Athletes will tell you that mental preparedness is key to great performance. This means that many of the top athletes visualize themselves making the basket, goal or play;they rehearse in their minds what they will do, what it will feel like.
Why does this work? I think, and this is just my thinking, so take it for what it is-not actual science. I haven’t done the full; research yet. What makes sense to me is this: I think that our brains are wired to use past as prologue.(“What’s past is prologue” I did not make up,William Shakespeare said it first.)
We look back at our experience to see and anticipate what will happen next and use it as a means by which to avoid disaster. Last time I did this or that,the result was what I wanted/didn’t want. I will now take that experience and use it next time I see that coming. This reinforces our past experiences and abilities. By imagining the goal, by letting go of past and visualizing a new experience, athletes are able to reinforce the corrected swing/throw/ landing.This refocus reinforces the behavior, movement, outcome that they want to achieve.
How can this be applied to family dynamics?
I don’t know about you,but I regress around my family of origin. I go back to the past and bring it to the present. Even if I show up with children of my own, with a spouse and with a job, the dominant way that my family sees me is how they experienced me most-they see me is as a teenager or young child. My father’s favorite memories were all of us as young children, which is why he always reminded me that I was still his little girl. My part is that I step into that, as I cross the threshold at his home.
I realize that with all my family members (parents and siblings but also cousins, aunt & uncles etc.) I spent the most significant time with them as a young person. In my adult life I have been out of the house. So, when anticipating my reaction, or calculating my behavior, likes and dislikes,they all rely on VERY outdated material. They are not considering the thousands of meals I have prepared since I left their home but are interacting with a younger me and the thousands of times I relied on the adult to wrangle dinner.
They are looking at the past, at years of age-appropriate incompetence and while they intellectually know that I am a full-grown adult, that is data reported by my words and actions, but not actually seen. They still act surprised every time that they hear that I actually do cook on a regular basis! My competency is still not fully realized. My competency is just me reporting -on a bonus, raise or promotion. They do not have the experience of my handling a crisis, cooking a meal or managing people. The past they experienced is what is imprinted on the present.
I know my siblings best from our collective childhoods. We were all different people then. We have had a life time of experiences since then,which I have witnessed only at a distance. I have heard the complaints and celebrated the victories but for the most part, I have not been there,at their side, as we were when children. We do not have the shared experiences. So naturally,when they do something that reminds me of our childhood, it re-enforces my experience of them, and they must do something contrary, something “adult”many times before I will see it as a part of their current character.
I bemoan that they do not see me for who I am without recognizing that I often keep them in our childhood frame as well.It is important for us parents to remember this is also true with our own children. They are our children, but they are growing up, moving on. Who do we want to be? What does mental preparedness mean? What is our goal as parents, not our goal for them, they are on their own! I want to try to do it differently than my parents did, a little bit at least! I want to continue to imagine them as a little more capable than they were yesterday. I want to give them room to grown into who they are, not my expectations of who they might be, based on the past. I want to mentally prepare to move to the next level of my parenting game, which means training some new muscles! It means hearing and watching who they are now and consciously avoiding my assumptions based on old stories. It means when they tell me something “out of character” I need to check if that is really true or just try to support the change I see.