatest” before AND after
    What it just means is that Muhammed Ali realised his inner journey (one step) before realising his outer journey.

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